Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Blu-ray ReviewJune 10, 2012
Receiving Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on Blu-ray to review brought an absolute revelation upon me. The revelation was, "They made a sequel to Ghost Rider? Why?!"
Apparently one poorly-written, poorly-acted, borderline-nonsensical film that does a horrible job of melding super heroics and the occult wasn't enough. So the folks at Columbia commissioned a sequel with Nicholas Cage once again acting (if you can call it that) in the title role as hell's chief bounty hunter.
It's a movie that's horribly out of balance, even more so than its predecessor. The sequel is embarrassingly-light on story and characterization while it possesses eye candy and special effects sequences when none seem to be called for (but the visuals do pack a pretty good punch and stand as some of the better visual effects yet seen in a comic book adaptation).
Cage reprises the role of Johnny Blaze, a stuntman who as a child sold his soul to the devil and is now paying the price as the host of the Rider, the demonic (and eponymous) spirit of vengeance. Desperate to control the demon that dwells within him, Blaze journeys to Europe, but finds the task easier said than done.
The young priest Moreau (played by Thor and Prometheus standout Idris Elba) approaches Blaze with a deal: If Blaze will help his church rescue Danny, a young boy who figures prominently in a foreboding prophecy, the church will repay him by ridding him of the demon that plagues him.
Much of the film's acting falls flat (particularly when it comes to Cage's portrayal of Johnny Blaze; then again, a blah performance from Nicholas Cage is pretty much par for the course these days, isn't it?), but there are a select few rays of sunshine.
Ciaran Hinds delivers a perfectly serviceable performance as the villainous Roarke. Hinds takes what is essentially a two-dimensional role and adds just enough nuance to it without going over the top.
Also delivering a pretty good performance is Violante Placido as Nadya, young Danny's mother. It's certainly a huge improvement over Eve Mendes's bootleg Lois Lane-type performance from the 2007 original; Placido infuses a little realism into an otherwise ridiculous picture and is the closest thing to a point-of-view character for the audience that this movie can provide.
At the center of the film's problems is... well, that's a problem in and of itself. Even the movies problems lack focus. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is simply all over the place. During the primary action of the movie, directors Mark Eveldine and Brian Taylor establish a moody but not overly-dark atmosphere. But in the vignettes that contain the bulk of the movie's exposition, there's a kind of madcap attempt (read again: ATTEMPT) at humor to maintain levity.
In other words, this is a movie that doesn't even know what kind of movie it wants to be. Does it want to be a supernatural action thriller? A horrific dark comedy? The film doesn't seem to know for sure, meaning that an audience definitely isn't going to be able to make heads or tails of it.
Also, as crappy as the original film was, much of this film comes across as a stark departure. The first movie may have, for the most part, failed miserably at trying to strike a fun tone, but the effort was there and every once in a great while it succeeded. And while Spirit of Vengeance tries to go for some less-than-classy laughs in its animated expository vignettes, it makes no attempt to make its audience have fun.
Technically, however, the movie is extraordinarily well-made. Its directors have a slick, well-polished style, and the visual effects are absolutely stunning. It's sharply-edited (which is no easy feat considering the jumbled, unfocused nature of the story), both in terms of picture and sound. Unfortunately, though, it can't make up for everything the movie doesn't have.
Of all the things Spirit of Vengeance lacks, nothing in this film is in shorter supply than charm. I don't care if the movie's about a hell beast that possesses a stunt motorcyclist and manifests itself as a flaming skull on a flaming motorcycle; any story about heroes (or, in this case, antiheroes) needs to have some measure of charm to make the audience want to go along for the ride.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has me repeating the same question over and over again: Can I get off now?
If anything, Ghost Rider is one of Marvel Comics' more unique characters. If you look at the heavy-hitters (Spider-Man, the X-Men, even the Avengers), they're all heavily based in science fiction. Here the powers-that-be have the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind superhero film mythology that stands apart from the others - it even stands apart from the Blade series, the franchise that launched the era of the Marvel movie.
And yet it'll go down in history as a squandered opportunity.
Sony brings Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance to Blu-ray with a striking 1080p transfer that is (dare I say it) perfect. Seriously. I watched this movie a second time and made it half way through a third viewing (it was not the most pleasant experience; you people owe me) and could not find any visual anomalies. No noise, no grain, no nothing. This is a movie with a gorgeous picture that, in spite of the awful, awful, awful movie to which it's attached, more or less steps up as the gold standard in high-definition secondary market video transfers.
Search far and wide, and you are highly unlikely to find a better picture on any other Blu-ray disc out there.
As for the audio, the movie's lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also up to the challenge. I noted that the first thirty minutes or so could've stood a minor boost in volume, but for the most part I could detect no major errors with the audio treatment on this movie. Dialogue is always crisp and clear and is still audible and intelligible over the sounds of the bigger, more explosive action sequences. The ambient noises are also handled very well. Of particular note to me was the film's first appearance of the Ghost Rider demon. Each burst of flame is capable of rattling the speakers but pulling back quickly so as not to overwhelm. Unlike the movie itself, the lossless audio track is extraordinarily well-balanced.
Beyond the Feature
The number of extra features on this set is a little on the low side, but the quality of each one reaches about as high as possible for a movie as underwhelming as this.
The highlight of the Blu-ray's bonus feature is the Director's Expanded Video Commentary. Sony seems to be trying to take a page out of the Warner Bros. playbook by imitating WB's Maximum Movie Mode; and, truth be told, Sony has put together a pretty reasonable facsimile. Eveldine and Taylor are clearly energetic when it comes to discussing their work and provide a genuinely entertaining insight into the filmmaking process - to be fair, they never attempt to justify the movie's merits on an artistic level; their focus is primarily on the technical side of things. A fitting juxtaposition since this movie works solely on a technical level.
The rest of the movie's bonus features are as follows:
The set also contains previews of other upcoming Sony/Columbia releases as well as an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.
As contradictory as the notion of a hero possessed by the devil, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a study in juxtaposition. On a storytelling level, it's an absolute mess - and that's a generous description. On a technical level, it comes as close to perfect as any other movie released in recent years.|
But as nice as it is to look at, it's virtually unwatchable.
- Jason Jarman
Shop for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (June 12, 2012 release date). Also available on Blu-ray 3D.
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