It occurs to me that I have spent a lot of my life – over five hours of it in fact – in cinemas watching Nicholas Cage play a demonic character tooling about on a fast vehicle, first in 2007’s pretty bad Ghost Rider, then in last year’s not so bad Drive Angry, and now, finally, in Ghost Rider’s sequel, Spirit of Vengeance. This is a pretty depressing realisation. Luckily however, Ghost Rider 2 is a surprisingly decent follow-up.
Cage reprises his role as Marvel creation Johnny Blaze, the stuntman who, after a Faustian pact with the devil, finds himself transformed into Ghost Rider: a fiery, skull-headed, chopper riding angel of vengeance with a penchant for leather. This time round, his mission is to prevent a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from being used as Satan’s host body, with help from the boy’s mother (Violante Placido) and a gun-toting, wine swigging biker monk (Idris Elba).
And the film certainly hits the ground running, with a frankly mad battle between some hi-tech priests and the gun-toting forces of evil – and that’s before the dude with the flaming skull for a head even shows up. Things tick along nicely for the first hour or so in suitably exciting fashion. The directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (who made insane cult classic Crank and its sequel) keep things tongue-in-cheek, as a film with a plot this silly should be. One of the real achievements of Ghost Rider 2 is just how much funnier it is than its predecessor – the film’s best gag sees a demonic villain (Johnny Whitworth) whose touch causes immediate decay coming up against the one foe immune to his powers – the imperishable Twinkie.
Neveldine and Taylor also manage to imbue a sense of style into proceedings that the original never quite managed. There are some nicely animated exposition scenes, and the pair also wisely ratchet up the horror factor. Not that these comic-book ghoulies are likely to scare anyone, but Ghost Rider’s jerky movements and soulless drive at least make him more of a genuine anti-hero and not the rather cuddly character he was last time out, while the gruesome powers of the villains make them suitably creepy foes. The special effects are light years ahead of the original’s cheap-looking graphics – Ghost Rider’s visuals are a particular highlight.
The acting is a mixed bag. The always excellent Idris Elba is clearly having a whale of a time while Ciarán Hinds is on brilliantly sinister form as the satanic Roarke. As for Cage, at least here when he goes batshit crazy it’s meant to be hilarious, unlike in The Wicker Man. Placido, Whitworth and young Riordan meanwhile are never able to step out from the shadows of the big names around them.
The last half hour of Ghost Rider 2 takes the gloss off things, as the pace slows to a relative crawl and we have time to think about just how stupid the whole thing is. But Spirit of Vengeance is a step-up in pretty much every way from the original – funnier, more exciting and mercifully shorter. It’s hardly a classic, but of all the time I’ve spent in a cinema watching Nicholas Cage play a demonic character tooling around on a fast vehicle, I’ve probably enjoyed this ninety minutes the most.