Flaming Out, by Aaron Pinkston
When Nicolas Cage recently showed up on “Saturday Night Live,” he basically said “I’m with you.” He knows his persona has become bigger than himself, that all of us are laughing at him. But that’s OK, because he’s laughing, too. While Cage and his management probably felt this was a necessary PR move, it breaks the unwritten contract between him and his “fans.” As sad as it is, it’s much more fun to make fun of Nic Cage than it is to have fun with him. People don’t “love” his crazy performances because they believe there is a level of sincerity. Any celebrity breakdown becomes much less interesting when they are in on the joke. His latest film, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, is stuck in the middle of this situation.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance tries very hard to be on the same cultural level as the previous films of its major players. It desperately wants to be a film talked about on message boards, with montage clips showing up on youtube. On the surface the pairing of Nicolas Cage and directing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor seems like a match in “so bad, it’s good” heaven, but our peek behind the curtain makes the film feel too manufactured to succeed. Those looking for a good film will find a bad one, and those looking for a bad film will feel they are watching an inauthentic copy.
Neveldine/Taylor have built their reputations on being renegade filmmakers, whose Crank series traded a sensible plot for constant movement and a “how did they do that?” filmmaking style. During the opening sequences, audiences will certainly get a taste, with some crazy camera work and an interesting use of animation, but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could have used more of their renegade sensibilities. Overall, the film is incredibly inconsistent — leaving the Neveldine/Taylor touches feeling forced, faked.
Perhaps it is the big budget and studio mentality, as there are a surprising amount of plot and character moments the film swims through. The film openly struggles with this, where at one point, Johnny Blaze quickly goes from philosophizing about his situation to asking his young companion if he wants to see something cool. This is a perfect encapsulation of the fact that Neveldine/Taylor have very little interest in their characters. So how are we supposed to care about characters when the film doesn’t?
Although a sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance strangely has little to do with its predecessor. This would probably be a complete surprise to anyone who hasn’t seen the original, as the characters and plot elements of this film feel like there was a lot of set-up somewhere else. This would all be totally forgiven if the film delivered on what it wants to be — who would care that the plot is sloppy or the character under-developed if it would be destined for an endless supply of youtube montages? Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ultimately proves that no matter the talent or the intention, cult classics cannot be choreographed.