Audiences and critics are powerless to stop the rise and rise of Nicolas Cage. It is the power play of a generation. He has suffered through embarrassment and humiliation, taking on role after role just to work. It is not the same as a washed-up loser taking on roles for cash as much as they can. Cage still holds within him that pride for art and carries himself thusly. In recent years he has hit his stride, and Prisoners of the Ghostland is another odd feature that shows his extensive range while piecing him with strong directors and exceptional ensembles. Cage elevates this Sion Sono project, but not very far.
Sometimes a concept is doomed. Even with Sofia Boutella and Nick Cassavetes attached, Sono struggles to make this piece of bank robbers in Samurai Town work. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a feature that tries too much, too often. For every tonal mixture, there are three separate observations to be made in just one avenue of the story. Sono refuses to streamline these confused and peppered scenes, and rightly so. To an extent it is admirable. To see a creative throw his heart and soul into a feature with a quality cast is always, at the least, going to be entertaining. But with such big names attached to the project, both in front of and behind the camera, Prisoners of the Ghostland has a lot to prove and no way of doing it.
It’s a shame, really. For all the faults, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a visually interesting feature. Within it is all the makings of a fascinating piece. Cage and Boutella are strong draws, big names with solid performances. They are just mismanaged. Sono is not up to the task of tackling Samurai Town and the many inhabitants that he wishes to proclaim as the next big heroes or villains. Decent action scenes are rife throughout though, they are the glue that holds Cage together. It is wielded well, Sono still has that strength under him, but uses it loosely and not that often. There is an uninterrupted desire to use it, but there is no chance of finding it in more than patchy spots throughout Prisoners of the Ghostland.
The adage of “Cage at his best,” is thrown around often in his features of late. It is because he is the stick-out addition to the feature, a sore thumb parading around with zany energy and manic insanity. Cage rage. He feels placated here. It is no Mandy, nor is it Willy’s Wonderland. Both at least utilised that rage and mania Cage is now synonymous with, but Prisoners of the Ghostland does not do well when tackling the beast. Cage is taken down to Samurai Town, and it is not his finest hour. Better than the bulk of work he has offered in the past decade, but when the man is surrounded by quality, he struggles to push through as an adaptable piece of the puzzle. He is now a creature of habit, forever destined to star in bizarre, meta-verse obstructions of a career that was so promising. It is still promising, and while Prisoners of the Ghostland will do little to satiate the feral new-age Cage fans, it will do something for those looking for his refined qualities, however rusty they may be.