REVIEW: GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

CAST

Nicolas Cage (8mm)
Johnny Whitworth (The 100)
Fergusd Riordan (Fragile)
Ciarán Hinds (Game of Thrones)
Violante Placido (The Lookout)
Idris Elba (Thor)
Christopher Lambert (Highlander)
Anthony Head (Buffy)
Vincent Regan (Camelot)
Spencer Wilding (The Legend of Hercules)

In Eastern Europe, a French priest named Moreau warns the monks of a monastery about an impending attack by the devil’s forces to obtain a boy named Danny. The monastery falls under attack; Moreau tries to help the boy and his mother Nadya escape, but the distrusting mother shoots at Moreau and flees with her son. Moreau manages to distract the men chasing Danny and Nadya, but nearly dies in the process and loses them. He believes that only the Ghost Rider is capable of protecting the boy. He finds the Rider and seeks his help.

Five years have passed since the events of the first film, which dealt with Johnny Blaze making a deal with the demon Roarke (Mephistopheles), and becoming the Ghost Rider — a vengeful, fiery spirit who feeds on the evil of his victims and consumes the souls of sinners. No matter how small the infraction — anything from genocide to a white lie — the Rider does not differentiate. This drives Blaze into hiding, fighting the evil spirit within him. Moreau finds him with some ease and convinces him to save the boy in exchange for his priesthood’s ability to restore Johnny’s soul and remove the Ghost Rider’s curse forever. Meanwhile, pursuers force Nadya and Danny from the road and bring them to their leader: her former boyfriend Ray Carrigan. Carrigan has Danny tied up and is about to execute Nadya when the Ghost Rider appears; the Ghost Rider kills several of Carrigan’s men and then moves in on Danny. Nadya distracts the Ghost Rider, who then is shot with grenades into submission. Carrigan leaves with Danny in tow.

Johnny awakens the next morning in a hospital. On the way out, he convinces Nadya not to trust him, but to accept his help to find Danny. However, Carrigan tells Roarke about the Rider, and Roarke speaks an incantation to Danny via phone; this, in effect, puts up a “firewall” preventing the Rider from sensing his whereabouts. He warns Carrigan it will not shield him from being sensed and gives him instructions to deliver Danny. Nadya later tells Blaze that as she lay dying, she made a deal with Roarke: her life in return for him impregnating her with Danny, making Danny a direct vessel for Roarke and the potential for him to have unlimited power on the surface world. Roarke lacks this power so far from Hell. Danny nearly escapes, but breaks his ankle and is recaptured. That night, Nadya and Johnny interrogate a known contact of Carrigan’s. Johnny takes off ahead of Nadya to deal with Carrigan. Nadya saves Danny as the Rider converts a mining machine into a massive fiery machine, destroying their hideout complex and mortally wounding Carrigan. When Ghost Rider catches up to Nadya and starts to use his Penance Stare on her, Danny is able to stop the rider with a word, exercising his hidden power.

Moreau catches up with the group as they ride off. Roarke is not done with Carrigan; using his power, he turns Carrigan into a demon called Blackout capable of instantly decaying anything he touches while shrouded in darkness. Johnny and Nadya bring Danny to Moreau’s monastery with warm reception. Moreau delivers on his end of the bargain and, after explaining that the Ghost Rider is the twisted incarnation of the Spirit of Justice, Zarathos, after being captured and tortured to madness while in Hell, he exorcises Johnny of the spirit and Johnny becomes human again. The head monk Methodius (Christopher Lambert) proclaims that Danny will never be safe from the influence of evil and says he must die, taking Johnny, Moreau, and Nadya captive in order to execute the boy. Carrigan intervenes, however, killing the monks and taking Danny captive again to deliver to Roarke. The others follow, with Johnny not wanting to desert Danny after having promised to protect him. With the ritual to transfer Roarke’s spirit and power into Danny underway, the three infiltrate the compound to save him. Carrigan kills Moreau, but Danny (who Roarke states has the same powers as he does) gives Johnny back the power of the Ghost Rider. Roarke manages to escape with Danny, and the Ghost Rider and Nadya give pursuit. After a vehicular struggle, Ghost Rider manages to defeat Carrigan and causes the SUV carrying Roarke and Danny to crash. The Ghost Rider literally sends Roarke back into hell while Danny, who had died in the accident, is returned to his mother. Channeling the blue flame of Zarathos, Johnny manages to revive Danny and assures him of his safety.

As the film closes, the Rider, now covered in angelic blue flames, rides off on his motorcycle, saying “My name is Johnny Blaze. I’m the Ghost Rider”.The effects are fun, the story is weak, the acting is patchy, the violence and threat could be better, and it’s still not the film we all hoped. Is it a disappointment? (Even to someone like me who’s not a die-hard comic book fan)? Yes. Is it still quite a lot of fun? Yes. Does it expand and improve on the original like a sequel should? Again, yes. Don’t write it off. If you’re looking for some decent entertainment, this Rider’s still got a few miles left in the tank.

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REVIEW: THE FLASH – SEASON 1

CAST

Grant Gustin (Glee)
Candice Patton (Heroes)
Danielle Panabaker (Sky High)
Rick Cosnett (The Vampire Diaries)
Carlos Valdes (Arrow)
Tom Cavanagh (Scrubs)
Jessie L. Martin (Injustice)

NOTABLE / RECURRING GUEST STARS

Chad Rock (Sanctuary)
Michelle Harrison (Tru Calling)
Patrick Sabongui (The Cabin In The Woods)
John Wesley Shipp (90s Flash)
Stephen Amell (Arrow)
Michael Smith (Fringe)
William Sadler (Iron Man 3)
Anthony Carrigan (Gotham)
Wentworth Miller (Prison Break)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Dominic Purcell (Blade: Trinity)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Kelly Frye (Rake)
Greg Finley (Izombie)
Robert Knepper (R.I.P.D.)
Michael Reventar (Kidnao Capital)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
David Ramsey (Con Air)
Anna Hopkins (Defiance)
Robbie Amell (Scooby-Doo 3 & 4)
Amanda Pays (90s Flash)
Andy Mientus (Smash)
Victor Garber (Alias)
Malese Jow (The Scoial Network)
Britne Oldford (AWOL)
Liam McIntyre (Spartacus)
Nicholas Gonzalez (Sleepy Hollow)
Peyton List (Smallville)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Matt Letschr (The Mask of Zorro)
Viro D’Ambrosio (90s Flash)
Devon Gaye (Dexter)
Brandon Roth (Superman Returns)
Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead)
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
Katie Cassidy (Black Xmas)
Paul Blackthorne (The Dresden Files)
Peter bryant (Dark Angel)
Martin Novotny (Art History)
Paul Anthony (American Mary)
Doug Jones (Hellboy)
Ciara Renee (Legends of Tomorrow)

The Flash was unique in its first season in the sense that it never really needed to find itself or grow into something better. It simply started strong and continually got better over the course of seven months. Much of the credit rests with the fact that the Flash was hardly starting from scratch. This show is the first spinoff of Arrow and its growing superhero universe. It features many of the same producers as Arrow and several writers responsible for Arrow’s stellar second season. Not only did The Flash not have to waste much time establishing its universe, it didn’t even have to introduce viewers to its protagonist. Grant Gustin debuted as a pre-speedster Barry Allen midway through Arrow’s second season, culminating with the accident that created the Flash. By the time this show came around, viewers already knew Barry, what made him tick and what fueled his particular quest.

Gustin rapidly grew into the role of Barry Allen once the spotlight was placed on him. Gustin brought a winning blend of youthful energy, latent pathos and Peter Parker-esque awkwardness to the table. He gave us a Barry Allen that’s impossible not to connect with. Barry is immensely likable. He’s less intense than Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen. He’s driven by tragedy but anchored by a small family unit. He’s faithful to the comic book Barry Allen. One of the main reasons for The Flash’s success, though, was its supporting cast. So much of the drama and the emotional core of the show centered around Barry’s ties to his core circle of friends, family and allies. There was his adoptive father, Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). There was his adoptive sister/unrequited love, Iris (Candice Patton), a dichotomy that never came across as creepy or incest-y as it could have. There was his newfound father figure/mentor in Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh). There were his new friends/partners in metahuman-busting, Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). And rounding out the core cast was Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Barry’s colleague and sometimes rival/sometimes ally.

The show exploited these various relationships to great effect. Above all, the father/son relationships between Barry/Joe and Barry/Wells were the source of great drama. Martin and Cavanagh were the MVPs among the cast. Martin brought a crucial warmth to his role as a concerned father and a man simply baffled by the increasingly bizarre state of life in Central City. Cavanagh, meanwhile, helped mold Wells into the show’s most captivating figure. It quickly became apparent that Wells was far more than he seemed, eventually emerging as the primary antagonist of Season 1. But thanks to Cavanagh’s performance, it was always apparent that Wells cared for Barry even as he plotted and schemed and tormented the hero.

Caitlin and Cisco became increasingly compelling characters in their own right as the season progressed. Caitlin, initially cold and a little haughty, grew as her relationship with Barry blossomed and her past relationship with Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) came to light. Cisco was largely a comic relief character at first. And while he remained the show’s most reliable source of comedy, he too was fleshed out and developed a father/son connection to Wells of his own.

Iris and Eddie were a little more uneven when it came to their respective roles within the show. At times it was easy to forget about Eddie given his tendency to drop out of view. However, he definitely became an integral player in the final couple months of the season. I appreciated how the writers never took a one-note approach with Eddie. He may have been Barry’s romantic rival, but he was never written as a bully or a jerk, just a guy with his own set of hopes and desires. As for Iris, there were some episodes where she filled what seemed to be a mandatory quota as far as superhero relationship drama. The Barry/Iris/Eddie love triangle definitely had its moments, but some weeks it came across as pointless filler. The big offender was “Out of Time,” which featured a terrifically epic climax but dull build-up. The premiere episode,  did a fine job of laying out the cast of characters and basic status quo for the show. The idea that the STAR Labs particle accelerator created a new wave of metahumans alongside the Flash offered an easy way to start building a roster of villains and put Barry’s growing speed powers to the test. Luckily, it wasn’t long before The Flash began moving away from the “villain of the week” approach and building larger, overarching storylines. Bigger villains like Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) were introduced, paving the way for the Flash Rogues.

 

The show played its part in expanding the CW’s superhero universe, introducing Firestorm and crossing paths with Arrow at several points. The mid-season finale, “The Man In the Yellow Suit,” offered the full introduction of the Reverse-Flash and set the stage for a conflict that would drive the show all the way until the season finale. As that conflict developed, the question of just who Dr. Wells was and what he had planned for Barry became paramount. Wells symbolized just how much the show was willing to play with expectations and shake up the traditional comic book mythology. I noted in my review of the premiere episode that the show was showing signs of being too predictable for seasoned comic book readers. It wasn’t long before that concern faded away.

Looking back at these overarching conflicts and how they were developed over the course of the season, it’s clear that The Flash succeeded because it managed to adopt the serialized nature of superhero comics so well. Each new episode offered its fair share of twists and surprises, culminating in a dramatic cliffhanger that left viewers craving the next installment. It served as a reminder that, in many ways, TV is an inherently better medium for superheroes than film. A weekly series can do serialized storytelling in a way a couple superhero movies every year can’t. The show started out big with the premiere episode, pitting Barry against the first Weather Wizard and a massive tornado. Even that was chump change compared to later conflicts. Barry’s battle with the second Weather Wizard culminated with the hero stopping a tidal wave at supersonic speed. But the most impressive technical accomplishment was more subtle. The late-season episode “Grodd Lives” introduced viewers to Gorilla Grodd, a completely computer-animated villain who looked far more convincing than we had any right to hope.

Perhaps one of the strongest episode of Season 1 was “Tricksters.” That episode paid terrific homage to the short-lived 1990 Flash series as Mark Hamill reprised the part of the prank-obsessed villain the Trickster and former Flash John Wesley Shipp was given his most in-depth role as Barry’s father, Henry. Not only was “Tricksters” a fun love letter to the old show, it proved that this series can venture into full-on camp territory without losing sight of itself.

Ultimately, though, it’s the finale episode that stands out as the crowning moment of Season 1. The show bucked the usual trend by getting the physical confrontation with Reverse-Flash out of the way in the penultimate episode (via a team-up between Flash, Firestorm and the Arrow, no less). “Fast Enough” wasn’t concerned with the visceral element of the Flash/Reverse-Flash rivalry so much as the psychological one. The finale was intensely emotional, forcing Barry to decide just how much he was willing to sacrifice to save his mother. Just about every actor delivered their best work of the season. It was a tremendous payoff to a year’s worth of build-up.

The finale ended the season with a big question mark of a cliffhanger. The great thing about the way the season wrapped is that now the door is open for practically anything. The finale touched on the idea of the multiverse – other worlds inhabited by other Flashes like Jay Garrick. The Flash didn’t suffer from the familiar freshman growing pains most new shows experience in their first season. This show built from the framework Arrow laid out and made use of an experienced writing and production team, a great cast, and a clear, focused plan for exploring Barry Allen’s first year on the job. The show was never afraid to delve into the weird and wild elements of DC lore, but it always stayed grounded thanks to a combination of humor and strong character relationships.