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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Blu-ray)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // June 12, 2012 // Region Free
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 2, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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P R I N T
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Okay, so over here you have Nic Cage as a motorcycle stuntman with a flaming skull for a head. Meanwhile, over here, you're lookin' at the directors behind Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. I know what you're thinking, and...hey! You're right. It really does look exactly like this:
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Well, sometimes it does, anyway. Not that you need me to spell this out for you or anything, but the Crank movies are gloriously stupid. Y'know, loud, trashy, relentlessly ridiculous, and devoid of anything resembling shame or restraint. I mean that in a good way too. This Ghost Rider sequel-slash-reboot, meanwhile, doesn't have the balls to completely commit to that, although...well, it tries. Everyone in front of the camera is cranking the hamminess up
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to eleven. Spirit of Vengeance has this out of left field sense of humor where it'll cut away to Ghost Rider peeing a stream of fire, or the movie'll stop dead in its tracks for a Twinkie joke. The supporting cast includes Idris Elba as a priest with a Pepe Le Pew-style Fraaaaaunch accent, prone to going off about wine because that's apparently what French people do. All he needs is a beret, a baguette, and...I don't know, a mime with a red balloon or whatever. The bad guys blast Ghost Rider with a bunker buster rocket launcher thingie. They shoot him in the mouth with a submachine gun, and Ghost Rider spits those slugs right back, only this time they're on fire because of course they are. Ghost Rider -- and yes, I'm going to spell out his name in every single sentence -- whips around a chain that splits badniks down the middle and sends those poor bastards billowing into clouds of smoldering ash.

I have to watch out here because I'm starting to make Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance sound kind of amazing, and it's really, really not. At the end of the day, just about nothing going on here actually works. The problem starts with the script co-written by David S. Goyer, who has a couple respectable credits to his name but mostly dreck like Blade: Trinity and The Unborn. There's really not much of a story going on here. It's a road movie where Ghost Rider tries to chase down the Devil who's on the verge of unleashing the Antichrist upon the world, and...yeah, that's pretty much it. I'm not expecting an intricately woven premise when it comes to a flick about a former circus stuntman with an exposed, flaming skull on a hell-tuned motorcycle, but I promise you won't give a shit about anything that's going on here.

The characters are overcranked and cartoonish, and that mostly seems to be a distraction from how thinly sketched and excruciatingly boring they are. No charm. No charisma. No wit. Nothing to really draw you in. Just bug-eyed overacting that's not even a little bit as much fun as Spirit of Vengeance seems to think it is. The movie's kinda/sorta redeemed by its batshit insane action sequences, but there are really only a handful of those. I mean, when one of those scenes rolls around, it's big and loud and demented, but they're separated by long, long stretches of nothing. Ghost Rider-as-Ghost Rider is only the focal point of...what, four
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
scenes? I wasn't exactly keeping a running tally, but it's something like that. Ghost Rider's penance stare is one of his weapons of choice this time around, and that means there are several times where he's just standing still and glaring silently at a bad guy. Whatever. There's a big chunk of the movie where Johnny Blaze gives up his demon-fueled powers and is just an ordinary schlub packing heat. You know, because it's not like you want Ghost Rider to be all over your Ghost Rider flick.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance seems like it's all coiled and ready to strike, inches away from getting as balls-out unhinged as the Crank movies. There are scattered glimpses of that, but the movie mostly keeps reining itself in. Neveldine/Taylor feel as if they're kind of neutered by having to splatter their spastic brand of paint all over this PG-13 canvas, and if you were holding out hope for an unrated director's cut on Blu-ray, then...well, no, sorry. Spirit of Vengeance falls in this uncomfortable middle ground where it'll be too cartoony and ridiculous for the casual comic book movie crowd, and yet it's not cartoony or ridiculous enough for frothing-at-the-mouth fanatics of the Crank flicks. It's the sort of thing where you have to be committed enough to take that all the way, and Spirit of Vengeance slams its foot down on the brakes at just about the worst possible spot. It's kinda boring, really. The pacing creaks along. I can't say I felt emotionally invested in anything that was going on or anyone it's happening to. The movie lacks any sort of vaguely compelling villain, despite having a satanic standin, the Antichrist, and the demonic Blackout who I admittedly don't remember from the comics but turns everything he touches all moldy and rotting. The supporting cast is pretty much dead weight across the board, and who wants to say that about a movie co-starring Idris Elba and Anthony Head?

So, yeah: Skip It.


Video
I can't say I'm a card-carrying fan of that aggressively digital look to its cinematography, but if you can get past that, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance looks pretty slick on Blu-ray. Some deliberately stylized stretches aside, the image is superhumanly sharp and detailed. The screencaps scattered around this review are the slightest bit softer than I'd like to see, but I didn't get that impression
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
at all as Spirit of Vengeance was splattered all over my HDTV. Colors pack a wallop when that's called for, and black levels seem like they're where they ought to be. Some video noise does creep in at times, but that's not a persistent headache. No edge enhancement, clumsy filtering, or hiccups in the compression get in the way. If you're gonna watch Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, you really don't want to settle for the DVD this time around.

Because of the way the expanded video commentary is authored, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance takes advantage of seamless branching rather than being one big, gigantic file. The movie is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and it's been encoded with AVC.

There's a separate 3D release as well, but I wasn't sent that to review and don't have a 3DTV besides, so I can't really comment on that. It's a conversion rather than real 3D, so it's not as if that really matters anyway.


Audio
I was kind of expecting Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance to be one of those movies where everything sounds louder than everything else. Instead, it's kind of...meek and polite. The badniks mostly lean
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on machine guns and stuff, and those sprays of gunfire are generally flat and lifeless. Things like that bunker buster going boom are reinforced by a decent amount of bass, but they don't rattle the foundation the way I'd have expected. There are some pretty spectacular touches to the sound design -- the way Ghost Rider's chain of vengeance whips around every conceivable channel, the sound of his bike screaming across the soundscape, bursts of gunfire peppering from every which way, and the obligatory demonic chanting and all that -- but I wanted something thunderous, booming, and hyperaggressive, and that's not what Spirit of Vengeance delivers so much. Even the clarity and fidelity I'd normally expect out of a shiny, new Blu-ray disc come up short. I'd snark that maybe that's the trade-off of settling for a 16-bit lossless track rather than the 24-bit industry standard, but I've heard enough quality 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks to know that's not true. Not bad but definitely not where it ought to be.

There are two other lossless soundtracks as well, for anyone keeping track at home: one in Spanish and the other in French. A Catalan Dolby Digital 5.1 dub and an English descriptive video service track round out the audio options. Well, unless you count the subtitles in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Spanish anyway.


Extras
Not a lot of bullet points, no, but the ones that are here are kinda big.

  • The Path to Vengeance (89 min.; HD): Gotta admit that I didn't waltz in expecting to see a feature-length, six-part making-of doc on this Blu-ray disc, and yet...! The Path to Vengeance tackles pretty much every stage of putting a movie like this together, and it's impressively candid rather than belting out an hour and a half of cheerleading and back-patting. It's expressly stated that the budget was a fraction of what the original Ghost Rider had at its fingertips, there was essentially zero prep time, they did a lousy job lining up the gear they needed and didn't have any camera rigs or anything with three or four days to go till shooting was supposed to start, some of the people they relied on in in Eastern Europe constantly bullshitted them and screwed them out of locations, and...yeah, the list goes on from there. Even though I think Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is kind of terrible, I'll admit to being amazed that there's a finished product, period, with as grueling an experience as it clearly was.

    ...but yeah, clocking in at an hour and a half and all, this doc is exceptionally thorough: dusting off a decade-old, hard-R script that even predates the first Ghost Rider, gutting the dense mythology out of David S. Goyer's original screenplay, dragging their cameras all over Eastern Europe, getting Nic Cage to play flaming-head-Ghost Rider rather than handing that part of the shoot off to a nameless stuntman, the quantum leaps in visual effects over just the
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    past six years, sound design, the score, testing, marketing...you name it and the smart money says it's in here somewhere. There's a metric ton of behind-the-scenes footage too, including the directors operating the cameras themselves from acrobatic wire rigs and on rollerblades, hanging onto the back of a speeding motorcycle. That's more than a little bit badass. The recording of the voices of the damned spirits is a definite highlight as well. Wouldn't have expected it, considering that I didn't think all that much of the movie itself, but I dug The Path to Vengeance quite a bit.

  • Expanded Video Commentary (HD): I'm used to those picture-in-picture tracks that recycle a lot of the making-of footage I've already watched, and I was sort of expecting more of the same from Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. As luck would have it...? Nope! Despite there being a feature-length documentary elsewhere on this Blu-ray disc, there's no warmed-over footage and very little overlap, period, between these three hours' worth of extras.

    Unlike the usual running commentaries, directors Neveldine and Taylor pause the movie, cut away to behind-the-scenes footage, etc., etc., etc., so it actually runs ten minutes or so longer than Spirit of Vengeance does on its own. Some footage appears in a picture-in-picture window, but a good bit fills the entire screen, and sometimes Neveldine/Taylor stand in front of all of it as well. The whole thing is kinda fun and freewheeling, not taking itself anywhere remotely as seriously as the Path to Vengeance doc. You get masturbation jokes, boob-lusting, and a neverending parade of mostly terrible jokes. To rattle off a few highlights, the two directors point out a guy-versus-wild-boar brawl in the background that I completely missed, they explain (well, sort of) a bit where Ghost Rider starts spinning counterclockwise in the air for no discernable reason, they point out a cave set that was constructed out of leftover styrofoam from a game show, and they talk about setting the climax of the movie during the daytime. I know! Guy with a flaming skull in the bright of day: whodathunkit? Not essential viewing or anything, but the video commentary delivers enough dumb fun that I found it worth a listen. Errr...listen and a look. You know what I mean.

  • Deleted Scenes (11 min.; HD): There are six deleted and extended scenes in this reel, including a half-transformed Johnny Blaze stumbling around a church, an excruciatingly tedious sequence where Satan tries to rent a car, and a kinda-sorta-not-really tender father/son moment that calls back to demonic flamethrower pissing. Mostly awful, but I do really like an alternate penance stare sequence with the raw elements -- green screen; Nic Cage with LED necklaces and a painted-on skull -- on full display.

An UltraViolet code is tucked inside, by the way.


The Final Word
If you want to see Nicolas Cage in a really bad-ass Ghost Rider flick, watch Drive Angry instead. I mean, he's not rocking a motorcycle, and there's a bunch of muscle and skin all over that decidedly-not-aflame skull of his, but otherwise, it's pretty much the same deal. As for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance...? Hell no. Skip It.
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