Flaming Cage: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”

February 20, 2012

There’s a lot wrong with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance—hey, that 15% on Rotten Tomatoes  didn’t earn itself, right?—and I’d be derelict in my responsibilities as a, uh, whatever I am if I didn’t point them out. Yet, I can’t past the fact that this movie ultimately gave me what I wanted, and what I wanted was to see me some lunatic Nicolas Cage. And that is precisely what I got. I mean, how could this movie fail to deliver the goods when it’s as near and dear to Cage’s heart as, probably, anything he’s ever done (with the exception of the first one)? This is a guy who had to cover up the Ghost Rider tattoo on his arm when he filmed these movies.

So, this movie starts with a quasi-animated recap of the back story, which is conveniently tweaked enough to fit this premise better, and hopefully not remind anyone of the last movie. So, you know, they don’t mention Peter Fonda or Wes Bentley or Eva Mendes. Why dwell on the past? Smash-cut, and were in Eastern Europe. Literally, that’s what is says onscreen: “Eastern Europe.” Well, no point in getting all in the weeds on stuff, right? We got some crazy-ass religious prophesy stuff to get to.

And that kicks off when a bunch of mercenaries attack a remote monastery run by a smug (and short-lived) Anthony Head. Moments before the attack, we got some sketchy exposition about a kid and his mother needing protection, and then Idris Elba showed up to prove that unlike GR1, this movie could afford some decent actors.

This is what Nicolas Cage imagines happpens every time he uses a public urinal

Well, all the monks get killed, but the mom (Violante Placido, last seen in The American) and the kid get away. Idris tracks down Johnny Blaze, aka the Ghost Rider, aka one of the five or six personalities in Nicolas Cage’s head. Blaze is in self-imposed exile in this nameless Eastern European country and just wants to left alone in the, uh, tool shed where he apparently lives. But Elba tells him that he needs to protect this chick and her kid, because the devil put his spirit or something in the kid, and if he sacrifices him at the anointed time he, um, fuck, I don’t know. Gets to live forever or something.

Well, Blaze doesn’t want to get involved, but Elba tells him that he can remove the curse if Blaze helps the kid, so he rides off, just in time to save the mom and kid from getting snatched by the Eurotrash mercenary that attacked the monastery. He’s on the payroll of, well, Satan (played without a whole lot of menace by Ciaran Hinds), only he goes by Roarke for some reason. I guess it seems more Satanic or something.

"Wanna hear about the time a naked man eating a fudgesicle broke into my bedroom?"

So that’s the basic premise that the movie operates off of, and it’s a good, simple one. It’s  a lot better than the first movie, which was so convoluted, all I remember is that there were a bunch of bad guys that could do supernatural stuff…or that might have been Electra, I’m not sure.

But this movie works because directors Mark Neveldine  and Brian Taylor—they of the Crank movie (which are basically screen grabs from the id of a 13 year-old delinquent)—seemed to pitch to the same insane wavelength as their star, and this meetings of the minds (hee hee hee) means we finally have a movie in which Cage’s inherent lunacy is a part of action and not an incongruity on par with, say, finding a gecko breakdancing in the middle of your dessert. If anything, this movie probably gives us the best window into Nicolas Cage’s mind than anything. For example:

* The perpetual voice overs may or may not address the action of the film. They could, in fact, be Cage’s own personal manifesto about the demon inside him and Devil’s presence on Earth. I wouldn’t be surprised.

* When the Rider makes his first appearance, he just sort of stands over a burning car and sways, as if to music only he can hear. I can totally see what happened on set that day. Cage shouts, “No, man! The Rider should just stand there over the car and he, like, moves like it’s music! Like it’s the music of hell that he hears inside his skull-head, yeah! It’s the music that never stops! Not on Trespass! Not on Drive Angry! It just never stops! Yeah, when marimba rhythms starts to play/dance with me/make me sway…” And then he sambaed around the set. And Neveltine and Taylor just let him do it because, fuck, are you gonna argue with the crazy man? There are probably sharp things on that set.

* As the rider begins to overtake Cage, and his face begins to morph, he screams at a bad guy to give him information, exclaiming that the demons is rising in him, “He’s scratching at the door! Scratching at the door!”  I’m pretty sure this is what Cage screams at himself every morning in his trailer, only in this instance, the he refers to the IRS.

* Okay, so what do you wanna bet that Cage also came up that awesome scene from the trailer where he gets shot in the face with a machine-pistol, and then barfs the bullets back out at the guy? Probably one night he was running around one of his castles like a hyperactive spider monkey, getting hammered on Jager shots and blowing mouthfuls of Corn Nuts all over the place. Then he grabbed a pen and paper and was like, “Yeah! This is totally going in the next Ghost Rider!” Then he made motorcycle noises for the rest of the night.

The movie could have just ended after this scene.

* Nicolas Cage owns not one, but two castles. They don’t appear in this movie, but their presence hovers over it. I mean, this is a movie made to the whims of a dude who bought two castles. And then named his kid after Superman.

* And too much cannot be said about the transformation scene in which Cage races down the street, and grins manically into the fish-eye lens, while his face distorts, going back and forth between human and skull, while the music blares and Cage cackles. Finally, we know what Cage sees when he looks in the mirror.

Yeah, Neveldine and Taylor’s low-budget, handheld directing style doesn’t suit the material particularly well, in which the visuals should be more bold and coherent like a comic panel. And Hinds really doesn’t have the hamminess required to make his Roarke/Satan a good villain for this movie. Oh well. I wanted some crazy Cage, and I got it. Thank God for Nicolas Cage:

One comment

  1. Have you seen Andy Samberg’s impersonation of Nic Cage on SNL? It’s high praise…

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