Sony had a superhero franchise on their hands in “Ghost Rider.” Curiously, though first film that turned a solid profit, but no one particularly fell in love with it, leaving them in a position to experiment with a second film about Johnny Blaze. So it only makes sense that they would turn to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the architects of the gonzo, hard R-rated “Crank” series to recapture the magic of a beloved Marvel Comics’ “superhero.” We sat down and talked with Mark and Brian at the New York Comic Con to talk about the approach to “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance,” their thoughts on their first movie, and how a PG-13 rating wasn't a hurdle to their usually risky brand of filmmaking.
“We thought it was really cool to do a 'Ghost Rider' movie,” says Taylor. “Forget the first movie, just think it’s Johnny Blaze, and Nicolas Cage, and the demon, and motorcycles. And they wanted a whole new look, a whole new vision as well, as we did too. It’s more of a re-quel, where we can abandon everything about the first movie, except for Nic. There‘s no continuity. He did a deal with the devil, but it‘s a different guy, different devil.”
Taylor couldn‘t resist taking a jab at the first film, railing against how Cage‘s Johnny Blaze agreed to be the devil‘s minion. “They kinda did a pussy version of [the deal], where he kinda does it by accident,” complains Taylor. “He cuts his hand, he’s like, 'Oops.' And the blood falls on the contract. It’s like, what is that? So in this one, he grabs a bottle, breaks it in his hand, throws the blood onto the contract like a samurai flicking the blood off his sword, and he’s screaming at the Devil, ‘Do it, do it!’”
Working under the restriction of a PG-13 didn’t seem to hamper the sensibilities of the “Crank” directors, who stretched the boundaries of what could be seen in an R-rated picture in “Crank” and “Crank: High Voltage.” “Do you really need to have tits and f-bombs in a ‘Ghost Rider’ movie?” asks Neveldine rhetorically. “We got a couple of f-bombs, and our body count is huge in this movie. It’s just that you don’t see blood, because this guy kills you with Penance Stares and he tears you apart into ashes.” Added Taylor, “There’s a lot of fire. That’s a really good trick for directors who are trying to make really violent PG-13 movies. You can burn people all you want!”
The biggest thrill for the duo was working with Nicolas Cage, who they claim was their “dream Chelios,” referring to the lead character in “Crank” played by Jason Statham. “He IS Ghost Rider,” says Taylor, revealing he and Neveldine were like “fanboys” when it came to Cage. “The one thing about Nic is that, everyone knows the crazy, off-kilter approach he has to his roles, the mega-acting he does, but he’s the most professional actor we’ve ever worked with. The guy is so prepared, he’s such a pro, he’s so easy to work with, easy to direct, never late, so supportive. And if you tell him to do something, he’s gonna go with the vision of the director, because he has that respect for the process. And that makes you so humbled to work with him.”
Making “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance” was a stark contrast to the duo’s last experience with a comic book movie, writing the script to “Jonah Hex.” Like “Ghost Rider,” Taylor says the studio, in this case Warner Bros., were the ones to approach them. But according to Taylor, “It didn’t seem like we wanted to make the same movie. We wrote a movie that we were naïve enough to think a studio would want to make. But that movie was a hard, hard hard R that we wrote. We thought it was a really cool movie, it just wasn’t a movie they wanted to make.”
Not much of the Jimmy Heyward-directed “Jonah Hex” shares a familiarity to the Neveldine/Taylor script, despite the two being credited as the sole screenwriters. “It’s a WGA thing, which is great,” says Neveldine, somewhat sarcastically. “That’s a great thing about unions, because it protects the original writers of screenplays. [But] it is 90% different, and in terms of dialogue, it could be almost 100% different.”
Audiences continue to hold out hope for a “Crank 3,” but it seems as if Neveldine and Taylor have some self-doubt about the project. “They approached us, and there’s been talk, but it hasn’t been right,” says Neveldine. “If we want to do ‘Crank 3,’ we would want to make that same leap between two and three. There’s no point in doing ‘Crank 3’ unless you make it as [proportionally] insane as ‘Crank 2.’”
But Taylor reveals they had a totally different idea for future “Crank” installments. “No joke, we wanted to spin Randy from 'Crank 2' off, but unfortunately Corey [Haim] would not cooperate that plan,” Taylor says about the late actor. “But we thought that would be an amazing direct-to-DVD series. We actually wanted to do all the tangential characters from 'Crank' as direct-to-video side-sequels. We were gonna do Efren Ramirez’s character like that, Corey Haim’s character like that. Like the 'Matrix' video game, where you see all the side characters’ stories.”
Then again, it’s all a pipe dream for now. “We’ve been talking about just going straight to ‘Crank 10,’” Taylor jokes. “It’s like going to eleven, it doesn’t mean anything.” Added Neveldine, “And someday, you just go back and do the other ones.”
"Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" hits theaters on February 17, 2012.