Nicolas Cage in: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Released in 2011 ▪ Review posted January 26, 2014

“I’ll change. I’ll change. I’ve learned that I have the strength to change.”

Michael Corleone (The Godfather Part II)

After writing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but before writing The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel, David S. Goyer wrote Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It’s a little superhero movie side project for America’s best superhero movie writer (prove me wrong, Joss Whedon) between his two biggest successes. It is fantastic.

This is everything I wanted a Ghost Rider film to be. Any film that opens with a harried conversation between Anthony Head and Idris Elba is instantaneously captivating. These actors appeal to all kinds of cinephiles. They set a tone of darkness and gloom, which is perfect considering the world of the film is one where Satan is real and walks the earth inhabiting the body of a millionaire stroke patient. There is magnificent pacing to the story, making this film a full 30 minutes shorter than its predecessor. It is a 90-minute, action-packed thrill ride.

Nicolas Cage nails it. In Spirit of Vengeance, Johnny Blaze is driven to the brink of sanity by the power he possesses. This iteration slightly modifies the backstory set up in the original, and now things like the physical transformation into a flaming skeleton are incredibly painful. This causes Blaze to focus much of his time and energy on avoiding the transformation, which results in a huge internal struggle. The main character has a great power he’s spent years trying to suppress because realizing his full potential is scary and painful.

Cage skillfully emotes the mental anguish that Johnny Blaze ought to have throughout the movie. Frenetic edits and quality directing keep pace with Cage’s maniacal performance, and you get a superior superhero/action flick. It’s like Constantine but with spine.

Another implausibly good thing about this movie is the successful incorporation of a kid into the plot. This usually doesn’t work. It can easily go horribly wrong. In Spirit of Vengeance, as Nic Cage struggles to accept his Satanic powers, he is forcibly paired with the child of Satan under the pretense of having to care for him. Literally, Cage finds and nurtures the only other being in existence that possesses great powers from a dark place, despite the kind of moral person they struggle to be. This movie has depth to it. I might need to sit down a second. You get to see Ghost Rider as the comics portray him: gritty, horrific, and mean; the kind of otherworldly beast that would be able to whip Satan back into Hell.

It’s a pity that Nic seems to have lost interest in the character, especially thinking about where the Ghost Rider film franchise could have gone after this. Perhaps it was struggling with studios to get any kind of quality out of a concept that exists this far out of the box? Maybe, after struggling with studio executives to get any kind of quality out of the concept, the finished product was not what Cage envisioned? Either way, he’s not interested in continuing on as Ghost Rider for another film. The movie certainly took a beating from online critics. Roger Ebert has no published review of it.

Call me crazy, but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is as fun and as great a movie as The Rock or Face/Off or Con Air. It’s all the better because it’s a Marvel film starring your friend and mine, Nicolas Cage. Screaming, flaming, skeleton man Nicolas Cage.

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It was great. Did you not read?