It is a source of great sorrow to me that I have yet to watch Ghost Rider I, the original fiery debut of Johnny Blaze, the soul-selling, skull-headed, fire-peeing, bike-riding ghoul from hell. Fortunately, this regret has been appeased tonight by Blaze’s resurrection in the theatres, thanks to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. There’s no time for dillying and dallying here – Johnny Blaze has the world to save, in the shape of a young boy fought over by the devil himself and some rather extreme heavily tattooed religious mountainous zealots. If Blaze can save the child from the devil then he might just save his own soul. Whether he really wants salvation or not is another matter.
Ghost Rider oozes fire. There isn’t a scrap of flesh on his bones. Instead of skin he wears scorched leather riding gear. His grin is like the fiery jaws of hell itself. He loves what he is and when Johnny Blaze transforms into this flaming avenger of evil he might fight it a little but he laughs as he changes.
This all works because the man doing the transforming, the gurning, the pithy one liners, the bike riding, the fire peeing, the vengeance wreaking is none other than Nicolas Cage, here at his bonkers best. If ever there’s a man that you can believe has sold his soul to the devil it’s Nic Cage and I mean that in the nicest possible way. No-one comes close.
Drive Angry was one of my films of 2011 (my review is here), a glorious, preposterous romp of a devil movie intensified by 3D, which also plays an unobtrusive and effective role here, at its best. Drive Angry, though, had an advantage over Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – it was an 18 certificate. Every act or joke or twist of taste could be taken to its extreme, where it belonged. Ghost Rider is a disappointing 12A. It can only hint at what really goes on in the mind of Johnny Blaze. It isn’t pretty.
Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here among the Turkish ruins. As well as Johnny himself, there is Ciarán Hinds as a baddie that we know could be badder if it weren’t for the certificate. There is also Johhny Whitworth as the rather unpleasantly mouldy Carrigan and Christopher Lambert as Methodius (a kind of Paul Bettany role). To add a bit of female interest there is Violante Placido as Nadya, the mother of the potentially evil boy (one must wonder about the father). There is also a script with more than its fair share of amusing Nic Cage throw away lines (something about wine and a salad for example). And then there’s the pounding soundtrack. Having David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, FlashForward, Blade, Mission to Mars) as writer and producer doesn’t hurt a bit.
Ghost Rider won’t challenge your brain cells but if you love Nic Cage in bonkers mode, enjoyed Drive Angry and wanted a bit more of that – but with bikes instead of supercars – then you will be very happy to spend some time laughing and grimacing at and with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. What’s not to like?