“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”
Despite the fact that this movie is
really bad, there are some decidedly religious themes, which make it at least
an idle curiosity.
Nicolas Cage seems to have passed over a
new threshold in his checkered acting career. He
no longer worries about playing a caricature of himself; he embraces the
caricature. Here he reprises his
comic-book role as the “Ghost Rider,” who looks like an ordinary guy until
he turns into this fiery, flame-throwing, chain-wielding motorcycle-rider who
gets “called out”, like some kind of Zorro with a skull for a mask, to
wreak some destruction on behalf of some poor soul who needs rescuing.
He’s trapped in this “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” mode because of
some deal he made with the Devil while his father was dying:
save my Dad, and I’ll do your bidding.
Well, the Devil, of course, lies (because like Jesus said, he’s the
father of lies), and postpones the Dad’s death, temporarily, but then takes
him, anyway, and then he owns Johnny Blaze (Cage).
What’s interesting is that the Devil
is named Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), and is, in his own way, trapped in a human
frame that limits his capabilities on earth (some sort of reverse
incarnational theology there). Roarke,
it seems, is the master of the deal (move over, Donald Trump), and bargained
with a good-looking young woman named Nadya (Violante Placido) to carry his
evil child (shades of “Rosemary’s Baby”), who’s now a boy named Danny
(Fergus Riordan). But there are some
forces working for good here, also: a
certain warrior monk named Moreau (Idris Elba) is trying to enlist the aid of
the “Ghost Rider” to rescue Danny before Roarke gets his mitts on him and
transfers his Dark Side over to him, which has already happened to one hapless
tough guy. (This gives rise to one
hilarious Midas-type moment where the bad guy, now in a kind of waking-dead
state, and apparently tagged with the dark power of everything he touches
turning to decay, also can’t find anything to eat because it crumbles before
he can get it into his mouth: everything,
that is, except a Twinkie, which is indestructible.)
OK, we didn’t really think we were
taking ourselves that seriously, anyway, were we?
Of course we have the required fight scenes and chase scenes, and the
expected drama of the boy almost—but not quite—turning to the Dark Side
before Johnny Blaze roars to the rescue. Sending
the Devil back to Hell is satisfying enough, though we expect he’ll be back
“at an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). The
old spatial three-tiered universe is intact in this comic-book scenario:
the ground opens up so Roarke can be cast “down below,” and we’re
also comic-bookish enough to not quite know what to do with the pretty young
woman except have her wear skin-tight outfits and look helpless (there’s a
certain juvenile naďveté attached to objectification, though how many people
would find that charming?).
Johnny Blaze, for his part, was offered
the chance to be rid of his own demon, but chose, instead, to rush in where
angels fear to tread and play the hero. Better
the devil you know than the one you don’t?
Prepubescent boys might find some appeal
here, but the rest of us will happily consign this one to the bargain bin at
the video store.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,