Let’s be frank, shall we? The first Ghost Rider sucked more balls than Godzilla devouring a branch of Sports Direct. Poorly written and poorly acted with bad CG and not nearly funny or exciting enough to overcome these setbacks, it was just damn weak. So when Nic Cage turned up in the similarly themed Drive Angry it seemed like an attempt on his part to fix what had gone wrong the first time. Fair enough. But then, with that gloriously OTT piece of road kill in the can, he agreed to a Ghost Rider sequel. Wha? What could he possibly hope to gain by going over this ground again? Even for someone as possessed (sorry) by Ghost Rider as Cage (who famously has a GR tattoo) this seemed to be a strange decision.
Then it was announced that the sequel was to be overseen by Neveldine and Taylor, the gleefully demented duo behind The Stath’s adrenalin-fuelled classics Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. With their hyper-kinetic shooting style and fondness for elaborately staged gonzo violence, they seemed like the perfect pair to light Cage’s fuse and send him tearing off in the right direction and then, when the trailer hit (complete with shots of Ghost Rider pissing a stream of fire into the black night) it seemed like the time had come for a new kind of Marvel movie.
Well… The end result is not all chicken and broccoli. Make no mistake, this is a stone cold classic compared to the first one. We even get a redesigned Ghost Rider (goodbye clean white skull, hello smouldering, smoking deaths head) mo-capped by Cage himself rather than the CG rendition of the first film. This pays off particularly well when capturing Cage’s herky-jerky, demented rock-star moves, with the Rider’s head bobbling around on his shoulders or thrown back in maniacal laughter, legs apart, one arm aloft in a pre-kill Freddie Mercury pose. Whenever he’s on-screen the film is at its best, with Neveldine and Taylor’s dizzyingly acrobatic camera moves ramping up Ghost Rider’s sheer freakiness (also nice is the conceit that whatever vehicle he inhabits, becomes his, bursting into flame to help him lay waste to his enemies, whether it’s an SUV or – in one ridiculous scene – an industrial size mining operation). Some of these scenes are full-on bonkers awesome, Cage’s commitment to lunacy (never doubt that) married perfectly to Neveldine and Taylor’s breakneck creativity. Unfortunately the same cannot be said the rest of the time.
The directors (and, to be fair, the script itself) feel like they have less idea what to do with Cage in human form and you frequently feel like you’re waiting for him to burn up again. Indeed the whole film feels a little underworked; the usually dependable Ciaran Hinds aside (on good but slightly hammy form here), all the baddies are charisma-free nobodies. This combined with its attractive but personality-free leading lady and its Eastern European locations means that this very often feels more like one of those run of the mill thrillers that gets pumped out at an alarming rate by Luc Besson’s factory than a big studio movie with a major Hollywood lead (an untimely reminder that Crank 1 & 2 aside, they were also responsible for the woeful Gamer).
The plot is fairly typical (young boy at the centre of a prophecy wanted by the devil to bring about blah blah blah) and there’s so much corner cutting of the “Oh, I think I know where they’ll be” variety (usually courtesy of Idris Elba’s ludicrously accented Frenchman Moreau) that you begin to wonder if they just gave up plotting it halfway through.
If it sounds like I’m being overly critical… Well, I guess I am. I did enjoy it; for the most part it’s pretty fun and the effects and set-pieces – as they should be – are by far the highlights. I just feel like Marvel could have committed a little more to what was working and punched up the things that weren’t; if they had fully gotten behind the Neveldine and Taylor way of doing things, kicked up the rating and let Cage off the leash (like the full-on, losing his shit Cage that we all know and love) we might be talking about an entirely different film here.
Ghost Rider part Three, anyone?