There’s bound to be a lot of puzzlement as to how this sequel to 2007’s Ghost Rider, the Marvel Comics adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as the eponymous daredevil-turned-Faustian vigilante with a flaming skull for a head, required three people to write it. Starting things off by vaguely informing us that we’re in “Eastern Europe” via text at the bottom of the screen is a fairly clear sign that the responsible parties aren’t aiming especially high, but the trio of scribes who penned this total misfire one-up themselves minutes later with a dose of lazy, expository narration which grossly overestimates the extent to which viewers unfamiliar with the first entry need to be brought up to speed. If the ensuing 90 minutes are to be made sense of at all, it’s either as a dedicated act of surrealism or as a series of happenings whose silliness is matched only by how needlessly convoluted they are.
Were it only poorly written, this film might be salvageable. But the cinematography manages to be just as bothersome, alternating as it does between shaky-cam action scenes as seen through a sheen of CG gloss and awkward close-ups which look to have been shot from no more than two feet away. The intent is likely to make us feel as though we’re part of the goings-on, but it’s more distracting than immersive. Add the uninspired direction of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (whose decision to be credited as Neveldine/Taylor puts them in the same mononymous camp as McG) to the mix and you’re left with that rare action film whose action sequences are somehow more boring than everything else. The only bright spots come as a result of Cage’s off-kilter delivery of the few lines that manage to evoke laughter, but even here the humor feels unintentional. The actor has a seemingly innate knack for refocusing a film’s energy—whether it be sedate, mildly unsettling, or downright manic—around himself in a way that’s often over the top, but which provides an otherwise tiresome exercise such as this with a few passing moments of entertainment. Just as Liam Neeson’s second-act transition into an action star has provided the genre with a certain amount of gravitas, Cage has apparently taken it upon himself to make bad films strangely watchable. Anyone else in the title role would simply be boring, even unfortunate, but Cage makes the stray scene work in spite of itself. It’s just a shame that his personality completely evaporates every time his CG alter ego takes over.
To question where things went wrong feels somehow strange, as the project seems to have been ill-conceived from the very start. Unlike its predecessor, it doesn’t even offer much in the way of camp value; considering Cage’s unrivaled ability to needlessly freak out, this is a dubious achievement indeed. Lurking behind the fire and brimstone of its melodrama is a far too literal message about not letting your demons get the best of and define you, which is fine in theory, but hard to take seriously when the one espousing the idea is earlier shown pretending to piss a stream of fire into the wind in slow-mo.