Dear Nicolas Cage,
I hope this letter finds you well. Firstly, congratulations on your new movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance; it appears to still be in demand after all these years. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone Sony only made the movie because the rights to the property would revert back to Marvel if no sequel was made in time) You must be pleased, as I am extremely pleased with your new work. I’m glad directors Mark Neveldine, and Brian Taylor allowed you to play the character as you see fit, i.e. bat shit crazy. I know you approached this film as you do every film these days. All for the purpose of burning impression on our cerebellums. Since you are considered insane in 23% of the United States I suspect my review of your film would be better digested in list form.
5 reasons why your film works:
1. Once you understand what the film is trying to do, the enjoyment will follow.
If fans are unfamiliar with the original Ghost Rider film they won’t need to worry, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance requires zero understanding of the comics or the previous film. This is due in part because of a nice animated summary 15 minutes into the film, but it’s also due to the fact that Ghost Rider is treated more as a myth than a character who needs a story. Once you understand the simple relationship between Johnny Blaze, Satan and Ghost Rider, the rest requires the viewer to sit back and enjoy the show. Much like a good horror film like Friday the 13th, Ghost Rider should be enjoyed as you would enjoy Jason. Who cares about the characters, the plot or the story? Ghost Rider is enjoyed for its visceral imagery and meaningless yet hilarious one liners. Luckily the ooey gooey nature of the film is tacky enough to stick right on your cornea. In a good way.
The real superhero in this film is Cage himself.
2. Nicolas Cage, you are a crazy bastard.
Simply tracking Cage’s career you’ll notice he’s had stages. First he was breaking in with small parts until he did Raising Arizona, always trying to create a persona and prove he can act. There was always a bit of crazy hiding behind each character, be it Wild At Heart or his Oscar winning role Leaving Las Vegas. But boy, once he won that Oscar he stopped caring what anyone thought of his acting and started to have some real fun, which is the Cage we’ve grown to love.
The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off, Gone in Sixty Seconds are all films that require little acting ability and the keen instinct to hit one liners. He toyed with the weird with his role in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and has since made films like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call and The Wicker Man among others. The man has veritably created a new kind of bad acting in this latest stage. Instead of doing it right he’s doing it his way. In the last two seasons of Saturday Night Live a reoccurring skit has appeared on their Weekend Update where Andy Samberg acts like the maniac Cage loves to play. Last weekend Cage made an appearance to spoof himself:
Nicolas Cage started out as a cowboy in the wild west of Hollywood, but since winning his Oscar has become an outlaw. In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Cage has made Johnny Blaze quirky and weird with strange body movement like a meerkat and turned the rider from a man with demon powers into a untamed creature. When you see the flaming skull and swagger of Ghost Rider in the latest film you know you’re looking at Cage, not an avatar created in a CGI warehouse.
3. This film isn’t about exposition. It’s about partying.
The 15 minute summary works well enough, but it and other summary moments appear so quickly and out of no where it’s as if the film itself has no patience for exposition. In fact, I’d wager the film doesn’t care about exposition, but has it only to ensure every audience goer can at least get slightly situated in it’s B movie craziness. Just look at the plot:
Johnny Blaze is in Europe because he’s “running” from the Ghost Rider which is his personal demon literally and figuratively, that Satan gave him upon selling his soul. Bad guys are after a boy who bring on the end of the world. Blaze gets entangled in rescuing the boy.
Does any of this plot matter? No, because the film isn’t about that. Based on the fact that Sony is popping this out simply to not lose this property, one can imagine the script wasn’t polished nor ready. What the directors did with this speaks volumes to how good they are. This should have been really bad, but ends up being enjoyable.
Why a lot of reviews are off base is because it’s not about the story that makes this movie an enjoyable experience. Stop trying to find meaning or sense in in a film about a maniac who can turn into a flaming demon. It’s the Ghost Rider itself that’s fun and interesting and all the insane shit he can do.
The action is great too, be it cool shots of Ghost Rider whipping his chain through bad guys, a decent fight scene on the hood of a moving truck or a giant earth digger turned into a flaming chainsaw,
It does flash in and out, like a trained matador, but when it does flash in it’s exciting and energetic. The real treat comes when the filmmakers play around with the action scenes using interesting cinematography or quick edits to imbue more energy on screen. If you’re familiar with directors Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor previous films Crank and Crank 2 you’ll know exactly what I mean. At one point one of the supporting characters gets flung off his motorcycle right over a cliff. The camera stays behind him while he never stops shooting at the enemy. Pretty cool stuff.
4. Ghost Rider is a mythical creature.
Similar to Jason or Freddy, this creature is a monster that is a frightening and disturbing creature. Instead of being a rounded out hero it’s more of a mythical creature. The more backstory and explanation of the Ghost Rider the more it would lose its mythological qualities. Essentially Ghost Rider isn’t a person who is trying to do the right thing, but a man in a fairy tale world between hell and earth. Films like this shouldn’t be analyzed like the Bourne Identity but enjoyed as a symbolic and mythical experience.You get that vibe a bit from this clip:
This mythical angle makes Ghost Rider all the more fun to look at. The directors have rightly made it a staggering, awkward moving beast that destroys with impunity. Apparently Cage was inspired by his pet snake when acting as the Ghost Rider and you can tell its purpose is to be more of a creature than a superhero. Cage even admits to such in this clip below. To sum up; Ghost Rider is a combination of his pet cobras and an ancient alternate dimension pharaoh.
5. The emphasis is on the weird.
Another treat is how Cage delivers lines and the support he gets from the directors. Typically Cage utters a line awkwardly or strangely, for instance putting more emphasis on a word that shouldn’t be emphasized. He does it here throughout, but instead of the director smoothing it out or cutting away to take the pressure of the audience they linger on Cage. Let the line breath, put even more emphasis on it, making it stand out. For the most part I laughed out loud at these scenes, and admittedly other moments I scanned my mind for what it all means. By the films end you realize the directors are dialing everything to 11 and making the smallest lines stand out for the only reason to be crazy. The directors did the same in the Crank films by confusing your expectations and throwing fastballs right at your face.
They are admittedly making trash, but they’re making the trash stand out and be fun. There are moments throughout the film where things get dramatic, slow down a bit and start to mean something and instead of carrying that thread through Cage will deliver a cheesy one liner. This movie wants nothing to do with melodrama and wants everything to do with adrenalized malfeasance.
Adventures in Poor Taste
I’m going to be completely up front with you Mr. Cage. This isn’t your best film. This isn’t even your most badass insane role yet. But I love it for what it is and for what it’s trying to do. This film has moments I’ve never seen in a movie before and some great action. I went in with low expectations, mostly because your first Ghost Rider movie stank it up. This movie had some of that stank, but it improved on the model with exciting action and weird pacing and acting.
If you’re a comic fan expecting a straight up adaptation you should probably look elsewhere. Of course, you already knew that after watching the first film. This is more about the directors take on a superhero film and molding into their vision. The goal: trap the energy and insanity of something and let it live and fester in that energy. What else would you want from something that walked right out of a heavy metal album cover? It’s a dude with his head on fire. Revel in it.