What can be expected of a sequel to a film very few people liked or cared for? Are we expecting the story and characters to be better? Are we expecting the filmmaking and artistry involved to be improved? Do we lower our expectations so far that we only wish it to be competent or ironically enjoyable? Will any of these questions be answered by Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? Let us take a closer look and find out for ourselves.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance finds Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) all alone in Eastern Europe and trying to quell the demon within that he gained from an unfortunate pact with the devil, currently in the guise of the elderly and frail Roarke (Ciarán Hinds). Along comes a cool-headed monk, Moreau (Idris Elba), with a new deal for Blaze: protect and deliver a fated child from the clutches of Roarke and his minions, and Moreau and his sect will free Blaze from his curse. Action and shenanigans ensue.

Fans of the Ghost Rider mythos who felt burned by the first film will not find much solace in this one. Sure, it is technically a better film, but that is not much of a feat. Overall, it has a better pace and tone, and it never takes itself too seriously. Considering the film is directed by Neveldine and Taylor, the duo behind the Crank films, you would expect the same manic, non-stop zaniness that characterized the Chev Chelios adventures. However, the film is shockingly tame for the directors’ typical pedigree. The first half builds nicely with some craziness here and there, and hilariously over-the-top moments from the dependably over-the-top Nicolas Cage. It leads to a mid-film action setpiece that is actually a blast to watch unfold. Unfortunately, the second half runs out of steam quickly and never recovers. Even the final setpieces can’t recapture the intensity and momentum of the action that preceded them. The film feels like it pulls its punches when the audience is begging for it to just let go with reckless abandon.

The actors do their best to bring energy to the movie. Nicolas Cage has seemingly given up embodying a character, and instead is just exuding the persona he has built with his career in the last decade. There’s even a sly nod to his infamous “Not the bees!” scene from The Wicker Man. It results in a campy performance that is often laugh-out-loud funny. Idris Elba plays Moreau with a confident ease, reeling it in during the quieter moments but not holding back when a broader approach is required. Violante Placido plays Nadya, the mother of the child the devil desperately longs to obtain. She gives the woman a convincing urgency that helps propel some of the plot forward. Ciarán Hinds doesn’t make much of an impression as Roarke, settling for glaring and evil looks for the majority of his screen time. His primary minion tasked with collecting the boy is Carrigan, played with relish and zeal by Johnny Whitworth. He seems to have more fun engaging his dark side than Hinds does.

Oh, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. What might’ve been if you actually cared about remaining faithful to your source material? Or had you’d thrown caution to the wind and gone all out with outrageous violence and wanton hijinks? Alas, we must settle for an uninteresting and stale film with intermittent flashes of insanity and fun.