Some actors can do anything, and Nicolas Cage is one of them. Stay with me here. In his extensive filmography, he's played sad sack fathers, detectives, EMTs, monsters, scholars, writers, and criminals, and audiences keep showing up. He's like Stanley Tucci with crazy eyes. The common thread between them is isolation and loneliness, which is why his general air of instability works so well. He might play an entire movie mostly straight, but as a moviegoer, you know you can count on him for at least one freakout. After all, it's woven into his DNA, and that's where his movies often take off and become performance art. Lately, he's done more PR for fire/hell/Satan than Jerry Lewis does for muscular dystrophy. How does Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hold up in his ever-growing list of movies about the dark side? It's mediocre at best--but if you've ever seen an Aphex Twin video and wished it was 18 times as long and sprinkled with Sin City sensibilities, then it will be your number one of the year.
Perhaps the best example of studios using the original's $100 million+ revenue to justify jamming a square peg in a round hole a second time, this sequel shows up with Crank's hot renegade directors Neveldine/Taylor using their frenetic filmmaking style to disorient audiences so much they forget a first one even existed. The 3D chains whipped at your face, motorcycle wheelies and bazookas all make this movie impossible for grandma to fall asleep at. So that's something. But as far as actually being about anything, well…it ends up feeling like the world's worst spin doctor job about good versus evil.
The movie re-explains this obscure comic book character's origin with great animated sequences, since no one knows or remembers who he is. Daredevil motorist Johnny Blaze (Cage) was really sad his father was dying, and made a deal with the devil to keep him alive (always a professional, the devil uses post-it notes on the contract so you know exactly where to leave your blood signature). Suddenly Blaze began morphing into this flame-engulfed skull demon whenever evil was around (which must have made him busy during election years). The only problem is that the Ghost Rider sees the evil in everyone, and he kills indiscriminately. So poor, normal Johnny Blaze is now tormented, alone and terrified that he will take everyone out when he visits an Urban Outfitters. Moreau (Idris Elba), a man of indeterminable origins and accent, seeks Blaze out and gives him a purpose--find Danny, the child of Satan (Fergus Riordan) and protect him from his father (Ciaran Hinds), or else the end of the world will come around sooner instead of later. Or people will be really unhappy or something. I was too busy dodging a CG chain to really pay much attention. He's getting chased by Satan's henchman with perfect Kurt Russell hair, Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who also has history with Danny's mother Nadya (Violante Placido), whose dark eyeliner and skill with a firearm make her seem like a chick who…well, did it with Satan.
The fast-moving shots and omnipresence of fire trumps everything in the film, and inspires a kind of amnesia that makes it hard for me to pin down what anyone was saying past "protect the boy!" Moreau and Co. use Ghost Rider's destructive tendencies to keep the bad guys at bay, even at great risk to themselves. And when Danny finally starts asking questions, Blaze is left justifying his presence saying that sometimes evil can be used for good. Or at least that's what I think he was saying; I was too busy watching him urinate fire while he was talking. In fact, now that I look back at it, I have no idea what the movie was trying to say other than "don't let Satan do yoga poses onstage with his son in front of a whole bunch of Deatheaters, or else we're going to have eight more weeks of winter."
The centerpiece of the film isn't story or cinematography, just a flaming-skull guy wearing a motorcycle outfit that's bubbling like toxic champagne. Nic Cage doesn't get a chance to qualify for the Razzies in this one, which prompts me to recommend you rent Drive Angry instead. That movie has a much better use of a human skull.