Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: Let’s review a history of buzz on the movie franchise Ghost Rider. The first movie came out way back in 2007, from the director of Daredevil, was mostly lousy save Nicolas Cage, and made $115 million because those were comic book boom-movie times and also action movies with Nic Cage sometimes just do that when you least expect it. The idea of a second movie languished for awhile, the way sequels to movies that were lucky to make back their budgets sometimes do, but Sony needed to make a follow-up to retain the rights (because who could bear to lose the rights to a movie they’ve already made and profited from?!) and after all, the first movie did make some money and Ghost Rider is a semi-popular comic book character, so they got Neveldine/Taylor, the Crank team, to make Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance with Cage returning.
At this point, the expectations of a thousand nerds, including me, skyrocketed: going from Mark Steven Johnson to Neveldine/Taylor on a Ghost Rider movie, in terms of cosmic correctness, is not so far removed from the Schumacher-to-Nolan Batman transition (with the handicap of Ghost Rider not being Batman). Then the finished movie was screened at an Ain’t It Cool News type of geek film festival in December, and most of the audience hated it, tweeted about it sucking, called it if anything worse than the first movie, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance finds itself more or less in the same prospective position the first movie did five years ago: poised to make some money but probably be beloved by approximately no one.
This bunch-of-geeks-hated-Ghost Rider 2 thing is a real riddle to me, though. Of course, Neveldine/Taylor aren’t infallible; while they made two awesome Crank movies, their non-Statham movie Gamer isn’t worth much, and Ghost Rider 2 sticking with a PG-13 makes financial sense but is troubling given their R-rated, transgressive (or possibly just game-addled) sensibility. But it’s difficult to tell: did the festival audience dislike Spirit of Vengeance because they don’t particularly like the Neveldine/Taylor aesthetic and were not expecting a PG-13 Crank starring Cage? Or because they had high hopes for wild Crank-y fun that were dashed in a movie that’s technically more accomplished but not as superior as it should be? Or does the movie maybe not treat Ghost Rider with the utmost seriousness that some comic book fans demand of their adaptations (and that I, it should be noted, do not at all)?
Of course, knowingly over-the-top pulp-camp movies are pretty much box office poison, as Cage himself should know having appeared in the (really quite enjoyable) Drive Angry last year. Though the first Ghost Rider does not appear to have a huge fanbase, it’s also probably not as derided by the general public as people who care about movies might assume, and it’s very possible that a better version of the story—gnarlier, weirder, scarier—wouldn’t make as much money. I’m hoping we’re about to find out, because I can’t conceive of Neveldine/Taylor/Cage making a worse movie than the first one. It would be great if someone had a Marvel franchise that didn’t rely on that inter-universe seriousness, and Sony, with one crappy Ghost Rider movie, is currently in the lead versus Fox, with its four crappy Daredevil/Fantastic Four movies.
This Means War: Here was the plan: I would go see This Means War on its Valentine’s Day sneak preview with my wife and some friends; we would eat candy, watch a presumably stupid attempt to unite the demographics of males with bad taste in movies and females with bad taste in movies, and I’d have a review for the movie’s official opening day. But the AMC at Kips Bay had a problem with their digital print—apparently the studio or whoever was in charge of that sent over the wrong access code [Somewhere an out-of-work union projectionist weeps. Save celluloid! -Ed.], and so trying to play the movie was as fruitless as trying to decode spy documents in movies like This Means War. Actually more fruitless because that stuff is always stupidly easy in movies like This Means War.
So we were all sent home with refunds and readmit passes, too late to catch one of the other sneak previews happening throughout Manhattan. Needless to say, this was a frustrating experience, although I can’t speak to whether it was more or less frustrating than actually watching a movie directed by McG. Regardless, I no longer have a new release to review in this weekend’s column. I could riff about Reese Witherspoon’s career choices (mostly unexciting but How Do You Know is underrated!) or why Tom Hardy looks so weird with gelled hair on the poster and/or why he’s doing this kind of junk when Fassbender’s mainstream concession so far has been playing Magneto awesomely, but I’ll just review the peanut butter M&M’s we ate while waiting for the movie to not actually start: they were excellent. The adjusted recipe Sweethearts, however: not so good.
The Secret World of Arrietty: Disney is giving this Studio Ghibli picture a proper (ish) wide (ish) release, maybe thinking that its adaptation of The Borrowers will be less culturally specific and puzzling to small children who, anime culture nonwithstanding, have been most exposed to Japanese-related animation by watching Sushi Pack on CBS (is that show still on?). By the way, if Studio Ghibli feels like winning another Oscar, they might consider making more short films. I saw the Oscar-nominated animated shorts at IFC Center last weekend, and while most of them were enjoyable, it seemed like a pretty thin field; by the time the program got to four additional “highly commended” shorts that didn’t make the cut, the quality dropped off sharply. Even some of the nominated movies were some combination of slight or meandering; no wonder Pixar wins all the time. Get in the game, Ghibli!