“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” — a brief review, with spoilers

| February 17, 2012

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that I’ve been a Nicolas Cage fan ever since “Raising Arizona”. It doesn’t mean that I like (or have even seen) all the films he’s done, but I do like some of his films (“Next”, “Knowing”) more than the general consensus. On the other hand, his first “Ghost Rider” (2007) film was ‘meh’ at best, while as for “The Wicker Man” — well, let’s not go there.

That said, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” was a surprisingly well-done and entertaining film, particularly given that it’s based on a B-level comic book character. The plot can be best summarized as “Terminator 2” meets “The Omen”: Johnny Blaze (Cage) is recruited by a religious (but violent) man named Moreau to help located and protect a young boy, Danny, who has been fathered by Roarke, the human incarnation of the Devil — the same man who made a deal with Blaze (to save Blaze’s father), turning him into the Ghost Rider — and who is destined to become the Antichrist if a certain ritual takes place a few days hence.  The offer made to Blaze is that if he brings Danny to a certain place of sanctuary, Blaze can have his curse lifted.

While the overall story arc holds no great surprises (name the last comic book movie that did), the ride is a fun one. Cage’s famous quirkiness and propensity of scenery-chewing works well for his character, a man possessed by an actual demon (himself a fallen angel) whose only desire is to punish the wicked and occasionally consume their souls. Cage plays Blaze as someone who is borderline functional, who chews handfuls of prescription pain meds, and who admits when asked that, yeah, sometimes he enjoys being the Ghost Rider. The special effects are largely seamless and at times impressive, such as when the Rider turns an enormous complex of earth-moving equipment into his ‘ride’. Another refreshing change from most comic book films is that the entire story takes place in Europe (filming was in Romania and Turkey). The film doesn’t try to hide its comic book origins, either, with a few brief illustrated backstory sequences and a bit of occasional live-action comic book editing (side-by-side panels, momentary flashbacks). Also note that unlike a lot of comic book films, there’s a high body count in this one — and unlike almost any other comic book film (except maybe “Captain America”), it’s the hero who’s killing everyone.

I actually went to see this in 3-D, the first 3-D film I’ve seen in probably two years. The 3-D effect was a bit jarring in the earliest action sequence, but after that was not a problem (and was not overused). On the other hand, they showed the “Amazing Spider Man” trailer in 3-D before the film, and it was awful (watching the trailer in 3-D, that is).

Finally, for those of you who sit through the credits looking for additional little bits — there aren’t any.

In all, I give the film a solid B+. Spoilers after the jump.




OK, it’s hard to have a lot of spoilers in a comic book film, since the arc does largely follow what you’d expect. It even contains the classic comic-book twist of hero gives up his powers, then needs to reclaim them in order to save the day, but even there it’s done with a bit of style. Blaze (Cage), having delivered the boy to the sanctuary, actually has the demon exorcised out of him. But then the boy is recaptured by one of Roarke’s minions, Methodius — the original human kidnapper, killed by Blaze, but brought back to life by Roarke and given powers of his own. As it turns out, Roarke doesn’t want Danny per se — he just wants transfer himself into Danny’s half-human, half-devil body. Blaze, sans powers, decides to go after Danny anyway (with the help of both Moreau and Danny’s mother), since Blaze had promised Danny to keep him safe. They interrupt the ceremony before it’s complete — Moreau is killed by Methodius and Blaze is about to be — when Danny walks up and uses his newfound powers to restore the demon into Blaze. Lots more bodies (or, more accurately, ashes), big chase scene, the Rider causes the van driven by Roarke (and containing Danny as well) to crash. He wraps his chain around Roarke and smashes him into the ground, sending him back down to Hell.

But:  Danny died in the crash. The Rider carries him over to his mother, then converts back to Blaze…and Blaze, for the first time, can feel the angel that his possessing demon once was. He draws upon that power (a blue flame, rather than orange) and restores Danny back to life. The final scene shows the Rider on his motorcycle again, but this time the flames around him are blue, not orange.   Fade to credits.

One last spoiler, which shows that Cage is not above poking fun at himself. At one point, Blaze and Danny are in a roadside diner, and as Blaze is walking back to the table with a tray of food, he sees Danny looking a man at another table, tousling the hair of one of his kids. Blaze sits down across from Danny, then reaches over to tousle Danny’s hair. Danny pulls back and gives Blaze a “what are you doing?” look; Blaze says, “Uh, a bee. There was a bee in your hair.” I have to believe this was in reference to this scene from The Wicker Man:


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About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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