Nicolas Cage reprises his role as the incendiary Marvel Comics character Johnny Blaze, an Evel Knievel-type motorcycle stunt rider who sold his soul to the Devil, in "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." This impudent, 95-minute, PG-13 opus is a reboot of the franchise rather than a sequel. The original "Ghost Rider" (2007) was a standard issue supernatural hero origins epic. Alternately adventurous, amorous, and absurd, this lightweight, middle-of-the-road, action mash-up was as tame as it was tedious. When the Rider wasn't tangling with either Mephistopheles or his rebellious son Blackheart, director Mark Steven Johnson pitted the him against the local constabulary conducting a homicide investigation. The protagonist’s outlandish motorcycle stunts amounted to cheesy hokum. Further, "Ghost Rider" imitated at least two scenes from the infinitely superior "Terminator 2: Judgment Day": Blackheart's assault on a biker bar and the Rider's encounter with the cops. Nevertheless, fans wallowed in this conventional nonsense, and "Ghost Rider" coined a fortune. Peter Fonda made a momentary but memorable impression as a sartorially elegant Mephistopheles, but the Rider's face-off against Blackheart (Wes Bentley made-up like a 19th century minstrel singer) to rescue his girlfriend Roxanne Simpson yielded no surprises. "Crank" co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor along with “Blade” scenarist David S. Goyer have drastically altered the franchise. Gone is Johnny Blaze's girlfriend. Gone are Johnny’s two guilty pleasures: eating jelly beans and listening to the Carpenters. Gone is Johnny's playful paranoia about his supernatural alter-ego. "Ghost Rider" qualified as a Disney superhero movie without any grit. If the two movies were compared to motorcycles, “Ghost Rider” would be a quiet, graceful Honda Gold Wing and “Spirit of Vengeance” would be a noisy, skeletal Yamaha dirt bike. Moreover, the color of Ghost Rider’s skull depicts the tonal differences. In the original, the skull is white, but in the reboot black.
"Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (**1/2 out of ****) dispenses with Johnny's earlier ‘fear no evil’ credo. He dreads his lack of control over his combustible alter-ego. Indeed, he has fled in fear to Eastern Europe to lay low until he can come to grips with his condition. This doesn't discourage a wine-guzzling, motorcycle-riding, French monk, Moreau (Idris Elba of "Thor"), from tracking Johnny down and approaching him with a proposition. If Blaze will protect a helpless child from his malevolent father, Moreau assures him that his renegade order of monks will help him remove his curse. Moreau and his cassock-clad compatriots have Danny (Fergus Riordan of "Fragile") along with his attractive Gypsy mom, Nadya (Violante Placido of "The American"), hidden in their remote monastery. Basically, Danny is the spawn of the Devil. Moreau warns his father superior, Benedict (Anthony Head of “Scoop”), that Satan will stop at nothing to possess Danny. Basically, the Devil has taken the form of a human, Roarke (Ciarán Hinds of "Excalibur"), while he treads the Earth. Unfortunately, Satan’s power is waning because Roarke’s body is deteriorating. Satan needs Danny’s body for a ritual enacted at dawn before the Winter Solstice so he can rejuvenate his dominance. Interestingly, this child in jeopardy plot resembles a similar storyline in an earlier Cage movie “Drive Angry.”