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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Supernatural > Action > Comedy > Animated > Adventure > Science Fiction > Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2012/Sony Blu-ray 3D) + Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season Two, Volume One (2009/Vivendi DVD)

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2012/Sony Blu-ray 3D) + Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season Two, Volume One (2009/Vivendi DVD)


3D Picture: B-     2D Picture: B/C+     Sound: B/B-     Extras: B-/C-     Film: B-     Episodes: C+



By no means could anyone confuse Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) with what they might call “quality cinema.”  Tonally it’s all over the place, narratively it’s confused, and technically it’s fairly incompetent.  But whoever said camp had to adhere to accepted norms of excellence?


This second installment in the Ghost Rider franchise, a weird reboot after the tepid 2007 Ghost Rider, throws itself completely and utterly into the kitsch deep end.  Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider) transmutes from one iteration of Nicolas Cage to another — a southerner (like his character in the first film), a man burdened with great horror (like in Face/Off), someone worried about bees (like in the Wicker Man remake) — over the course of 95 minutes.  The plot, Satan (Ciarán Hinds this time) tries reclaiming his progeny, has the feel of a long-delayed Rosemary’s Baby knockoff, except with Satan being chased by a biker whose skull is on fire.  There’s the weird religious order (that has a fortified compound full of guns and NSA-level surveillance tech, naturally) led by a monk (Christopher Lambert) who spent too much time obsessing over the Strong and Illustrated Men at some circus sideshow.  Satan’s earthly minions, of course, are all politicians and business executives.  Ghost Rider makes puns (“Road kill,” he says after killing someone on a road.)  Ghost Rider stares longingly into the eyes of criminals for uncomfortable lengths of time.  Ghost Rider vomits fire.  And, in the pièce de résistance, Ghost Rider pees fire — twice, once while looking over his shoulder and giving us a slow motion “Oh, yeah” nod.


It doesn’t really matter how this stuff holds together, or if it really congeals into something normal people might call coherent.  (It doesn’t, and it doesn’t.)  Ghost Rider, a perennial B-character in the Marvel Comics stable created in 1972, never made much sense: An Evel Knievel-like stunt motorcyclist makes a deal with the devil to save his father’s life, only to be turned into a biker with a flaming skull (the Leader of the Pack spit up from Hell) who collects souls for Satan.  It’s a solid idea for an irregularly recurring character in Tales From the Crypt or Creepy, not the lead character of a monthly book, let alone two movies.  Ghost Rider is one-note, and even that’s derivative.


The first Ghost Rider film, directed by Mark Steven Johnson (who should never have been allowed near another comic book movie after the limp rag that was Daredevil), tried elevating the character into a franchise-starting A-list action hero.  But he overplayed the character’s tragic Faustian burden while almost completely ignoring how ridiculous Ghost Rider is.  The result is so lifeless and interminable (save for some excellent Cage-isms, a scene-chewing Peter Fonda, and a slumming Sam Elliott) and was so reviled that it’s amazing the character got a second chance.


Spirit of Vengeance suffers, too, from one-dimensionality, with directors Neveldine/Taylor of the Crank series severely underplaying the tragedy in favor of the nonsensical.  This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.  Blaze cast as a weird loner in a world where some corners accept something like Ghost Rider as normal is a good start, but Neveldine/Taylor never commit to it.  The film wants to be cut from a Roger Corman cloth, but the video game aesthetic and post-converted 3D that sends an obnoxious amount of stuff that’s not Ghost Rider pee or vomit careening out of the screen is so overwhelming the film becomes, like its predecessor, boring.  Even in the cheapest, creakiest Corman pictures you care for a character or a relationship.  Not so here.  Ghost Rider, Satan, his kid, the tattooed monk are all inconsequential, mere accelerant that propels the film from one overly complicated action sequence to the next.


The one exception is Idris Elba, who plays a true believer committing the humanity in Blaze and Satan’s child.  Elba finds a nice balance between the righteous (fighting hell forces) and ridiculous (lusting after a 2000-year-old bottle of wine) and is one of the few sparks of cinematic joy in the film.  The others, like Ghost Rider’s urination flame and Cage’s twitchy, live-wire performance, don’t add up to anything remotely close to a complete film.  Yet there are enough of these peppered throughout the film — and even one or two half-decent moments of action, like the climactic chase scene — to keep you watching, which puts this film miles ahead of the first Ghost Rider.  It’s also refreshing to experience a self-contained comic book movie. There’s no allusion to Ghost Rider existing in some greater Marvel Movie Universe; Nick Fury, Tony Stark, and Agent Coulson are nowhere to be found.  Instead, we’re left with a rebellious hellspawn vomiting fire and bullets into the face of a bad guy.  And if that’s not what going to the movies is all about, I don’t know what is.


At the very least, Spirit of Vengeance is an improvement over the first Ghost Rider.  Faint praise?  Perhaps.  But it’s a movie I don’t mind having in my collection, which is more than I can say for the first film.  This is partly because Spirit of Vengeance is more fun than Ghost Rider, but it’s also a testament to its really excellent two-disc Blu-ray 3D set.


Spirit of Vengeance was shot on digital HD Video (using the Red One MX, according to IMDb), so it of course looks fantastic on home video.  CG details, like Ghost Rider’s charred, crispy skull and the flames of hellfire that surround it, pop and feel natural.  But the natural depth (beyond what was done in post for 3D) of both daytime and night sequences is similarly impressive.  In a way, the film looks too clean to be a B-movie, but it never has that “watching through a window” feel.


The 2.35 X 1, 1080p full HD MVC-encoded 3-D – Full Resolution digital High Definition version is a little darker and includes some pointless visual moments that the 2D 1080p digital High Definition version image does not suffer from and though the duo loves to shake the camera, use digital effects pointlessly and degrade their images all the time, it at least is more consistent in 2D than in 3D.  Especially in their hands, the 3D and 2D seem more gimmicky than they should.


Similarly, the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 mix picks up and amplifies fine details — burning gravel, crackling flame, the demonic symphony of damned souls screaming from Ghost Rider’s mouth — while immersing us in the big sound we’ve come to expect from action movies.  Since the movie has a spastic sensibility, narratively as well as aesthetically, this translates to a busy soundtrack that becomes just booming noise at times.  It sounds great, I guess, but sound quality doesn’t matter much if it’s just a muddy and dissonant cacophony of booms, blams, screams, and screeches.


Where the set really surprises, though, is in its special features.  This is a movie that was a box office flop and a critical dud. (The blurb on the back of the package is from Harry Knowles, for God’s sake!)  All it really should get is a complement of deleted scenes and featurette.  Both are on the set — six deleted scenes (most of which are extended or alternate takes) and, on the 3D disc, “Riding Into Another Dimension” about the film’s 3D.  Yet there’s also an impressive making-of feature, the six-part The “Path to Vengeance,” that at 90 minutes is nearly as long as Spirit of Vengeance itself.


The documentary goes into every facet of making the movie, from the decision to reboot the series to the taking the film to San Diego Comic-Con and rolling out the first trailers.  While some of the making-of is typical studio boilerplate (actors glad-handing one another, for example), it goes into surprising detail about aspects of filmmaking that should be illuminating to casual moviegoers, like the decision to convert the film to 3D rather than shooting in the format.


The documentary also captures Cage performing as the Ghost Rider.  In the first film, apparently, Cage portrayed Johnny Blaze but not Ghost Rider, who was played by a revolving door of stuntmen and digital artists.  On Spirit of Vengeance, the decision was made (correctly) to embrace performance-capture so Cage could be both characters.  “Path of Vengeance” captures a nice amount of this footage, and it has the feel of a gaze into an alternate dimension.  To be Ghost Rider, Cage wore a skullcap decked out with performance-capture balls and orange lighting to keep illumination consistent on, for example, other actors’ faces.  But Cage also painted his face with a skull and wore black contact lenses.  Since his real face would be rendered out in post, these touches are completely superfluous (who knew you could go Method for a Ghost Rider movie?).  Yet seeing Cage act as Ghost Rider, but as a human with a bank of LED lights on his head, makes you wish Neveldine/Taylor cut a version of the movie without the Ghost Rider special effects added overtop Cage’s head.  It would certainly amp up the kitsch, but it somehow feels completely consistent with Cage’s reputation and the film’s campiness.  Perhaps we’ll get that cut when the Criterion Collection gets its hands on this title.


The other major feature is a Director’s Expanded Video Commentary, which is wildly inconsistent.  Neveldine/Taylor will appear on screen in front of the movie, which has been reduced to two-thirds size, to walk us through an action sequence by cutting to behind-the-scenes footage or rolling it in a picture-in-picture format.  Then they’ll go away for long stretches, settling into a standard audio-only commentary, before returning once more on screen.  It’s a novelty, for sure, but in the right hands could serve as a sensational film-school-in-a-box.  Imagine Martin Scorsese walking us through a shot-by-shot analysis of the fights in Raging Bull, or Christopher Nolan dissecting the hallway fight in Inception.  There’s potential here that is never really seized, but like with most of this disc it’s way more than the film deserves.



In the meantime, we finally have the animated Iron Man Armored Adventures: Season Two, even though it is only a single Volume One DVD and is almost a basic disc release.  The first season was issued on Blu-ray and DVD in the U.S., but we covered it an exceptional, separate Australian import Blu-ray and DVD sets at this link:




As expected, the show is more of the same with at least a unique approach to digital animation by having different kinds mix nicely and offer some character.  We get six episodes at about a half-hour each and these are just fine if you like this version of the character.  At least when they joke, it is not insulting like the Ghost Rider sequel above as it is aimed at a younger audience.  Ironically, they are being treated as more intelligent.


The show is good for what it is, but not great.  I just want to see how long they can keep this one going.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is consistent with the previous DVD set, even if they were in the slightly clearer PAL video format, but both are no match for how good the Season One Blu-rays looked and these episodes deserve that treatment as well.  The only extra is an Original Artwork Gallery: Justin Hammer – Iron Man’s New Armor.



For more on the first Ghost Rider film, see our Blu-ray coverage at this link:





-   Dante A. Ciampaglia and Nicholas Sheffo


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