By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliot, Wes Bentley, and Donal Logue
Ghost Rider would seem to be a shoe-in for a great movie, wouldn’t it? You have a tortured hero named Johnny Blaze (Cage) who, instead of catching crooks and taking them to jail (or, God forbid, the worst unsecured place in the land, Arkham Asylum), he makes people feel guilty about their sins, which is a conceptually great, involving story. You also have Nicolas Cage, a man who is admittedly very polarizing, but also a renowned comic book fan, in the lead. And, good ol’ Sam Elliot, who instead of being the Dude’s narrator as he was in 1998’s Big Lebowski, is a mentor to an agent of evil. However, you also have Mark Steven Johnson at the helm, a man who made the better than its reputation (but not by much) Daredevil and its spin-off, the as-bad-as its reputation suggests Elektra. Both films, while decent money makers, were not great in any shape, or form. However, after lingering around in development hell for over 8 years, Johnson seemed like the man for the job (or a man who could do SOME kind of job that would come in under the budget).
Truth be told, Ghost Rider is not that bad of a film. In fact, at times, it is downright watchable. The problem is, it’s just not very good. The story contains Cage as main character Johnny Blaze, a man who, when 17 years old sees by accident that his dad has lung cancer that’s spreading. This causes him to make a deal with Mephistopheles (Fonda) that involves giving up his soul to save his father. While his father is cured from the cancer, he ends up dying in a motorcycle accident later on that day. This tortures Blaze, yet Mephesto says their deal is not yet finished, and he will be back when he is needed. Flash forward to Blaze as an adult, now making an Eval Keneval type living of making death defying motorcycle stunts. After completing his biggest stunt of clearing helicopters in an entire football field, he is reunited with his teen love Roxanne (Mendes) who is in town as a reporter covering it. After being turned into the Ghost Rider by the Devil, Blaze is summoned to kill Blackheart (Bentley) and his cronies so that he can get his soul back.
It should be said that Cage does not overplay his part as Blaze here (well, with the exception of the interesting way he pronounces the word Italian while asking Roxanne out). However, the notion of his soul being tortured baffles me and is a major loophole in the story of this movie. Who in their right in mind wouldn’t save someone they loved from dying of cancer if you knew that was how they were going to eventually die? It’s a bizarre way of spring boarding the story. Because, in the comic, it was Roxanne’s dad whom he saves, only for him to be killed later. To me, this makes him feel guilty and selfish, as he was planning on running away with her anyway. Here, he was only trying to save his own father. However, once he is turned into the Ghost Rider, I must say, the effects are pretty good (although there were one or two little instances where the fire looked pretty fake). This is not a big fault of the artists, however, as fire effects, which when talking to FX artists, they will tell you that next to water and hair are the hardest effects to do. Especially in 2007. However, everything else, from the Rider’s skull to his whip to his bike’s wheels were excellently rendered.
The majority of the problems here lie within the script (or scripts, as this thing went through lots and lots of drafts). A super hero movie is only as good as its villains. And, here folks, there was nothing to grasp onto as being a threat to Blaze. Blackheart and his four elemental demons (who to the best of my knowledge were made up for this film and had no relevance to the comic itself) were just god awful, with Bentley really mailing in his performance. I have no idea why he hasn’t capitalized on his great performance in American Beauty (which, along with Mena Suvari was the only good thing about that movie), but taking this role eight years later was not the way to go for him. Now, I have no idea if it was just a miscasting, or if his problems off-screen (the guy has a history of drug issues) were following him, but he was just really off here, and even his little giggle to the camera, while they were supposed to be made to make him seem like that much more of a threat, were laughable at best. There was also a really badly written “break-out of jail” scene for the Rider, and a final fight that was utterly ridiculous. Again, maybe a better main villain would have sufficed this problem.
So, in conclusion, Johnson proves once again that he is just not the right man to adapt comic books to the screen with this film. Again, it’s not that it’s an overly bad film. I enjoyed the repore that Cage shared with Elliott. The bit with Mendes waiting in the restaurant with an 8 ball for Blaze, and the little license plate homage to Back to the Future were funny, cute little bits. But, when it came to telling a good comic book story, I liked Blaze’s emotions but didn’t buy how they came to him. And, in comic book movies, if you do not believe in the main character and the villains around him, there is nowhere to go but, well, hell.
2.5 out of 5