Sometimes a movie will surprise me. Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, who gave us the two entertaining “Crank” action movies, have now directed a sequel to “Ghost Rider,” which was a better-than-average comic book movie. I expected another goofy action picture which I could tell you went by pretty fast and managed in a general sort of way to be diverting.
But “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” turned out to be more than that. It is a hoot, an hour and a half of action spaced with dramatic scenes dominated either by Nicholas Cage, who is for some reason at his very best here, or Ciaran Hinds, who is as good as he always is, which is to say, he’s really, really amusing to watch.
The guys who refer to themselves as “Neveldine/Taylor” have then thrown in a well-prepared surprise at the story’s climax, and the net result is the best super hero movie since “The Dark Knight.”
Cage reprises his part as Johnny Blaze, who signed his soul away in a deal with the devil. When events demand it, he turns into Ghost Rider, a flaming motorcycle rider, self-healing, with a grinning skull for a head and long chains he uses as deadly whips. He can sense his targets, and he rides fast, leaving a trail of fire behind him. This all looks good in a movie poster sort of way, even if it does sound utterly ridiculous.
The Rider is a killer. But his intentions are good. And he happens to be handy when Moreau ((Idris Elba with green contact lenses) needs help saving the boy Danny. The kid is the child of an anxious young mother and of the devil’s Earth-walking form, a character named Roarke (Hinds). Roarke wants to transfer his soul into the body of his son, and to do this he needs to perform a ritual over the kid at sunrise one day in a ruined amphitheater in Turkey.
So the villain has sent a sneering agent named Kerrigan (Johnny Whitworth) to grab the kid. But Kerrigan and his squad of thugs are frustrated by the Ghost Rider, who arrives at a working quarry to kill guys with his whips and his spewing of fire and later with his use of a huge self-propelled rock saw. The baddies knock him out for a time, but doing so requires the use of “bunker buster” missiles.
Moreau is working for an order of Vengeance-seeking monks led by Christopher “Highlander” Lambert, who is sporting text tattooed all over his face and head. These priests offer to lift the curse from Johnny Blaze if he will deliver Danny to them, The curse lifting scene features some all-black or all-white backgrounds and looks like an acid trip in at 1969 film.
But once the curse is lifted and there is no Ghost Rider, Kerrigan (now armed with the power of decay in his touch) appears at the monastery and carries Danny off to Turkey. Moreau, Ma, and Johnny follow. But what can they do against Satan now that Blaze is just a mortal? A good reversal and several fine action sequences, including more with the all-black or all-white backgrounds follows. And the film ends with a series of disdainfully funny one-liners.
We don’t usually give Cage enough credit. He has been a dependable movie star for a long time, and he does know how to interpret lines and convey thoughts in all sorts of delightful ways. Action movies usually die when the fighting and chasing stops, but Cage and Hinds are so good I found myself wanting the action to get over for a spell so that one or the other of them would be shot close-up explaining something absurd. The talk was at least as attractive as the violence here.
The “Crank” movies are something like this second “Ghost Rider” movie—wild fantasy with fast-paced action and effective acting. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that “Spirit of Vengeance” works so well. But I was. Surprised, and delighted.