Words of Questionable Wisdom: The Unofficial Official Ghost Rider Review
Let me tell you about the kind of movie Ghost Rider is. Ghost Rider is the kind of movie where someone can in all seriousness tell a character surrounded in brightly burning falmes to â€œstick to the shadows.â€ Ghost Rider is the kind of movie where we’re told that neither Ghost Rider nor his demonic foes can walk on holy grounds and yet the final battle takes place in a church. It’s a kind of movie where Johnny Blaze can transform into Ghost Rider in front of several witnesses, be lead on a police chase covered by news cameramen and then still none of Blaze’s friends have any idea what happened to him.
This movie is about as dumb as a bag of hammers.
It’s also insanely entertaining if you watch it in the right mood. There special effects are very nicely done, and our skeletal hero looks wellâ€¦ about as convincing as he theoretically could using modern special effects technology. To be honest I would have preferred if they experimented in some stop-motion animation ala â€œThe Seventh Voyage of Sinbadâ€ alongside the CGI but well that’s not likely in today’s Hollywood.
A the story of the Ghost Rider movies is both shallow and labyrinthine at the same time. Here’s as good a summery of the â€œplotâ€ of Ghost Rider as best as I can reconcile it. The movie opens up with Johnny Cash sound-alike explaining we have one Ghost Rider per generation, and that the Devil forces him to hunt down the souls that escape from hell. We also learn that many years ago a Ghost Rider actually outran the devil, taking with him a contract with the power of a thousand souls. Then there’s a flashback to a young Johnny Blaze at the Quentin Carnival. Soon after a performance Blaze is ready to run off with his girlfriend Roxanne, but his plan is complicated when he learns his father is dying of cancer. Along comes the devil (named Mephistopheles) in the form of esteemed character actor Peter Fonda. Johnny ends up signing a Faustian pact to save his father’s life, but in true monkey paw fashion the elder Blaze’s cancer is cured only for him to die in a motorcycle accident the next day.
Years later we flash forward to see Johnny as a widely popular but highly eccentric daredevil doing spectacularly stupid and dangerous stunts. However Mephistopheles now wants Blaze to work for him. Meanwhile the devil’s son Blackheart has arrived on earth with a gang of demons straight from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. Blackheart wants the long lost contract so he can take over hell or something. Mephistopheles wants Blaze to become the Ghost Rider and hunt the potential usurper.
Flaming CGI aside the best thing about the Ghost Rider movie is Nicholas Cage’s performance. Cage is a master of playing subtle and muted characters. His Johnny Blaze differs in personality from the comics version in that well, the movie version actually has a personality. He is a deeply haunted man who despite his overwhelming success in life seems to only take joy out of eccentricities like a taste for jelly-bellies and nature documentaries about monkeys. His sullen demeanor seems to take a take a turn for the better when he’s offered a chance to reunited with Roxanne (Eva Mendes) but alas his awkward way with words seems to be almost as much of a stumbling point as his demonic problems. Alas Cage’s character becomes a lot less interesting once he becomes a CGI flaming skeleton who speaks in a gravely voice uttering mono-syllabic lines like â€œsorry I’m all out of mercy.â€
One of the movies problems is that it doesn’t exactly do the best job of establishing what Ghost Rider can and can’t do. At one point in the movie a man stubs Ghost Rider in the shoulder with knife and Johnny Blaze wakes up with a nasty gash that needs to be stitched up. Later in the film Ghost Rider is blasted with a hail of gunfire and the next time we see Blaze he’s unscathed. Ghostie can seemingly magically manipulate objects: chains, leather jackets, etc to fit his needs but how permanent these changes are is never quite explained.
Ghost Rider has plot holes that Johnny Blaze could jump his motorcycle through. Most of the fight scenes are a wee bit too short for my tastes. The demons Ghost Rider fights are just about as scary as the ones from the 90s series (not very.) Worst of all they completely forgot to use Rush’s song â€œGhost Riderâ€œ isnâ€˜t used on the score. (Possibly the most egregious ommission on a comic movie since 1995’s â€œJudge Dreddâ€ didn’t use Anthrax’s â€œI am the Law.â€)
One of the side effects of having excellent movies like â€œBatman Beginsâ€ and â€œSpider-Man IIâ€ in theaters is that comic fans have become increasingly thin-skinned about the movies that are released these days. Sure we still see a genuine stinker like “Catwoman” or that “Man-Thing” movie which was abruptly dropped onto the SciFi channel, but even the weakest Avi Arad-produced Marvel movies are far more solid than the incredibly feeble efforts of the Marvel comics films of the 80s & early 90s. People will most likely rip into this one for being dumb, just like they ripped on the Hulk for being too artsy, Electra for being a confused Americanized attempt at a Wuxia movie, or Daredevil because it’s fun to pick on Ben Affleck. Ghost Rider for all it’s faults isn’t high art, but it’s a perfectly good way to amuse yourself for two hours. Besides this is Ghost Rider we’re talking about. This isn’t ‘Maus’ or ‘Watchmen’ or Will Eisner’s ‘The Plot.’ This is a character whose best days were fighting Swarm with the Champions or stumbling through clunky horror plots in the early Dan Ketch issues. Considering that we could have easily gotten a PG-rated kiddy-friendly Ghost Rider, a total parody, or another direct-to-SciFi fiasco I think we should count our blessings.
Despite all the faults I’ve mentioned earlier, Ghost Rider’s still a hoot if you don’t take your superhero cinema too seriously. It’s hard not to enjoy any movie where you can see a burning motorcyle climb up the side of a building or just simply Nick Cage sipping Jelly Bellies out of a wine glass. Plus there’s at least one applause worthy moment when we finally here a cover of the great Stan Jones song â€œGhost Riders in the Sky.â€ For this character’s freshmen outing on the silver screen quirky characterization and neato visuals manage to overcome a weak script.
But should we see a sequel, my expectations will be higher.