When Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) remarks in the narration that starts this sequel to “Ghost Rider”—the awful 2007 adaptation of the second-tier Marvel comic by Mark Steven Johnson—that good judgment is “not his forte,” your mind might be liable to wander to the actor’s tax problems, or his bad choice of roles, or his habit of giving over-the-top performances. Of course his character is talking about his unwise choice to sell his soul to the devil to save his father’s life—which led to his being transformed into the fiery title figure to serve Satan’s needs–but it would be best to think about those other possibilities instead, because there’s not much in “Spirit of Vengeance” to hold your interest. In fact, you might say that the worst choice you could make is the decision to go to see it in the first place.
“Vengeance” doesn’t really have much to do with the first picture, in which Johnny/Rider went after some escaped demons from hell. Here, in a plot that has a lot in common with the “Terminator” movies, he’s drawn by the heroic Moreau (Idris Elba) into a mission to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) from the woman’s wicked one-time boyfriend Ray (Johnny Whitworth), who’s been tasked by the devil, embodied in the aging Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), to bring the kid to him. It’s ultimately revealed that Danny’s actually the son of Roarke and Nadya, and that Roarke is planning to possess the youngster’s body in a Satanic ritual, thereby taking a form that, being only half-human, won’t be overcome by the exercise of his demonic power. Moreau wins Blaze’s assistance by promising to free him of the curse he’s living under in return.
What follows are a lot of car-motorcycle-and truck chases, explosions and face-offs with guns and chains. They’re all choreographed by directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, shot by cinematographer Brandon Trost and edited by Brian Berdan in the sort of messily hyperkinetic, depressingly dark style characteristic of so many supernaturally-tinged action movies nowadays, and the effects take on a repetitive tone—although one bit of business, in which Ray’s brought back to life by Roarke with the ability to cause those he touches to decompose, is sort of cool the first couple of times he uses it. Still, the action sequences are certainly superior to the intervening dialogue ones, in which Cage alternates between ambling along soporifically and going the wild-eyed goofball route and Hinds, in what’s probably this fine actor’s most embarrassing role to date, scowling menacingly in a style worthy of a 1940s serial villain as his face deteriorates, courtesy of makeup that increases his jowls to astronomical proportions. Whitworth gins up his performance in competition with them, but comes off distinctly second-best in comparison. Meanwhile Placido frets maternally in between the scenes where she’s blowing bad-guys away with high-powered rifles, and Riordan makes a pretty irritating little potential victim. There’s some momentary amusement in spying Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert playing a couple of not-so-nice monks (the latter with tattoos all over his face!), but not much.
“Spirit of Vengeance” could really have used more sense of fun; there are a few instances of intentional humor—the best involving Ray and a Twinkie. But for the most part this is a grim, ugly movie that takes its ridiculous premise much too seriously and doesn’t showcase effects good enough to make up for all its shortcomings.