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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

DIRECTED BY MARK NEVELDINE & BRIAN TAYLOR

For all our pretensions to cinematic snobbery, there’s clearly something about a second-rate, mid-February Nicholas Cage release that strikes a chord with us here at Torontoist. This time last year, we were among the few outlets to lavish praise on Patrick Lussier’s widely-dismissed Drive Angry. Twelve months on, we’re probably going to be one of the few defenders of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the latest film from the Crank directorial tandem of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (also of 2009′s much-reviled Gamer). Even distributor Sony Pictures appears to have little faith in the project; they reportedly slashed its budget prior to production, and are declining to screen the film for press—a particularly ominous sign.

And yet, while we’d stop short of declaring Spirit of Vengeance a genuinely “good” movie, it’s certainly a good time, courtesy of the gleeful, unhinged antics of Cage and his collaborators. In theory, Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider is one of Marvel’s darker heroes, but it’s apparent from the outset that Neveldine and Taylor have no interest in the brooding, self-serious sensibility that has gained currency in recent comic book adaptations. Instead, they strike a firmly tongue-in-cheek tone, and provide Cage with an ideal platform for his trademark brand of scarcely restrained lunacy.

Largely forsaking continuity with its 2007 predecessor, Spirit of Vengeance offers a quick recap of the Rider’s Faustian origins—he’s a former stuntman who made a deal with the devil (Ciarán Hinds) to save his ailing dad—before he joins forces with a wine-swilling, heat-packing priest named Moreau (Idris Elba, with a shamelessly suspect French accent). Moreau offers to cure Blaze of his curse, provided that he first prevents a young boy from falling victim to a satanic prophecy. The Prince of Darkness has firm designs on the child, however, and attempts to recover him with the aid of a demonic minion who putrefies everything that he touches (apart from processed snack foods, we learn).

Needless to say, it’s not Shakespeare (nor is it even Crank), but the directors supply their customary kinetic flair, often to great comedic effect. Their jittery framing accents Cage’s addled screen presence, and in the film’s stand-out scene, Blaze’s efforts to subdue the Rider (i.e. to keep his face from bursting into flames) result in a vintage display of Cagean tics and convulsively awkward line deliveries.

It’s a slight disappointment that none of the film’s action scenes manage to be as memorable, and that the tacked-on 3D adds nothing to the presentation, though “disappointment” is a relative term. We’re honestly still a little shocked that Spirit of Vengeance isn’t a total train wreck.

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