When I heard a follow-up to the 2007 superhero flick Ghost Rider was going into production, I echoed a sentiment most people had: "Did they see the first one?" The movie, starring Nic Cage as the demon with a heart of gold, was lazy, simple and dull, with all the elements properly transitioned from comic to screen, but without any flair or life. One would expect more of the same.
But one quickly realizes you can never get "more of the same" from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the mad men behind Gamer and the Crank films, and the new directing team for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. A behind-the-scenes sneak peak of their semi-sequel reveals that, even with Nic Cage resuming his role as stuntman-turned-soul-collector Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider 2 is closer to Crank than the previous installment.
The video is as high octane as the actual movie, showing off the directing duo's penchant for elaborate camera stunts (which they man themselves). In one shot, Taylor conducts a firry explosion, executed using practical gasoline bombs. In another sequence, Neveldine is pulled by a motorcycle while wearing roller skates, just to get the perfect angle of the bike. As if he needed to one up himself, the footage follows Neveldine's first stunt with another: flying off the edge of a cliff (thanks to some elaborate wire work), holding the camera tight as a stunt man flies backward with him. Even Nic Cage appears to have gotten in on the death defying filmmaking, visibly thrown forty feet into the air on the Romanian set.
The practical effects employed by the team turn Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance a grungier, visceral comic book movie—a far cry from the rest of the Marvel big screen efforts, including the original Ghost Rider. During the panel Neveldine and Taylor were very clear on why the first movie wasn't their cup of tea: Johnny Blaze is a guy whose superpower involves sucking out your soul and having you relive your life in flashes. That shouldn't be pretty, it should be terrifying.
And the movie takes every possible avenue to go darker. Ghost Rider's skull is now charred and black, his bike a compact cycle for maximum stunt movement, his jacket a bubbling layer tar over his flaming flesh. Naturally, the question was raised if the movie would be rated R, to which Taylor responded, "We know it was always going to be a PG-13 movie. We drop f-bombs, we have a high body count, but we found ways to get around it." Neveldine clarified: "Here's the thing to know about the MPAA. You can burn as many people as you want."
The most exciting prospect for the new Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance might be the collaboration between the Crank filmmakers and Nicolas Cage. Apparently they first pursued him for a role in Crank, but the movie was too finge to get him on board. Thankfully, it worked out, and when asked what Cage is like in real life, both men had opinions. "He's like a Crank film," says Taylor. "Nicolas Cage can actually piss fire. No CG need," added Neveldine.
As one final treat, the NYCC audience was presented with a 3D version of the previously-released trailer. The movie was post-converted but conceived as a 3D movie, to allow Neveldine and Talyor more freedom for practical effects and energetic camera work. The results work, even during fast-motion action scenes with bikes speeding around open freeways. Neveldine and Talyor have taken full advantage of Ghost Rider's flaming chain whip, which pops off the screen and into your face.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance looks like a major improvement from the last movie—but only time will tell. The movie hits theaters February 17 and you can check back soon for an exclusive interview with Neveldine and Taylor!