Ghost Rider is a second tier comic book character. His fanbase is weak compared to the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, or even the X-Men. Created in the 70’s by writer Gary Friedrich, Ghost Rider an awesome looking character; as such they frequently try to revive him, but his titles usually stop selling as soon as people realize that his coolness is skin (or rather skull) deep. None of this means the film adaptation Ghost Rider is doomed to failure, another character of similar caliber, Blade, was turned into one of the better action series of recent memory. The film is about motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage). As a teenager Blaze made a deal with the Devil, literally. Blaze met Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in an old carnival and sold his soul to save his father from lung cancer. His father dies later in a motorcycle crash. Years later Blaze is a famous Evel Knievel-esque motorcycle stuntman. After a major stunt he get a chance to reunite with Roxanne Simpson, a girl he left when his father died. Before his dinner with Roxanne, Mephistopheles finally cashes in his contract. Blaze turns into the Ghost Rider, and at night when he’s around evil he turns into a flaming skeleton biker dude on a flaming motorcycle. Mephistopheles tasks Blaze with defeating Blackheart (Wes Bentley) son of Mephistopheles, a fallen angel who’s trying to replace Mephistopheles as the ruler of Hell. Once Blackheart is defeated Blaze will regain his soul.
Ghost Rider was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Johnson had previously directed the over-bashed comic book movie Daredevil. Daredevil was able to create a very good tone and atmosphere, it was able to capture Frank Miller’s aesthetic and storyline, unfortunately it was marred by poor casting and a number of absolutely cringe-inducing out of place moments. Flawed as it was, there was definitely a good movie to be found somewhere in Daredevil, it could have been great in better hands, or completely without merit in worse hands.
Ghost Rider suffers much the same fate as Daredevil. Like Daredevil the film makes a number of good aesthetic choices; the film embraces a certain Texas mythos. The Ghost Rider is depicted as a modern day cowboy from Hell. The deal with the Devil is rightfully made at the crossroads. Casting the legendary Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles was a stroke of genius, it fits right in to this mythos. Additionally the Ghost Rider himself does look really cool, its hard not to make a motorcycle guy with a flaming skull for a head to not look cool.
Also like Daredevil, Ghost Rider is marred by a lot of cringe inducing moments, unfortunately there are so many of them that they stop feeling out of place. A scene where Blaze catches up with Roxanne on a freeway is just as bad as the terrible scene in Daredevil where Matt Murdock fights Elektra on a playground for no reason.
Nicholas Cage is pretty bad here, he’s doing the same old stock-Cage performance we’ve seen a million times. The Blaze charater is pretty odd, he comes across as a pretty stupid guy with a bunch of strange quirks. The film also has one of the worst villains in recent comic book movie history. Blackheart and his elemental-emo sidekicks are very lame and make the film’s stakes very low. The romantic sub-plot is poorly handled. Additionally the movie breaks a number of rules it establishes. The effects of how the damage Ghost Rider receive affects Blaze changes whenever the script needs it to.
Ghost Rider could have transcended its roots in a poor comic book but it didn’t. Instead this poor comic book has been turned into a poor movie by a director who really should probably not be working in this genre.
** out of four