Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor — or Neveldine/Taylor, as they are billed in the closing credits of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance — might be the most interesting genre filmmakers in America.
Before you scoff and point out GR:SOV's 15 percent approval rating on rottentomatoes.com, hear me out. I'm not claiming that this new film rings any meaningful changes on the old, familiar "I had Satan's baby" story. Nor am I claiming that it has anything fresh or significant to say about vengeance, justice, heaven, or hell. I'm not claiming that the filmmakers' blood-soaked, T&A-heavy grindhouse aesthetic survives the film's PG-13 rating, either — although it does show us what it might look like when a demon takes a whizz. And I'm certainly not claiming that this silly, trashy sequel to 2007's silly, trashy Ghost Rider is as violently innovative as Neveldine and Taylor's three previous films: Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and Gamer. But I am claiming — nay, insisting — that they're exploring the visual and auditory conventions of the action film in highly original ways.
Neveldine/Taylor's filmmaking energy is most clearly expressed through their handling of time and space. Their obsession with tempo and pacing is disorienting at first. The film's early scenes feel like they've been hijacked by a pair of ADD-addled DJs or, better yet, hyperactive YouTube surfers: A scene will begin in fast-motion, return to normal speed, and then rev up again before slowing to a crawl so the camera can linger on any number of ridiculous images, like the one near the end of the film's opening sequence when a gun-toting French priest (Idris Elba) flys off a mountainside while blasting away at the wheels of a pursuing car. Neveldine/Taylor also have a knack for punctuating their shootouts with whip pans that mimic the point of view of a panicked onlooker who's desperately trying to find out where the next bullet is coming from.
Nicolas Cage, reprising his role here as the stunt biker who made an ill-advised deal with Satan, is just the right man for Neveldine/Taylor's funny, restless film style. All of Cage's campy tricks — his Pixies-esque deployment of loudQUIETloud vocal inflections, his unexpected bursts of laughter, his halting and jerky speech pattern — are perfectly at home in a film about a man struggling to suppress his eager demons. And when Cage finally does transform into that snake-hipped Hell's Angel, look out.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance