Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on Blu-ray disc
By Jim Bray
"From the guys that brought you Crank" says the disc's cover, getting things off on a decidedly ungrammatical foot.
Never having seen Crank, I assume having those guys behind this Ghost Rider reboot is supposed to be a good thing. And maybe it is. I actually didn't mind Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, though I get the impression there are many who don't agree.
But so what? It's a decent hour and a half in the home theater, with a story that's reasonably interesting and fun – and a contemporary story which involves Christianity but which doesn't insult or make fun of the religion and its practitioners. And how rare is that these days?
Well, I suppose the monks in this thing are a little hard to believe, but it is a comic book movie, after all. And it isn't as if they're written to be stupid knuckle dragging bumpkins.
The Ghost Rider character is yet another Marvel Comics superhero, though a decidedly darker one than some. As portrayed by Nicolas Cage in both Ghost Rider flicks, Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the devil, supposedly to save his father's life. We learn this via some quick recapping, though I remember it vaguely from the first film, which I didn't like as much as this one.
Ah, but we know the devil lies and cheats and Blaze ends up suffering a kind of Hulk-like transformation at times, going from comparatively mild-mannered Johnny Blaze to the Ghost Rider, a flaming (as in "on fire") angel of justice – or maybe even a spirit of vengeance.
It's kind of a neat concept, though I have no idea how faithful it may be to the original comics.The Ghost Rider's CG-enhanced look is really neat, too. In fact, the whole film looks great.
Spirit of Vengeance, according to the filmmakers in the supplemental materials, is more of a reboot than a sequel, which sounds kind of weird considering the original movie is only a couple of years old. Heck, I don't think Spider-man's old enough for a reboot and it's a lot older than the first Ghost Rider movie.
Ghost Rider 2 also features the same star, unlike most reboots I can think of.
Anyway, regardless of its gestation, the movie sees Johnny Blaze hanging out in Europe in a pretty cool though not particularly original adventure in which the devil and his Eastern European persons of hench are hunting for a special child (why he's special we don't yet know, though we can guess). Blaze, who isn't a fan of his dual life, is made an offer he can't refuse: find the kid and deliver him safely, at which time he'll have his curse removed.
Fair enough. Heckuva deal. That's a reasonable motivation for this dark spirit to be a good guy – not that he's really a bad guy anyway.
You could almost think of Blaze's assignment as a kind of – let's be nice and call it an homage – to Terminator 2, as the big, scary dude trying to protect the kid shows he has a human side. And not only that, the situation gives him a chance to do something selfless later and isn't that always good?
Original, it ain't. But just as I was getting ready to chortle, Cage comes out with a line that made me think he was watching the movie with me. I wish I remembered the line, but I laughed out loud – in a good way. And while the story isn't by any means its strongest point, I still found myself drawn into it and enjoyed it more than I thought I would going into the Blu-ray experience.
I guess that isn't really high praise.
It's a strangely compelling movie from a technical standpoint as well. Directors Neveldine/Taylor have created some visual stuff that looks really nifty as interesting eye candy, but which ultimately shouts "Look at me! I'm a neat shot!" And there are a lot of shaky, hand-held camera shots, too, which should be in generally shorter supply in movies today. Yet I liked the overall effect here. Go figure.
The Blu-ray, which came in a 3D/2D combo pack, looks and sounds really great. The video – 1080p of course – is superb. You can fire this up when you want to make your friends jealous.
Image quality is as sharp as it can be, with fine detail visible clearly and a wonderful sense of depth – and I watched the 2D version. Black levels are deep, colors are rich – it's just an outstanding video transfer all around.
Crank, no pun intended, the audio up for this one if you like your home theatre shaken and/or stirred, because the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is worthy of the video (and a better screenplay). All channels are put to their best use, with a richness and texture that's just what you hope for in the home theater but don't always get (though, to be fair, excellence in audio and video is common now, which is as it should be).
The fine quality audio transfer means voices always come through clearly, and the motorcycle sounds fantastic! Sound fills the room in a wonderfully engaging way, whether it's music, dialogue or sound effects.
So top marks for the Blu-ray, technically.
There's also a decent documentary that, if you choose "Play All", runs about an hour and a half and features some interesting insight into the production. A lot of it is talking head stuff, but a lot of it isn't.
Some of the same topics are also covered in the Directors' Expanded Video Commentary, in which the team takes us through the movie with them, pausing sometimes to focus on particular scenes. Six deleted and/or extended scenes are also on hand, as are trailers.
The chances are slim that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance will crack the AFI's top 100 list anytime soon, but I found it enough of a guilty pleasure to give it a grudging recommendation. I'm glad I saw it, and I might even watch it again, sometime.
I'd also be quite interested in watching an even better third Ghost Rider movie. Maybe the third time really will be the charm and Ghost Rider will take its place in movie history alongside some of Marvel's most popular film franchises.
Copyright 2012, Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.