I cannot understand for the life of me why the studios who own the film rights to Marvel properties are still trying to make successful comic book movies without Marvel's help. You'd think that – especially after the record-setting box office of 'The Avengers' – they'd realize that Marvel Studios (now owned by Disney's parent company Buena Vista) has figured out the formula for success and want to partner with them to fully realize these old properties. Fine examples of these collaborations are the first two 'Iron Man' movies that teamed Marvel with Paramount and 'The Incredible Hulk' with Universal. If Sony would do this for 'Spider-Man,' then we might actually get to see Spidey in an 'Avengers' movie. If Fox would do it with 'X-Men,' then we might actually get a film in their new 'First Class' series that features SHIELD and not an unnamed government organization of the same purpose. Rumor has it that Marvel is currently working on a gritty Marvel Knights movie series – which is exactly where the Ghost Rider character belongs – so it would only benefit Sony to work together with Marvel. It makes no sense to me why these studios wouldn't collaborate to churn out quality entertainment. Of course, there's a lot more to it than just that – but if everyone could just get along, we'd stop getting Marvel fizzlers ... like 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.'
Did you know that 'Spirit of Vengeance' is a reboot? I sure didn't. In fact, I didn't even know that until I watched the special features after having watched the movie. Other than the new darker look of the character and movie (which easily could have been a decision made by the new directors), there's not a single sign that 'Spirit of Vengeance' is trying to start the one-movie-old franchise over again. Nic Cage is still playing Johnny Blaze, only this time the story is set in Eastern Europe. If you never saw the first 'Ghost Rider,' you'll be able to follow 'Spirit of Vengeance' just fine because it opens with a voiced-over animated recap of how Blaze became the Ghost Rider.
The story of 'Spirit of Vengeance' is so clichéd that it ruins any potential the movie has. The devil and a group of Eastern Europeans are after a specific child who Blaze is determined to protect. It isn't until the third act that we're told why this kid is wanted, but think of the one reason the devil may be after a child and you'll peg the not-so-shrouded "twist" that's revealed in the final act. We've seen this idea unfold in many movies already and the route that 'Spirit of Vengeance' takes isn't in the slightest bit original.
Being a fan of movies like 'The Matrix' and 'Wanted,' I am all for stylized action movies. When I watched the first trailer and discovered that 'Spirit of Vengeance' was directed by the insane filmmakers of the guilty pleasure 'Crank' movies (Neveldine/Taylor), I was excited for the potential of 'Spirit of Vengeance' – but their gritty style only gets in the way here, becoming a non-stop visual nuisance as opposed to a creative element that adds a level of freshness and cool. First off, the entire movie – action scenes or not – is shot at an insanely high frame rate, giving it an unnecessary choppy feel from beginning to end. During one of the special features, the filmmakers talk about shooting a specific scene at 800 frames-per-second. Now imagine watching that reduced down to 24 frames-per-second and tell me that wouldn't make for an annoying 95-minute moviegoing experience.
The second directorial decision that hinders the quality of 'Spirit of Vengeance' is their camerawork. Typically shot with hand-held cameras, we're constantly zooming in and out of shots and erratically moving around from actor to actor in single-shot conversations. The majority of what they do is up-close and herky-jerky . I can't imaging seasoned actors Nicholas Cage and Idris Elba watching this sort of camerawork taking place during their scenes without asking themselves, "What the hell are these guys doing?!" The styles that Neveldine/Taylor apply work well for the action scenes, but not for everything else.
The action of the movie's finale is great, but the resolution to the story is downright awful, full of holes and inexplicably bringing things together. I enjoy watching crazy Nic Cage come out – which he does here – but a movie can't entertain with that alone (unless it's 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'). When 'Highlander' Christopher Lambert enters the movie, my first reaction was, "Now this guy I expect to see in movies this bad."
A great gauge of how bad 'Spirit of Vengeance' is is my own personal reaction. If the 'Crank' movies are a guilty pleasure of mine and I found 'Spirit of Vengeance' to be an exceptionally dumb and unoriginal waste of time, then it has got to be bad. Back when special effects were new, the wowing nature of strong visuals made bad movies worth watching, but now great effects are easily obtainable. Movies require more than special effects to warrant positive reviews and helpful word of mouth – and 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' is no exception. The one and a half-star rating is only because the great-looking action sequences and Nic Cage's crazy side making an appearance. That's it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has placed 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' on a Region A/B-locked BD-50 in a single-disc blue vortex keepcase. Printed on the back of the cover art is an image of a flaming chain that can be seen through the open case. Included is an insert with a code for an Ultraviolet copy of the movie. Upon inserting the disc, several skippable videos play – Sony and Ultraviolet vanity reels as well as trailers for '21 Jump Street,' 'Lockout' and 'Starship Troopers: Invasion.'
Once again, this is one of those Blu-ray releases that gives a sub-par movie a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that's worthy of note. I wanted to find flaws with the video – and believe me, I was looking hard – but alas, there were only two.
Shot digitally on RED ONE MX cameras, the image is consistently sharp, crisp and clear, a great example of how fantastic digital cinema can look. The amount of visible detail is insane. When we first meet Idris Elba's character, we can see the individual strands of wool on the shoulders of his tattered coat. When Johnny Blaze transforms into Ghost Rider for the first time, we can see the black leather of his scorching jacket bubbling and boiling from the excessive heat within. I could spout off example after example solely about the amazing design details, but I must mention an odd effect that frequently arises. Without rhyme or reason, the actors faces tend to look waxy, textureless and unnaturally smooth, almost alien-like.
Taking place in grim cold regions of Eastern Europe, the color palette is muted; however, whenever The Rider makes an appearance, the screen is lit up with vibrant and explosive yellows and red. Not only does the titular character look fantastic, but the colors that result from his destruction and mayhem are brilliantly vivid.
The high frame rate is annoying, but no fault of the Blu-ray itself. As Ghost Rider zips down the highway and tiny pebbles are thrown from the speeding back tire, those same small rocks choppily fly across the screen, magically jumping a few inches at a time. No motions are fluid because of this horrible decision.
The only compression flaw to make the cut are two instances of very mild banding. Digital noise, artifacts and aliasing aren't an issue. Due to the RED cameras, edge enhancement and DNR were not applied.
Once again, the quality of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio of 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' exceeds that of the movie itself. Making full use of all channels.
The first thing to stand out to me in this mix was the strong bassy nature to many of the actors' voices. Nic Cage, Idris Elba and the devil himself, Ciarin Hinds, have never sounded manlier. If the bass of their voices sounds strong, imagine how great Ghost Rider's motorcycle sounds. Effects are dynamically mixed, putting to work each speaker. Smoke blowing away from Ghost Rider's flaming skull is strong during those scenes, as are effects of singed embers blowing around like a hellish snowstorm.
Despite the explosions ringing loud from all angles, 'Spirit of Vengeance' lack in the way of seamless imaging. It's almost entirely absent, although there are many instances where it could prove a strong suit.
The vocals are always crisp and clear, but tend to come solely from front and center. This, on very few occasions, makes it sounds flat and somewhat hollow.
From the guy who gave us 'Crank,' there's no reason why this (supposed) reboot of the 'Ghost Rider' franchise should not have been an off-the-rocker crazy guilty pleasure. Instead, it's a movie with a cliche-filled, predictable and used-up story and special effects worthy of an actually good movie. If a zany Nic Cage performance and top-notch CG could save a movie, then 'Spirit of Vengeance' might actual be worth our time – but it's not. Aside from the movie itself, every other aspect of this Blu-ray is phenomenal. The video and audio qualities are very strong and the special features are in-depth and abundant. Upon learning that there are only three main special features on the Blu-ray, you wouldn't expect much – but it's actually provides close to three and a half hours of bonus content. Hopefully this is one property that Sony will let revert to Marvel/Disney, as it could be amazing to see 'Ghost Rider' realized by the studios that have perfected the comic book movie formula. Until then, I'm not investing myself in anything else 'Ghost Rider.'