“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, Irving , Texas