It’s easy to predict one’s response to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. You either accept the idea of a flaming-skull Nicolas Cage sucking the souls out of leather jacket-clad baddies, or you don’t. You relish Cage in full-on, over-the-top crazy mode – weird twitching and all – or you’re sick of his penchant for CGI-heavy junk. This isn’t rocket science.

That being said, the Ghost Rider franchise, such as it is, has come a long way since the mediocre original flick, which opened in 2007, or approximately 100 Cage movies ago. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank), masters of speed-freak cinema, have taken over the directorial reigns and amped things up with fast motion, quick cuts, some artful comic-book stylistic digressions, slick pseudo-religious imagery and a much-needed helping of humor.

I sat through the 3D Spirit of Vengeance expecting that I would eventually stop being entertained. Yet I never was, thanks to Neveldine and Taylor and the fact that Cage seems even more devoted to Johnny Blaze’s existential crisis this time around. Of course the plot is unrelentingly thin nonsense, the characters don’t really matter, and the bad dialogue just keeps coming and coming. But that’s the standard, the cost of doing business when you enter the Cage Zone.

You’ll recall that Blaze made a deal with the devil, manifest in the form of Ciarán Hinds, and transformed into an inflamed nighttime rider gifted with the power to conjure hellfire. This time around, the Eastern European-set action find the devil searching for his son (Fergus Riordan) as a motorcycle-riding, gun-toting priest (Idris Elba) recruits our hero to shepherd the boy and his hot gypsy mother (Violante Placido) to safety.

The narrative is filler for the fiery supernatural shtick, the slow-mo stunt heavy explosive action and Hinds’ great marble-mouthed, quasi-Marlon Brandon devil routine. Neveldine and Taylor imbue the picture with that all important tongue-in-cheek irreverence, relying on good-natured weirdness (cue random Jerry Springer reference), unrelenting energy, and some amusing third-dimensional playfulness.

Most importantly, these filmmakers are the perfect facilitators for one of Cage’s oddball performance masterpieces, another landmark in his career of crazy. Despite appearances, his work in Spirit of Vengeance is far removed from the lowest end of the Cage paycheck part realm, that terrifying dungeon of cinematic despair occupied by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch, and too many others.

The actor, a comic nut, clearly loves Johnny Blaze, throwing himself into every ounce of the character’s tortured mania. He screams and laughs, rants and raves, dramatically suffers and shows regular-guy tenderness toward his charges. All and all, the co-directors understand that they have happy, productive, kooky Cage on hand, not sullen money-hungry Cage, and they let him loose, bringing joy to the world and future YouTube viewers.

The Upside: Nicolas Cage is his usual hilarious self and this sequel is much more entertaining than the original.

The Downside: It’s still a sequel to Ghost Rider.

On the Side: If you don’t have a weakness for Cage’s antics, and you can’t tolerate CGI nonsense, you’d be better served finishing off that list of Oscar contenders.

Grade: B


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