“It was supposed to be the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies and comic books when I was 12,” bleats a clearly over-excited Mark Steven Johnson on one of the two chat-tracks bolted on here. Now, you can’t fault MSJ for enthusiasm – it’s just a pity his execution lets him down...
Still, you can understand why he’s so chipper. The Daredevil director’s latest took a healthy $224 million at the global box office, proving without doubt the bankability of the Marvel brand in the face of widespread critical raspberries.
But there’s no altering the fact that the first 50 minutes before Nic Cage turns into the titular flaming-skulled spirit of vengeance have all the vibrancy of an ad for engine oil. Watching Cage’s gaunt-faced stuntrider Johnny Blaze send his bike soaring over trucks and ’copters ought to be a wower, but somehow Johnson leeches all the thrill from it. Defying death has seldom looked quite so... well, dull.
Things marginally improve when Cage starts morphing into a CGI critter, having flogged his soul to the sneering Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda). The FX impress, especially when it comes to a quartet of fallen angels who aim to make life hell for our cursed hero. But there’s not enough plot to hang them on, while the script is a hotchpotch of cliches and even Cage (looking way too old for this gig) struggles to chew the scenery with any conviction.
The DVD johnnies have pasted in a smattering of extra or alternate scenes to justify the Extended Cut tag. But the vibe you get from Johnson’s commentary is that he thought the theatrical version had the edge, and it’s tough to disagree. The director and FX boffin Kevin Mack descend into mutual backslapping, but they’re a better bet than producer Gary Foster’s dusty one-man gab track. Shame Cage didn’t step up to the mic, given the zest he brings to the hour-and-a-half Making Of – the kind of soup-to-nuts trawl you’ll either pore over or ignore altogether.