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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray Review

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) movie poster Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Theatrical Release: February 17, 2012 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor / Writers: David S. Goyer (story & screenplay); Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman (screenplay)

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider), Violante Placido (Nadya), Ciarαn Hinds (Roarke), Idris Elba (Moreau), Johnny Whitworth (Ray Carrigan/Blackout), Fergus Riordan (Danny), Christopher Lambert (Methodius), Spencer Wilding (Grannik), Sorin Tofan (Kurdish), Jacek Koman (Terrokov), Anthony Head (Benedict), Cristian Iacob (Vasil), Jai Stefan (Krakchev), Vincent Regan (Toma Nikasevic)

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The last few years have shown us that you can't really go wrong with a Marvel movie. Unless that Marvel movie stars Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider. Five years after Cage's Ghost Rider became the rare superhero movie to miss with both critics and audiences, we get Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Despite the general discontent the original film bred, a sequel was not too ludicrous. After all, the trashed and loathed first film easily passed the $100 million mark domestically. And, on account of his well-documented debt, Cage would be more than willing to make a movie for money, even not a huge payday, as his hilariously productive present has illustrated.
Perhaps that wasn't the most solid foundation for Spirit of Vengeance, but at least Marvel and distributor Columbia Pictures had the good sense to change the personnel. And so, as a tagline too proudly boasts, this comes "from the guys that brought you Crank."

Spirit of Vengeance is not at all like the film it follows, which might sound promising to those who didn't like Mark Steven Johnson's take. But this sequel manages to be bad in its own right, just as absurd as its predecessor, but with even less awareness and humor to it.

As you likely remember, Johnny Blaze (Cage) made a deal with the Devil, selling his soul to save his father. The comic book-like opening recaps and retcons a bit, but all you need to know is that Blaze was swindled and is now resigned to do the Devil's bidding, passing judgment on people with his chain-slinging, fire-breathing, motorcycle-riding, flaming skull alter ego. Johnny can try fighting it, but The Rider will come out, as his sockets grow empty and justice is served.

Nicolas Cage playing Johnny Blaze is the one main feature that renders this "Ghost Rider" a sequel. Ciarαn Hinds plays the unenviable role of Roarke, a Devil of a man.

This sequel is more religious thriller than superhero film, though the directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (whose other credits include Gamer and the maligned Jonah Hex screenplay) make it look like a car commercial, with their jerky handheld digital video, odd angles, and hollow showiness. Their approach is heavy on style and light on substance.

Set in Eastern Europe, the story, which it's tough to believe is attributed to the same David S. Goyer of The Dark Knight, involves a mother-son pickpocket team. Mom (The American's Violante Placido) is untapped Gypsy love interest, while son Danny (Fergus Riordan) is targeted by the Devil, a.k.a. Roarke (Ciarαn Hinds with a bloodshot eye), to become his son. Mom's ex-boyfriend Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), not the father, stands in the way and becomes equipped with "the power of decay", enabling him to touch things to their destruction (even sandwiches, sadly).

Blaze and his deadly alter ego (who is kept under wraps for much of the film, unsurprisingly with an above-the-title star) look to protect the child, who is to be claimed by his thirteenth birthday or the Winter Solstice or something. Also looking out for the boy is black Frenchman Moreau (a contact-lensed Idris Elba), a priestly cipher who alternately swills wine and shoots a machine gun in the film's climax. There are also some tech-savvy monks, led by Scripture-faced Methodius (Highlander's Christopher Lambert), who vow to defend Danny in their own special way.

Spirit of Vengeance is plagued by a number of undesirable qualities, some shared by its predecessor and others distinct to itself. Bad dialogue runs throughout (e.g. "He's not dead, he's just...blocked.", "You're the Devil's baby mama.", "I can feel him, the angel."), which at least supplies a touch of camp value to a film too pricey to be overflowing with it. There's also odd pacing, as insignificant moments are awkwardly prolonged while seemingly important plot points whiz by.

Sought by the Devil and protected by Ghost Rider, a boy (Fergus Riordan) and his Gypsy mother (Violante Placido) are at the heart of the film. Nadya's ex-boyfriend (Johnny Whitworth) is given "the power of decay" and transformed into the Marvel supervillain Blackout.

Cage had every reason to make this movie, which is probably his last chance to play a superhero from the comic books he publicly collects. Civil War era vampire photo be damned; as he approaches 50, he is finally starting to look older, as he has managed not to for the past twenty years.
Between his reluctance to pass on projects, his narrow tastes for fiery supernatural action, and his signature choice of having a distinct look (not so here) define what are fairly interchangeable characters, Cage has completely crossed the line of self-parody. This film definitely provides some choice additions to this much-viewed YouTube montage.

Just a few years ago, Cage had action movie credibility (thanks to things like The Rock and Face/Off), family blockbuster appeal (the National Treasure series), and the chops and versatility to make compelling and challenging films for celebrated directors (such as Spike Jonze's Adaptation and Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men). Now, all of those avenues appear to be closed to Cage, the result of a streak of coolly-received flops. On their own, movies like Bangkok Dangerous, Drive Angry, and Season of the Witch are barely remembered or strongly disliked, but collectively, they and others have established Cage as a desperate actor who can't say no, to which the public in response can't say yes.

Two of the actor's last three films have barely received theatrical release and, in between them, this Ghost Rider sequel became the rare Marvel flop, its indefensible $51.8 million domestic pull (less than half of its predecessor's take, though it also had half the budget) ranking it lower than all but four films to spawn from the comics publisher: The Punisher and its sequel, Jennifer Garner's Elektra (a baffling spin-off to Johnson's weak Daredevil), and the notorious Howard the Duck. Rarely do we see a big name movie star and a recognizable property flame out to the degree that Spirit of Vengeance did. On other flops, analysts perform autopsies to figure out where the marketing failed. This, however, seems not like a marketing fail, but a triumph of the general public, who were able to resist a sequel made primarily to keep rights to the character at Sony, instead of allowing them to expire and revert to Disney/Marvel. By staying away, people couldn't have known how bad Spirit of Vengeance was, but they were right to trust their instincts.

Sticking as close to the original's schedule as the passage of two leap years and three regular ones allows, Sony brings the second Ghost Rider to home video on Tuesday, releasing it as a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-ray, and, this review's subject, a Blu-ray 3D that includes the standard Blu-ray as well. All three versions include access to an UltraViolet stream, the digital copy successor that Sony (never a big proponent of digital copies) is clearly on board with. Naturally, the hero's chain swinging and Neveldine/Taylor's flair lend somewhat to 3D, a format that has become ubiquitous for major studio popcorn fare (a class I'm generously extending to include this $57 M-budgeted sequel).

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Blu-ray 3D combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Catalan, English DVS)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s)
Clear Keepcase with Side Snap in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD ($30.99 SRP), standalone Blu-ray ($35.99 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has faults all over the board including visually, but that is through no shortcoming of its Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp, clean, and well-defined throughout. The explosive 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is equally commendable. I guess some people will see this film just for sensory thrills and on that level, it kind of delivers.

Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor occasionally stand next to their movie as part of their expanded video commentary. The sight of a skeletally made-up Nicolas Cage in this deleted scene whets one's appetite for a complete pre-CGI version of "Ghost Rider 2."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with directors' expanded video commentary (1:43:41), which runs seven minutes longer than the film. Neveldine and Taylor, who introduce themselves by surname alone (as credited), supply a tone sarcastic and immature. They pop up onscreen next to the film from time to time, as do behind-the-scenes videos in small or large windows, if they don't take over the entire screen. It's a decent presentation, but spending time with this film's makers is just as mind-numbing as you'd expect. With their frequent profanity bleeped, they discuss the history of Romania and ponder what would happen if their dangerous stunts went wrong with slang like "gonzo" (gone) and "Bad News Bears" (bad).

Six deleted/extended scenes (11:20) are offered in final film quality. They include some highly unfinished visual effects, like over-the-top Nic Cage in skeletal makeup, and take us everywhere from Church with Ghost Rider to a car rental counter with the Devil. It's certainly wild and outlandish material, especially removed from any context.

Nicolas Cage looks at the camera while pretending to urinate away from it in the production stage of "Making 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.'" That is none other than Nic's son Weston Cage recording some supernatural howls in post-production.

"The Path to Vengeance: Making Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (1:29:58) is a six-part documentary that takes you from conception to post-production. If you're not up for 90 consecutive minutes behind the scenes, each segment can also be viewed as a single featurette, though they do come together to form a consistent whole.

"Blazing a New Path" (8:31) details the project's origins (a conversation with a clergyman getting Cage's gears going) and surprisingly acknowledges that the first film (which is declared "a kids' movie") didn't work
(although Cage claims to like it) and that this is definitely not a sequel but a reboot. "Patience Is Not a Virtue: Pre-Production" (25:31) looks at updating David S. Goyer's "insanely R-rated" 10-year-old script for PG-13, scouting locations in Romania, casting Europeans to play nationalities other than their own, stretching the tighter budget, 3D conversion consultation, and narrowly getting the equipment they needed in time to start shooting.

"We Will Burn This City to Bitter Ashes" (8:50) covers the location filming itself. "To Hell and Back: Production" (23:41) continues in that same vein, focusing on the decision to have Cage play the Rider as well (instead of a stuntman, as the first film did), the challenging filming of a sequence (which ended up being cut), and the make-up work (which is treated to time-lapse photography)

"Walking in Both Worlds: Post-Production" (15:43) moves us to the visual effects that depart from the original's work, the film's rock scoring, and the recording of supernatural sounds (by Cage's son Weston and others). "The Fires of Hell Will Purify You: Release" (8:41) takes us to the oft-overlooked next stages: a test screening for friends and families, going to Comic-Con and facing skepticism, and the release of the trailer, which the directors talk over.

One of the most comprehensive making-of pieces I've seen dedicated to a single film, this documentary covers all the pertinent ground thoroughly, and probably too thoroughly for anyone who isn't crazy about the film or filmmaking.

Shooting in 2D and converting to 3D is the focus of the Blu-ray 3D-exclusive featurette "Riding Into Another Dimension." The Blu-ray menu montage fits a rare pensive Johnny Blaze moment in between action scenes.

The Blu-ray 3D's only extra is the exclusive 3D featurette "Riding Into Another Dimension" (7:07), which fittingly enough deals with the production's decision to shoot in 2D and convert it to 3D. The directors and their fellow crew members share some of their considerations and defend the conversion process.

The Blu-ray opens with an UltraViolet promo and trailers for 21 Jump Street, Lockout, and Starship Troopers: Invasion. The Previews submenu holds all but the first and adds trailers for Men in Black 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man. The Blu-ray 3D opens with trailers for Underworld: Awakening, Men in Black 3, and The Amazing Spider-Man and those three are its only previews.

On both discs, the scored menu plays clips among fiery chains and floating embers. The discs resume playback and also support bookmarks on the film.

As they do for 3D titles, Sony packs these two discs in a clear Blu-ray case (with double-sided artwork), which is topped by a slick lenticular-faced cardboard slipcover. Inserts provide your unique codes and instructions for Sony Rewards and the complimentary UltraViolet stream.

For the second time in five years, Ghost Rider is guilty of starring in a bad movie.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Whether or not you liked the first Ghost Rider film, chances are you won't think much of Spirit of Vengeance. This sequel takes a distant approach, but winds up disappointing even more than the silly original.

In the unlikely event you do enjoy this, you should be pleased with Sony's Blu-ray 3D combo, which serves up first-rate picture and sound as well as plenty of substantial bonus features.

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Related Reviews:
Marvel: Ghost Rider • Thor • Captain America: The First Avenger • Iron Man • X-Men: First Class
New: John Carter • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island • The Devil Inside • Chronicle • This Means War
Nicolas Cage: Drive Angry • Kick-Ass • Knowing • Con Air • Next • The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
More Marvel: Captain America (1990) • Fantastic Four • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
More Cage: National Treasure • National Treasure: Book of Secrets • The Sorcerer's Apprentice • Season of the Witch
Idris Elba: Thor | Ciaran Hinds: Race to Witch Mountain • There Will Be Blood | Johnny Whitworth: The Rainmaker

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Songs List (in order of use): "La Marseillaise", Sugarmonster - "Hi", Kajagoogoo - "Too Shy", Christopher Blue - "Happy Just to Be Alive", Brian Berdan - "Fight Club", Death From Above 1979 - "Turn It Out", La Minor - "Tihiy Vecher", Bass Drum of Death - "Velvet Itch", Shirley Horn - "That Old Black Magic", Triptaka - "The Line"

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Reviewed June 7, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Columbia Pictures, Hyde Park Entertainment, imagenation, Crystal Sky, Marvel Knights, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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