MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor
Story by David S. Goyer

Screenplay by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Starring: Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider), Johnny Whitworth (Ray Carrigan, Blackout), Fergus Riordan (Danny), Ciarán Hinds (The Devil, Roarke), Violante Placido (Nadya), Idris Elba (Moreau), Christopher Lambert (Methodius the Monk)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has all the makings of a sensational B movie, replete with a curious conglomerate of foreign production companies (Imagenation Abu Dhabi?), a nebulous eastern European setting and a freshly shaven Christopher Lambert. Add in a stark conflict between the forces of Heaven and Hell, and you’re one Gary Busey cameo away from a Cloud Ten Pictures direct -to-video midnight matinee. It’s evident from the dubious opening animation that the filmmakers, wholly aware of their property’s potential for late night lampooning, were eager to embrace the schlock value. Somehow, things didn’t exactly go according to Plan 9.

So even if you’re revved up for tongue in cheek absurdity, expect trauma, not Troma. Maybe a few Red Hot moments, but not a single red jellybean to be had.

Nicolas Cage has journeyed to the bleak nation of Eastern Europe to battle his inner demons through zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Here, the Johnny Blaze character is cast as a kind of wry Bruce David Banner, burdened by his alter ego and constantly on the run, minus the sad piano music. He’s staked out what appears to be an entire abandoned town where he can while his days in solitude, far from any potential victims for the vengeful spirit roiling beneath his hairline. He meets the charming Frenchman Moreau (a woefully misused Idris Elba) and reluctantly agrees to take part in a rescue mission. Should he save Danny and his mother Nadya from the forces of darkness, the warrior priest Moreau will help him cast off the Vengeance Spirit once and for all. Blaze agrees and sets out after mother and son, currently on the run from Ray Carrigan, Nadya’s former lover. Worth noting, the gunrunner is employed by devil incarnate Roarke, the same dapper don who made that fateful deal with Blaze so many years ago.

There’s the setup. Warrior monks will enter the picture. Carrigan will eventually get a supernatural upgrade. Danny, the sire of Satan, will eventually find himself swaying, shark-eyed, in a Turkish amphitheater. It’s the stuff of Syfy original movies. But as Ron and Conor agreed on our Special Edition Podcast, the movie only rarely reaches the mania or absurdity of late-night cinema’s best worst films. Or even the dizzying degree of the directors’ Crank flicks. Cage tries something in early scenes, wrestling for control of his psyche. He slams his fists on tables and chews the scenery in bit where the Spirit wants to come out and play, enticed by the proximity of a sinful thug. Here it’s less Hulk and more Jim Carey in The Mask, as Cage’s head balloons with digital protrusions of the iconic skull head. Once they’ve collected the information they need, Blaze races to his motorcycle and surges off toward the camera, cackling with glee. The effects have that brand of popsicle commercial flamboyance, but set against the comparatively serious tone of surrounding scenes, it feels out of place.

The Ghost Rider itself is a strong link in a weak chain.

The Spirit of Vengeance himself appears far too rarely, as his characterization separate from Blaze is perhaps the high point. The Ghost Rider’s first appearance will likely polarize audiences. Off his bike, he’s not terribly fast. He’ll use his chain whip to incinerate enemies, but his favorite thing to do is brandish the Ryan Gosling stare from Drive. Ron’s remarked at how awkward this moment is visually, given that it’s not accompanied with any terrific special effects. The Penance Stare is just a stare. Me, I kind of liked how unsettling the character is. He’s more reminiscent of the Universal monsters like Frankenstein or the Mummy, moving around with a herky-jerky stutter step, cocking his head to the side like an animal. It’s a strange presence. It’s just unfortunate he had so little to do. It should be noted though that the Ghost Rider’s power set was especially confusing. One explosive barrage landed Blaze in the hospital. Later, Carrigan launches what sounds like the Oxygen Destroyer device from the original Godzilla film, a much more sinister explosive, directly at the creature to little effect. That’s okay though, because the Spirit is able to imbue any vehicle with the same infernal powers as his motorcycle, and this concept is put to work on a massive…well, let’s not give that away.

At the end of the day, the most dire of the movie’s sins is this: Neither Carrigan or Roarke wear track-suits or gold chains at any time. For eastern European B movie villains done right, see last year’s Hanna. Monks with scripture tattooed all across their heads are fantastic, but this project ached for more sleaze and dubious accents. If anything, the film is too restrained to fully work as a cohesive whole. Nic Cage playing himself and Christopher Lambert undertaking three months of sword training for a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo is simply not enough to cast off the tedium. A project that could’ve been outrageous and self-aware ends up delusional in its ambitions.

Credit where it’s due though. The Twinkie joke was pretty good.


2 Stars 

(Out of 5)


Listen to Ron and Conor review Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on a Special Edition podcast!


  1. If this movie was a full blown R movie then Taylor/Nevedine could have made this a great, schlock B-Movie. But because they were confined to a PG-13 then they could only do so much. Cause it sounds like there are a lot of great ideas in this movie but it goes no where.

    • An R would help, but there’s more excess to be had even in the PG-13 realm.

    • from what i understand of ratings, an “R” rating is very very dreaded in terms of movie theatre exposure and such. Theatre chains won’t give it as many screens….some theaters won’t carry them at all. Its a big deal from what i’ve read.

    • @Paul: True. I think also these guys aren’t the greatest when someone else is writing the film. I mean you have Goyer, but his track record is spotty now. Then you have the other two guys who’s only work are in Television….so that’s a problem too. Three writers, two who are writing their first ever film scripts, and a PG-13 rating really limits what you can do in a film.

  2. The worst thing about this movie was it was so boring. I knew it was going to be bad but I was hoping to at least have a good time laughing at how bad it was. But for most of the time I was just hoping for it be be over.

  3. Like War Zone, this will be a misinterpreted and under-appreciated film. A demonized piece of pop-art cinema. A punchline at the end of jokes from people who have barely watched the movie. Prejudice will abound. Fortunately, it won’t stop me from having a big huge pile of fun while watching it. 🙂

    • Have you seen the movie or read/listened to either of our reviews?

    • Of course I saw the movie and will see it again. And I read your review Paul. I am currently listening to this podcast.

    • In what way did we misinterpret the movie?

    • I love War Zone, I own the movie and have had War Zone watching parties. But this movie does not even come close to the dumb, over the top, bloody fun of war zone.

    • I guess you didn’t. You’re right. I had a knee-jerk reaction due to the overwhelming amount of “piling on for the sake of piling” that I’m gleaning from reviews on the net. Can I say I’m sorry?

      I am however quite disappointed that the visual innovation and the cinematography were largely overlooked. They were the strengths of this film. I was floored by the visual spectacle of it all.

      If I may, I would like to email you my review… Would that be cool Paul?

    • Sure.

      Though, if you hold this up next to the Crank flicks, the radical visuals just aren’t there. Crank moves. Here, the juddering camera work and editing aren’t consistent in this movie. So, when they do go that route, it stands out in an awkward way. I agree with Ron and Conor that the directors didn’t push the boundaries enough, visually. And certainly not as much as we’d been expecting given the marketing. There are some cool visuals, I’ll grant you. But given the pedigree, it’s pretty restrained.

    • I see that point. I’d say a conservative budget and unfamiliarity to CGI might be to blame there. For me, if the visuals are inferior to Crank, the comparison did not affect my enjoyment.

  4. Just because they didn’t like it doesn’t mean they didn’t understand it. I loved this movie but I am also aware that it is not for everyone. I completely agreed with all the points everyone on this site has made about why “they” didn’t like it. All are valid. I thought it was pretty cool overall and a great way to spend an evening with your friends at the theater.

    PS. Punisher War Zone was just crap man. Frank Castle does not cry!!!

  5. Watched this Sunday. I completely agree with this review. While it wasn’t amazing, it did have it’s moments, but those were far few. I still at least enjoyed this movie on a slow Sunday afternoon.

  6. I must say I’m impressed at the way you managed to avoid the vitriol most critics apply to this movie. Solid review work as usual!

  7. “…expect trauma, not Troma.”

    Paul…I don’t know if I say this enough, but I love you, man.

  8. I like to think that Neveldine/Taylor are like the opposite of Zack Snyder. They need to be let off the chain to do their best work, when they are reigned in, it limits them. I am fairly convinced if they had the green light for an R rating and/or their own script, this movie would have been 10 times better. That being said, I look at this film as a comedy. And Nick Cage being a friggen crazy person made me laugh throughout the entire film. I also really liked that there was no romance sub plot, something that completely ruined the original IMO. My biggest problem was with the devil/Rourke/Mephisto, he was too de-powered and simplified. Other than that, i really did have a great time! AND Idras Elba, once again stole the show in another Marvel movie.

  9. I dig this movie a lot, and Cage’s Rider acting is awesomely eccentric. THUMBS UP

  10. That was a really well written review. Great use of puns and word play, Paul was on fire

  11. i like the idea of ghost rider reading zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. if that isn’t a cartoon then it should be.

  12. A cameo appearance by the Highlander should be worth at least one star on it’s own.

  13. I honestly felt there were some scenes of pure awesome cheese in this movie, mainly in the beginning and the end. it’s the huge chunk in the middle that’s the problem, it was just boring. Parts i loved: Nick Cage laughing into the camera riding his bike, his interogation of the thug in the club, the Ghost Rider-fied mining equipment. these things made me cheer! but there wasn’t enough of this stuff to bring to Crank-level of awesome. I’d still say this is worth seeing (maybe on DVD), especially if you know what you’re getting into

  14. Funny that a character that is usually synonymous with speed moves like a pregnant cow in this movie.

  15. “So even if you’re revved up for tongue in cheek absurdity, expect trauma, not Troma. Maybe a few Red Hot moments, but not a single red jellybean to be had.”

    Paul, sometimes I feel like I should ask you to stop writing such fantastic things, but then the internet wouldn’t be half as fun.