Cage is the type of actor whose galactic performances directly feed from the stakes of the stories he’s in—think about the intense emotional journey of “Mandy,” with heavy metal guitars accompanying his unrelenting journey into hellish revenge, and the gold that movie gave us. In “Prisoners of the Ghostland,” Cage saunters around most of the movie with a suit that is geared to blow up different limbs and also his testicles. In theory that sounds like amazing and funny character motivation, but it gets lost in whatever this movie tries to pass off for plot. You come for ideas like Cage wearing a testicle trap, and then you get rambling exposition about some ghostland boundaries, history of a nuclear explosion, flashbacks to a bank robbery involving Cage’s character, and backstories for people whose emotions are played surface-level by their director.
Cage’s character (named Hero in the credits) is wearing the suit as a type of guarantee that he won’t run away, as he’s been forcefully enlisted by a powerful, malevolent figure named The Governor (Bill Moseley) to return his missing daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a place called the Ghostland. If Hero tries to take it off, it detonates at his neck; if he touches Bernice, his arm will face the same fate. If he dares get excited around her, well, there’s two bulbs by his crotch. The star power of Cage’s performance, in Man with No Name mode, comes from select line-readings, a few yowling moments here, or a stolen goofy image there. It’s also a little exciting (in a few bursts of ultraviolence) to see Cage in a form that he has inched toward for so long—his own version of a samurai. Only Cage could have played this type of role, but his character itself is so uninteresting beyond being played by Nicolas Cage.
This is Sono’s long-anticipated English language debut, and he treats it like a victory lap with no attention to the game. The script was written by Aaron Henry and Reza Sixo Safai, but it was undeniably taken apart and tangled by the unpredictable instincts of Sono, who is not precious in the slightest with even bits of emotion or backstory that would give us something to care about. He’s especially slight when it comes to creating momentum for the story, even though it involves a rescue mission of sorts, a “Mad Max”-like apocalypse of sorts, and a flat subplot about a samurai named Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi) who later adds to the movie’s body count.