Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Oprah Winfrey has said she can’t believe in the biblical God because the Bible calls Him “jealous”; and jealousy, she asserts, is a destructive emotion incompatible with her understanding of a loving God.
I, on the other hand, have no problem with a “jealous” God for two reasons: First, I’ve actually studied what the Bible means by God’s “jealousy” for his people, and second, I’m the father of teenage daughters. My shotgun and I know all about being “jealous” for my daughters’ hearts.
But if the pontiffs of pop culture can’t understand how comforting it is to be loved by a “jealous” God – a God who, with fiery passion, will not stand to let his beloved be wooed away by other suitors, who only mean to use, rape and destroy His beloved – how much less can they fathom a loving deity who declares that “vengeance” is His and His alone (Romans 12:19)?
Like bafflement over how the God of “Thou shalt not murder” can also impose the death penalty, the idea of vengeance and hellfire confuses our biblically illiterate culture, which sees the wrath of God more akin to the demonic than the divine.
From this confusion stems the story for the new film “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” a truly atrocious sequel to the also awful – but not nearly this bad – “Ghost Rider,” both of which star Nicolas Cage, a thespian who has become a recurring Internet joke for his bad acting, a joke that finds its punch line in this performance, which often left me wondering if Cage was drunk, or simply knew he was in a rotten stink fest of a film while he was making it.
Not even gobs of action and 3D special effects could make “Spirit of Vengeance” entertaining, encumbered as it was by Cage’s unfocused performance, an amateur script and a plot that stumbled over itself trying to cover up all its holes and inconsistencies.
Actor Idris Elba proved likeable enough as a wine-loving, bike-riding rogue monk, but the rest of the cast and crew should be ashamed for making this film, which, although it’s only February, is sure to have a place on my “Worst films of 2012″ list.
And for a movie overflowing with religious themes, its theology wasn’t much better than its (current) 16-percent rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
To be fair, there was one shining moment, a brief exchange when Cage’s character Johnny Blaze explains that the vengeful demon that lives within him and comes out to feed on the souls of sinners sees no distinction between the mostly sinful and slightly sinful.
“There’s good and bad in all of us,” Blaze explains. “There’s something in all of us you wouldn’t want the Rider to see.”
Later he reiterates to a mother trying to save her son, “In [the Rider's] eyes, you’re no different from [a drug dealer]; you’re no different from any of them.”
Of course, though this is a biblical truth – “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:9-20) and, “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) – “Spirit of Vengeance” speaks these words through the mouth of a demon.
The film simply can’t understand that wrath and vengeance are part of a holy God, explaining instead that the Rider is really a “angel of justice sent to protect the innocent” who was dragged to hell, corrupted and driven insane, becoming now the twisted punisher of evil, the “spirit of vengeance.”
Like Oprah’s unfortunate misunderstanding of jealousy, the filmmakers misattribute God’s vengeance to Satan.
And it goes downhill from there.
In one scene, for example, Blaze explains to another demon-possessed character of the satanic power within their souls, “We can use it to help people,” a clear contradiction of Scripture, which demonstrates Satan tempts people with power (think Eve in the Garden), only to twist it against them for their destruction (think the classic “Monkey’s Paw” story).
The “Ghost Rider” is a walking skeleton on fire, and yet somehow Blaze misses the truth behind the adage that “those who play with fire get burned.”
At one point in the film, even though he’s rid of the demon within, he recants and declares it a “mistake” to ever have been rid of the power the demon gave him.
And how does he get rid of the demon? He confesses a secret and takes Communion from a priest.
That’s it? Communion? No place for Christ Himself, the One who the Bible declares is given authority over both heaven and hell and a Name before which even Satan must bow? The One who actually does cast out demons in Scripture?
Nope. In fact, for a film filled with spiritual references and themes, there apparently is no room for Christ whatsoever. Not even God. Sure, there’s some mention of an angel, some priests and some monks, but there’s no God in “Ghost Rider.” Neither God nor the power of good nor Jesus nor salvation have even a bit role in “Spirit of Vengeance.” Even from a purely secular or detached, analytical perspective, does that make sense? A movie about possession and vengeance and hell and Satan in which God isn’t even a minor theme?
On the other hand, I find the exclusion of Christ perfectly consistent with pop culture spirituality. For if Oprah actually opened her heart and soul to Christ, she might find God’s “jealousy” something to praise rather than fear, and she’s already announced she’s just not willing to go there. And were the makers of “Ghost Rider” willing to examine the nature of God’s vengeance, they may come face to face with the Cross upon which His wrath was poured, and I suspect that’s an even scarier prospect for some than the flaming skulls of “Ghost Rider.”
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” surprisingly contains fewer than a dozen profanities and obscenities, though I suspect several content categories were kept to a minimum in order to draw young audiences.
The film also contains very little sexuality, limited to one scene where an attractive woman “makes eyes” at a businessman (in order to facilitate the swiping of his wallet) and some, non-graphic discussion of how Satan impregnated a human woman. There are also a few scenes where the attractive woman is thrown into the clutches of thugs, but their potentially sexual advances are cut short by rapid action sequences.
Similarly, though the action-hero genre of the film is inherently violent – gunfights, car chases, explosions, and so forth abound – there is very little blood and gore. Even characters who are shot or killed by the Rider merely fall down or dissolve a fiery puff of smoke. The exception are those characters who are killed by a demon of decay. This demon’s victims literally rot and dissolve in seconds, which would be quite gruesome for some audiences.
“Spirit of Vengeance” is packed non-stop with religious and occult themes. I literally filled six pages of notes trying to keep track of all the mentions of the devil, demons, priests and religious orders, possessions, souls, evil, witchcraft, the Antichrist and so forth. Notably, there are three or four scenes in which Satan or his followers chant unintelligible (perhaps Latin?) words as part of spell-casting or satanic rites. The conflict between a demon-possessed man and Satan himself is the primary conflict and storyline of the film.