Nicolas Cage returns as the vindictive biker-spirit Ghost Rider in this Marvel Comics-culled sequel.
After the Oscars, some schlock! The Marvel comic-book adaptation Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance may be the perfect antidote to the polished Oscar pretenders we've been graced with recently.
For, no matter how varied - and international - the Academy Award-nominated films may have been, I can pretty much guarantee that none of them featured a biker with a flaming skull for a head... who, at one instance, urinates flame.
Yes, this sequel to the dismal Nicolas Cage-starring original - brought to us by the directors of the high-octane Jason Statham actioner Crank - doesn't just enjoy its trashy status, it embraces it.
But although the 2007 original was a critical flop in more ways than one - chief of which being that it was just too kid-friendly to be effective - directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don't quite succeed in giving Marvel's dark avenger the edgy treatment he truly deserves.
For starters, the premise is certainly not that original. Neatly bypassing the plot of the 2007 flop, an animated pre-credits sequence re-introduces us to Johnny Blaze (Cage), a stunt motorcycle driver who signed his soul away to the devil (Ciarian Hinds) in order to save his father's life.
Not so surprisingly, the deal doesn't quite go as planned. Johnny's father does not in fact survive, and there's a further twist to the deal. Following his blood pact, our daredevil driver is lumped with a very particular curse.
Whenever Johnny encounters evil, he awakens the 'Spirit of Vengeance' - a flaming, near-invincible skeletal body that devours all those with a hint of bad in them (pro-ACTA pundits will be happy to learn that this vindictive spirit doesn't even flinch from punishing web pirates).
While brooding in a dilapidated garage somewhere in 'Eastern Europe', Johnny is visited by an enigmatic Frenchman who appears to have ties to the clergy. The stranger, Moreau (Idris Elba) offers Johnny another deal: if he protects Danny (Fergus Riordan) - a boy caught up in a supernatural conspiracy - his curse will be lifted.
But while the thugs that are hot on the trail of Danny and his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) are no real challenge to our 'Ghost Rider', when their employer gradually emerges from the shadows, he turns out to be an old - and not exactly dear - acquaintance.
Much like Cage's other recent automotive trashy actioner - Drive Angry - this second stab at one of Marvel's more interesting properties starts off with a burst of invigorating energy, only to sputter out too soon.
Cage, Elba and Hinds all seem to be having great fun with the over-the-top script (though the latter's rubbery grimaces grow too comical at times), while Neveldine and Taylor seem to understand the source material perfectly well - mixing in some well-timed humour amidst the action, as well as animation with live action to create a somewhat messy, but often entertaining, visual collage.
However the fact remains that the devil-pact plotline - already a cliché minefield - is given no added juice here, and is allowed to simply collapse into the usual mould.
The secondary villain, Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), adds nothing, either - even after his transformation into the pestilential demon-lackey Carrigan, he simply a nuisance, and nothing more.
It's a shame that Marvel can't seem to get their less prominent characters right on screen. While the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises may have proven to be heavy-hitters, it seems that little attention has been paid to the quality of their quirkier properties, such as The Punisher and, to a lesser extent, The Hulk.
You can practically feel that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance could have really been set ablaze (no pun intended) were it permitted to run under a higher age-rating, and not the 14 certificate that, once again, dampens its impact.
A horror-friendly director could do wonders with material like this, and in the right hands, it could become a cult classic, reaping benefits for years to come.
A little creativity goes a long way.
It's sad that one of the world's most vibrant, long-standing comic book houses seem to have forgotten this simple truth.