“My head is burning up,” exclaims Nicolas Cage as he stumbles out into the sunlight.
In the new feature film Ghost Rider, Cage stars as Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman who harbors a very dangerous curse. I guess when he was just a boy, Blaze sold his soul to Mephisto (Peter Fonda) in exchange for curing the cancer of his quickly fading father.
Now many years later, Mephisto has come to collect and Blaze must track down four rogue demons before they unleash hell on earth. At night as part of his curse, Blaze becomes a leather-clad “flaming” skeleton biker whose powers will aid him on his journey. If he succeeds, Blaze will be freed of his curse.
The film was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose biggest claim to fame was the superhero film Daredevil. Johnson also wrote the pseudo-sequel Elektra. Johnson won some people back when he released his director’s version of Daredevil, which shifted the focus of the film and revealed his true intentions for the film.
But with Ghost Rider, I am starting to see where Johnson’s biggest fault is. When he writes these scripts he never gets the character’s true motives to why they are a hero and why they do the things they do. There are a lot of similarities between Ghost Rider and Daredevil, at least in their cinematic versions. such as the whole father-and-son dynamic as the springboard motivation to becoming a hero. Come on, Mark, not every hero is Batman.
Another similarity is that when Johnson wrote Elektra, he created a series of super-villains as sort of trials for Elektra. And once more, he does the same thing with Ghost Rider. When you create a superhero film, it is hard to make one on a character who doesn’t have any real great villains. Villains should complement the hero and have a purpose as well as almost be an extension of why the hero is who he is. That is comic book 101.
The best thing that Johnson did with Ghost Rider was that he didn’t take him or his star very serious. He hammed up portions of the dialogue and allowed there to be more of an invitation into who the hero is. It works well in certain portions but fizzles in some key scenes. The over-the-top performances from Nicolas Cage and the special effects team make this film a good “popcorn” movie. I also liked Sam Elliot’s mentor to Cage’s rookie. That was a great fit.
The biggest problems with the film were with the demon solo scenes, Fonda’s performance as Mephisto, and the belief that a motorcycle stuntman can attract as many fans as NASCAR.
The introduction scene to Wes Bentley’s villain Blackheart at the biker bar was chilling and a great setup, but after that scene, I never liked the character again. The character became almost like a vampire cliché, except way worse. We needed more.
Ghost Rider is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. But it isn’t necessarily the worst comic book movie I have ever seen, either. I am not sure if that is a recommendation; maybe, just barely. Ghost Rider was always a popular “B-rate” character and it does make sense that he would make for a “B-rate” movie.
(2.5 out of 5)
So Says the Soothsayer.