By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Nicolas Cage just couldn’t give up the Ghost Rider. Guess we’ll have to do it.
Cage returns as the title character plus one in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a superhero-thriller followup to Ghost Rider that’s based on the Marvel comic of the same name.
Cage stars in this fantasy-action thriller in the double role of cursed Johnny Blaze and his flaming skull alter ego, Ghost Rider — whose noggin bursts into flame when he’s sucking the soul out of an evildoer. It’s the same pair Cage played in the surprisingly interesting and respectable 2007 original, one which was commercially successful enough to beg a second helping.
Unfortunately, this time not only is the element of novelty missing, but this outing displays the nearly inevitable sequelitis quality dropoff, making it seem rather obvious that they’ve now made one installment too many.
Blaze is a stunt biker who made a pact with the devil and sold his soul to save his dying father. The Rider, whom he unwillingly transforms into when in the presence of evil, is the devil’s fiery bounty hunter, a curse that Johnny still struggles with.
He remains a metaphysical force with a flaming skull for a head, riding a motorcycle with wheels of fire, who has decided to use his powers to defend the innocent as a vengeful vigilante of justice.
Blaze is hiding out in self-imposed exile in remote Romania when the sequel begins, and is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save Danny, a young boy played by Fergus Riordan, from a demonic conspiracy.
In this adventure, Johnny Whitworth plays Roarke Carrigan, a human who is turned by the Devil into a supernatural critter named Blackout, who is given the abilities to do battle with Ghost Rider.
Idris Elba plays Moreau, an alcoholic rebel and biker with whom Blaze teams up in an effort to save Danny and perhaps rid himself of his curse once and for all.
Mephistopheles — played this time by Ciaran Hinds, who replaces Peter Fonda from the prior outing — is attempting to take over the body of his son on the lad’s birthday.
For directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is as much a reboot as a sequel. It’s been shot, edited, acted, and scored as if everyone involved realizes just how shallow the subject matter is.
The directors have done a lot more location shooting than was done on the first film, and considerable additional stunt work as well.
But this time, the CGI fiery-skull effects don’t contribute to the story: they are the story. And a yawningly flimsy one at that.
The uncaged Cage, who brought an admirably restrained version of his oddball style and dry humor to the first installment, has been prolific since Ghost Rider but has appeared in far more downs (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Next, Bangkok Dangerous, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Trespass) than ups ( Knowing, Kick-Ass).
In this outing, he does what he can with his self-consciously idiosyncratic line readings, but he’s working much too hard to distract us from the realization that this time there’s no there there.
The juvenile screenplay by David S. Goyer, Scott Gimple, and Seth Hoffman showcases the title character’s supernatural exploits in a straightforward protect-an-innocent-child plot.
But, unlike its predecessor, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance does not boast the courage of its kooky comic-book convictions. We’ve got Ghost Rider again and plenty of vengeance. But spirit? Nowhere to be found.
So we’ll light a fire under 1½ stars out of 4. The sorta-superhero sorta-sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, once again presents Nicolas Cage and a flaming skull as a match made in hell. This time we agree.