Fans of Marvel Comics’ supernatural cyclist Ghost Rider have always known what a cool character he’s been in the comics, mainly because of that incredible visual of a leather-clad biker on a chopper with a flaming skull head. Even if Sony’s first Ghost Rider movie may have left some fans disappointed, the character still has so much potential, which may be why Sony decided to revisit the character with Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance, a sequel that’s not a sequel – or at least not that anyone working on the movie wants it to be thought of as one.
But it’s not exactly a reboot either, because they brought back Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, the stuntman who gets transformed into the Hell Cycle-riding deliverer of justice and vengeance, but they brought on Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo behind the high-energy “Crank” films, to infuse some much-needed energy into the franchise. The production would take them to Romania and Turkey where they would be able to use some of their crazy filmmaking techniques in some of the most amazing locations. It was in Bucharest, Romania where ComingSoon.net’s SuperHeroHype caught up with the production to see what Neveldine and Taylor had been getting up to. While there, we spoke to much of their cast, costume designers, make-up people and Alex King, the film’s vehicle coordinator i.e. the man responsible for all the cool motorcycles in the movie.
So if Spirit of Vengeance isn’t a sequel, nor a remake or a reboot, what is it? Producer Ari Arad probably put it best when he compared it to a different volume of a comic series. “It’s another chapter. Comic books change artist and writers all the time and it’s kind of fun. The ‘Alien’ movies did that. It’s sort of the same idea. I always thought that was so fun about comics, that you could have a completely different lens into that myth, depending on who stepped in as writer and artist and the editor. We’re sort of taking that approach. We liked the first movie and now we’re making another movie. It really wasn’t on our mind that much.”
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From what we gathered, Cage’s Johnny Blaze is hiding out in Eastern Europe as the film opens, doing his best not to allow the vengeful spirit of Zarathos to take him over, which makes this something like the Louis Letterier-directed The Incredible Hulk, which relaunched the character with more involvement from Marvel Studios. At least in this case, they were able to get the original actor back and normally, you’d be lucky if you get to talk to a film’s main star, especially one of the caliber of Cage, on one of these set visits, and it often means waiting hours until the very end. We actually got Cage earlier in the day, and you can read that full interview by following the link below:
Mark Neveldine wasn’t on set that day, being called away on a personal matter, but his partner Brian Taylor talked to us briefly in between filming. “It’s been going unbelievably well,” he told us. “This cast we have on this move is unbelievable, so every day, there are performances that make you walk away super-funked up about what you’re doing. The locations I mean are just unbelievable.” (More on those in a bit.)
When asked about the decision for the duo to make this movie at this point in their career, he replied, “It’s just that we wanted to really humanize it, and I think the main decision coming in that we wanted to differentiate this movie and make it alive and fresh is that the title character is a CG guy. In the last movie, it was played by stunt guys, so the big thing we wanted coming in before anything else was the Ghost Rider needs to be played by Nicolas Cage, always, all the time. When he’s fighting, 95% of the stuntwork, all the action, everything that is the “GR” is Nick and he’s playing it as a dual role, because the Ghost Rider is possessed by the spirit of Zarathos, it’s a different person, it’s not Johnny Blaze. So he’s playing it as a dual role and a lot of the planning that went into the movie and preparation for his role is finding that character. What’s the language of this demon? What’s the language of this ancient God or whatever he is? How does he move differently? And we nailed it and that’s what makes it so awesome, because in those scenes, they’re alive and every single frame you’re watching Ghost Rider, it’s gonna be the flaming skull, but you’re going to feel an actor, you’re going to feel a performance and you’re going to feel a character in all of those moments. So it brings the raw energy of the dialogue and all of that stuff into the action scenes, too.”
“We like the first movie for what it is,” he said diplomatically. “It’s like a Walt Disney version of the Faust story and that’s what Nick said about it, too. This isn’t that at all, so we wanted to just completely depart and make it a whole thing. We’re picking up this character, whatever, five or six years later, and he’s in a much different place. He’s a much different guy. He’s in Europe, it’s a different bike. The physical transformation that happens to him has progressed where he doesn’t look the same, the skull looks different, everything looks different. It’s changed and progressed. Think of it like an illness and it’s progressed and this is in the final stages of that illness. It’s gonna feel a lot different from the first movie.”
“There’s been a million Ghost Rider comics. There’s been a lot of different versions of it and they’re all totally different,” Taylor said about the inspiration they took from the comics. “For me, it’s the full range of styles. The only books that we really were inspired by in the Ghost Rider canon were the Garth Ennis/Clayton Crain series, which is a much darker version of the character.”
New Allies and Old Enemies
With Nicolas Cage being the one returning factor from the earlier movie, his Johnny Blaze is surrounded by an all-new cast, including a new ally in Moreau, a motorcycle-riding gun-toting monk played by Idris Elba, as well as a priest named Methodius, played by Christopher Lambert, best known for playing the title role in Highlander and its sequel, as well as playing Lord Rayden in Mortal Kombat. Methodius’s sect of priests, like most characters, have their own distinctive look being completely covered in tattoos, but Elba’s character Moreau is a particularly interesting one because he’s more than just a sidekick and you feel he could hold his own against both the physical and supernatural foes they face, something you can read more about in our…
The new movie also brings new enemies, most notably a character named Roarke, played by Ciarán Hinds, though it didn’t take us too long to be made aware this was the latest incarnation of one of Ghost Rider’s oldest nemesis, The Devil. The ultimate name in evil has been portrayed in many different forms in the comics as well as in the first movie, but in Spirit of Vengeance, the Devil has started to wear out his human host body and he’s looking for a new one. He finds that perfect host in a boy named Danny Ketch, played by teenage actor Fergus Riordan, but his mother Nadya, played by Italian actress Violante Placido (The American), is trying to protect him as she goes on the run across Eastern Europe. Helping the Devil find the boy is his right-hand henchman Carrigan, played by Johnny Whitworth, but he’s soon transformed by the Devil into a powerful adversary named Blackout whose very touch brings death. As we learned, Blackout is another character from the comics but only in name, since Neveldine and Taylor’s version looks completely different and has different skills and powers.
Before we even left our hotel, we had a chance to talk to Hinds and Riordan, whose age and experience are on opposite sides of the spectrum for the cast even if their characters are intrinsically linked.
You can read the interview with Hinds over on ShockTIllYouDrop.com as well, but there’s a bit of confusion about the connection between the boy named “Danny Ketch” in this movie and the comic book character, a 20-something guy who actually took over the Zarathos spirit after Johnny Blaze. Riordan explained to us that he’s the son of that guy, though he wasn’t sure if they might be setting him up to take over the Ghost Rider mantle in future movies.
Placido told us about her own role in the story and how it came about that her son has become a target for the Devil. “At the point where the story starts, she’s mainly a very protective mother. She’s protecting her child like a wild animal, she would do anything to protect him and she’s running away from something much bigger than her that fell upon her in the past. She has this kind of dark past. I think in this movie, everybody’s damned in a way, and she’s a damned soul. I’m not going to reveal too much, but she is paying a big price for how she’s lived her life until then, and she has made lots of mistakes. She probably chose a short cut to follow whatever her dreams were.”
Placido said her son’s lineage is a bit more complex than just being the “son of the devil” and that she’s far too busy worrying about her son than to be a potential love interest for Cage’s Johnny Blaze.
Placido should be able to prove she’s more than just a pretty face with a hot bod in her role, as she gets heavily involved in the action. “My character knows how to use guns and knives and she’s ready to kill, so you know, I just decided to have fun with these elements and try to deal with them in the most natural way possible, even if it seemed quite absurd. At the beginning, when I saw this huge gun, I said okay well. I’ll try. Yeah, and then you know, she’s got a mission, she’s very determined, so she, she’s confident, even with the guns that are really out of scale for her. But maybe you know, they turn out to be useful and effective.
“I think almost every single character in this movie has two sides to them,” Riordan told us when asked how his powers emerge. “Carrigan has Blackout, Nic has Blaze and Ghost Rider. There are moments where I pop up and I sort of turn into the devil’s son and not Danny. The only ones that sort of stay the same all of the time are Nadya and Rourke. When we actually do it, it’s all imagination. I think everybody who has two characters tries to get into a certain mindframe where it’s not them.”
“When I first saw the first Ghost Rider movie and then realized that I had this one I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is going to be so awesome with the fire and stuff!'” Riordan said about the FX used to create his powers. “Then I realized that there wasn’t going to be a fire, and I was going to look like an idiot going, ‘Woo!’ I think I needed to see Johnny and Nic do it before I could. They helped me a lot with it. I feel more confident now and I try to just do it.”
“It’s like getting on a ride on a rollercoaster,” Placida said about working with Neveldine and Taylor. “It’s totally different and it’s very new experience for me. It’s a new challenge. It’s a different way of working. I had to get used to it a little bit at the beginning. I mean, there were times when I would ask Brian, maybe get a bit meticulous about something, and he would say, ‘Look, this is going to be really fast, you don’t even imagine.’ And then I got into this pace. I had to get used to it at the beginning and then I started realizing that it’s, it will develop a lot also on how the movie is edited and how cuts are very quick and it has to have this kind of rhythm that keeps going kind of tense and also adrenaline at times. It’s totally different.”