Remembering the Insane Extravaganza of ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ (2011)

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Looking back at the time that Nic Cage kicked ultimate superhero ass as Johnny Blaze.

Fans of darker Marvel heroes such as Blade, the Punisher and the Ghost Rider were treated with a bunch of awesome movie adaptations over the years. In 2011, the second Ghost Rider film hit cinema, the sequel to its sober and overall unremarkable predecessor. The first movie was a financial success, however, and we can be grateful for that, otherwise we would have never been able to witness the insane extravaganza of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Nicolas Cage reprised his role as Johnny Blade and teamed up with director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Their Crank films were the adaptations of the best comic that was never written, and delivered non-stop action with insane camerawork, so let’s check how their take on the Ghost Rider franchise fared! 

Johnny Blaze is the Ghost Rider, a former stuntman who is sometimes possessed by a vengeful spirit. The monk Moreau asks Johnny to protect the boy Danny from the grip of the devil’s avatar Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), who thinks Danny would be the perfect vessel for him to walk the earth. In return, Moreau offers to rid Johnny of his curse. 

I prey on the wicked, and I suck out their souls

I guess there is an inherent cheesiness to the whole concept of the Ghost Rider, and Cage fully embraces it.  When portraying the human version of Johnny Blaze, Cage gives his familiar take on the odd, but good-hearted loner. But once the Rider takes over, we get multiple scenes that would find their way into a “Best of Cage losing his shit” compilation when he goes into full lunacy mode. This role is one of his most extrovert outings as an actor – occasionally magnified by psychedelic visuals – and a crazy good time for the audience.

And he’s not the only one going unhinged. Hinds who plays Cage’s supernatural nemesis pulls faces as if he was undergoing a colonoscopy while shooting his scenes. Christopher Lambert has a fun supporting role and delivers his trademark acting style of a person who still needs to fully snap out of hypnosis.

Cage and Neveldine/Taylor bring anarchy back to the comic book genre

The filming locations are magnificent. From a budget perspective it’s a smart move to shoot in Romania and Turkey, as you’re getting the same bang for much less buck compared to Hollywood. The rustic Romanian villages and castles are a nice change of scenery compared to your standard US city backdrop. And the Turkish regions of Pamukkale and Cappadocia with their white limestone mountains, bizarre peaking rock structures and mountain caves create a magnificently atmosphere, beautiful and eerie at the same time.

Kookiness is at an all-time high in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but how does the action hold up? The masters of non-stop action go all in again, this time PG-13 style. Like in every quality action film the exposition is done in the first 10 minutes, and then it’s showtime! Lots of awesome set pieces are chained into each other, and filled with the glorious trinity of shootouts, car chases and explosions. 

And they are shot in a most awesome way. Just like in the Crank films – even though not as extreme – Neveldine and Taylor have objects and people bounce around like billiard balls, including the camera. Everything is moving or being moved, things are whirling and smashing into each other, it is wonderful to behold.

My guys got turned into matchsticks by a dude on a motorcycle with his head on fire

The goofy vibe is also infiltrating the action sequences, such as when a thug empties a whole magazine into the Ghost Rider’s flaming mouth, who vomits molten metal back onto his pitiable opponent a few seconds later.  Another highlight is a showdown in a mining pit where a giant excavator rig becomes a 100-feet long flaming chainsaw when Blaze takes control of it. It’s all just delightfully over the top and yet still kicks serious ass!

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has everything I expect from a good comic book adaptation, and is an absolute highlight of its genre. We cannot always escape our lower instincts, and for these moments, this film is a perfect choice!