Most comic book movies don't wait five years to release their sequels. Then again, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance isn't like most comic book movies, and that works both to its advantage and its detriment.
In fact, Spirit of Vengeance isn't strictly a sequel. Though it follows the events of 2007's Ghost Rider, references to that earlier movie are minimal, and everything you need to know about the main character is recapped for you a really sweet animated title sequence here. In this sense, it's pretty similar to 2008's The Incredible Hulk which, while not contradicting the events of the first Hulk movie, doesn't really build on them, either.
So above all else, let this be clear: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a VERY different movie from Ghost Rider. That film was a corny Western, complete with old cowboys, a horse-riding montage and a Johnny Cash soundtrack. This movie abandons any kind of Wild West shtick for a totally different kind of cheesiness. It's an all-out action film with some totally stupid moments, but it milks those moments for all they're worth. What else would you expect from directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the guys who gave the world Crank and Crank: High Voltage?
Before we get too much farther, let us synopsize: thanks to a deal he made with the Devil, ex-stuntman Johnny Blaze is now Ghost Rider, a demented, demonic spirit of vengeance whose job is to punish the wicked by eating their souls. Johnny wants nothing more than to be rid of the demon inside him, but sometimes he ends up getting drafted into the war between Heaven and Hell against his will. In this movie, he's recruited to help save the teenage child of a human woman and the Devil, who plans to possess his body so he can like stay on Earth for a long time and do bad stuff etc.
It must have been a dream come true for Neveldine and Taylor to work with actor Nicolas Cage, who here plays Johnny Blaze -- although really, he's essentially playing himself. Cage keeps exactly none of his ridiculous acting mannerisms in check, which will probably turn off casual superhero viewers but is a lot of fun for people who've gotten a chuckle out of his overacting time and time again. Whether he's trying very poorly to flirt with a nurse, sing-yelling about the demon inside him or awkwardly attempting to connect with the kid he's supposed to be saving (which actually lets him talk about bees, NO NOT THE BEES!), this is a Nic Cage tour-de-force. I mean, you don't make this guy talk about bees unless you really MEAN it.
Because of Cage, but also because of some interesting directing choices, the first half of this movie, while very strange, is totally watchable. When Ghost Rider finally appears on screen to do the hero thing, for instance, he does this weird… dance thing… instead of fighting. Then he just kind of stands there. Then he shuffles around, does some mid-air acrobatics, and eats a few souls. It's not at all the kind of action scene you would expect from a Marvel Comics movie, and sometimes you might find yourself wishing Ghost Rider could just be a little more of a superhero-y dude, but it's really strangely fun to watch.
The second half of this movie almost has the opposite problem. When the plot really kicks into high gear, most of the film's weirdness is dropped in favor of advancing the story (which, at 95 minutes, is relatively lean) to the final showdown. It's here, when the movie asks us to accept these characters as real people with real problems, that it's least watchable. We don't want to see Nicolas Cage on a journey of self-discovery… we want to see him pee fire (which he does. Twice)!
Fortunately, the film recovers nicely for its final action piece, which involves Satanic cults, demonic possession, lots of spitting fire, and a pretty sweet car/motorcycle/pickup chase. This is the kind of stuff most people probably came to Ghost Rider to see, and they likely won't be let down by this sequence.
It's good that with a lesser-known character like Ghost Rider, Marvel feels that they can take chances with their movies. You'd never see a character like Captain America or Iron Man in a movie like this, but, you know, variety is the spice of life. The unbelievability/strangeness of this film's style will leave some audience members cold, but really its major problem is that sometimes it's goofy Nic Cage craziness and sometimes it tries too hard to be serious. Still, Spirit of Vengeance is not at all bad, and it is very interesting. And hey, at 95 minutes, it's not like it will eat your time. JUST YOUR SOUL. C+