Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spirit of Dread (ful)

Oh right, THAT'S what this feels like.

2011 was a great year for superhero movies. Against all odds, Marvel Comics managed to release three such titles that collectively were actually very good, with Captain America, Thor and the excellent X-Men: First Class proving to not only be quality films but extremely profitable in the process. This was a huge difference from years past, in which Marvel wasn't exactly known for putting out the best product (Punisher, Daredevil and Elektra, to name a few). For years films based on the Marvel franchises were criticized by fans for failing to capture the essence of what made the comic books so attractive to people around the globe, while DC Comics  enjoyed a long line of success at the theaters. Much of that success has centered around the "Big Two" of Superman and Batman, however, with last year's bomb Green Lantern hinting that interest outside of Supes and Bats might not be as high. So with Marvel doing so well lately, it was only a matter of time before something like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance came along and ruined that new car smell. Movie-going sidekick Todd stated that she would suffer through Ghost Rider with me if I was going to watch it anyway, but never did I suspect that "suffer" would be the perfect definition for what we did for an hour and a half this past weekend.

Nicolas Cage has never looked better!
Former stuntman Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) has left home and life far behind, hiding out in Eastern Europe while battling with the demonic soul inside him, known as the Rider. When the Rider gets loose, it completely takes over Blaze and destroys evil people, and so Blaze has left to avoid accidentally hurting any of his family and friends (or maybe because it was cheap to film in Romania and Turkey). By avoiding contact with anyone, he can stop the Rider from emerging, but this is not meant to last: an envoy of a holy sect, named Moreau (Idris Elba), has sought Blaze out so that the rider can protect a child being hunted by the The Devil (Ciaran Hinds) to fulfill some bizarre prophecy. With a promise that the sect can also remove the spirit of Ghost Rider from his body, Blaze is in a race against time to protect the boy and his protective mother Nadya (Violante Placido) so that they cannot be harmed and prevent a new apocalypse on Earth.

This is where Charlton Heston went when he died.
If that story put you to sleep, well, I guess you're done reading. For those of you still conscious, this Ghost Rider sequel features the worst elements of cliched Hollywood screenwriting, surprising since David S. Goyer was the chief storyteller here. Goyer's best work has been writing superhero films including the Blade trilogy and with Christopher Nolan on Batman Begins, so it's actually kind of surprising that there's nothing to redeem Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a film that revels in showing us the completely ridiculous. Maybe that's the fault of the directors, though. The duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known collectively as Neveldine/Taylor) has become well known for their irreverence and explosive action, and I really liked their 2009 look a the future of social media, Gamer. Elmo has also praised their addition to Jason Statham's action resume in Crank, and if there was one thing I had hoped going into this new release, it was that Neveldine/Taylor would make up for its faults by cranking the energy of the film all the way up to 11. Instead, Ghost Rider is far too much like Jonah Hex, the utter crap from 2010 for which they wrote the screenplay. Riddled with animated interludes, an excess of voice-overs (by a mentally unstable Cage, no less), and more cliches than you should legally be allowed to include, this was a story that never had a chance of success, even BEFORE you threw Nicholas Cage at it.

That chimichanga REALLY disagreed with him...
Ah, Nicolas Cage. He and I have enjoyed a love/hate relationship since I began this site a few years ago; he loves himself and I hate his movies. Dotting his resume are performances that prove he has talent as an actor (Brian could tell you more, but some include Kick-Ass, Adaptation, and Leaving Las Vegas). However, all this means is that there are some directors out there who manage to reign in his levels of crazy into something both tangible and entertaining on the big screen. Neveldine/Taylor are not those directors. Cage is regularly allowed to go balls-to-the-wall insane, and when he does the results are not as they should be. I'm okay with the fact that the screenplay includes an overdose of humor (if it hadn't, I never could have made it through the film), but regularly Cage's exploits as the Rider earn more unintentional laughter than they should. The character of Ghost Rider needs to be scary to be effective, but not once does the character do anything to frighten the audience. I'm shocked that the bad guys don't just keel over from laughter every time Cage is on the set, as that's all I would do in their place.

So much acting talent... it's just GONE...
The rest of the cast is okay, though they rarely step above the level of "comic book movie" quality. Ciaran Hinds is excellent chewing scenery as The Devil, though he's featured very little, relatively speaking. Taking over for Peter Fonda in the original, Hinds has enjoyed a recent string of secondary roles in the past few years, and he's a talented actor with a unique look that will always find him a place in genre films. Idris Elba is another serious talent who adopts a French accent almost as believable as his American in HBO's The Wire. As a Golden Globe winner (for BBC series Luthor) it's a shame to see him bust his butt in small comic book movie roles like this and Thor, but at least he's getting regular work in Hollywood. I was less impressed by Johnny Whitworth, who is fine in smaller roles but not so much as this film's main antagonist. I liked Violante Placido in 2010's The American but she likewise doesn't have any real depth beyond the "desperate mother" role she plays dutifully. In the end, Cage is allowed to go psycho, while the rest of the cast is just trying to counteract that with actual acting.

Blaze was never invited kiting again.
If there's one saving grace to Spirit of Vengeance (besides the actually intentional humor), it is the special effects, which include post-production 3D. Think about that for a second. I have been more than vocal about my dislike of the technology explosion that has been 3D in film, to the point where I will avoid the topic even when relevant to avoid repeating myself over and over again. If I was to list my favorite films using 3D from the past few years, most of them would have one thing in common: they were filmed using 3D cameras, and not simply rendered in post-production. There are a few films with post-prod 3D that actually work (Piranha 3D is the only one that comes to mind), but for the most part the only way to make great 3D these days is to just spend the extra money for the cameras. Ghost Rider is a shocking change in the trend, lending credence to the idea that post-filming conversion has gotten much better in the short period of time since people gave Clash of the Titans crap for their 3D usage. I still believe there's nothing better at the moment than James Cameron's introduction of the 3D camera technology to the filmmaking process, but perhaps that won't be true for long.

Um, no, I'll walk. Thanks.
Of course, when the best thing you can say about a movie is that the 3D is great, you know you've just done yourself an injustice in your film-going choices. I normally would never say this so early in the year, but I harbor no doubts that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will be among the worst films I list at the end of 2012. Neveldine, Taylor and Cage aren't even trying, and their lack of effort drags this film into such a deep abyss that you pray it never escapes, lest the end of civilization as we know it follow. I'll have higher hopes for Marvel's next film event The Avengers, and hope Joss Whedon and crew can wash the taste of bile from my mouth at having volunteered to watch such a monumental cinematic mistake.

1 comment:

THE Real Estate Analyst!!! said...

Bravo, young man. Well done!!!