Comic book adaptations can be split into two categories. There are the ones that the studio pushes as big A-list releases, like Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, Batman, and Superman, then there are the B-listers, which so far includes Daredevil, Elektra, and now Ghost Rider. This is not a reflection on perceived quality, or lack thereof; you can just tell by the release date and the marketing.
Now, the funny thing is that Mark Steven Johnson has been involved in all three of those B-list films, writing Elektra, and writing and directing Daredevil, and now Ghost Rider. His track record is spotty at best, but there is always some level of entertainment involved. For my money, Ghost Rider is the best of the three, despite it still being rather seriously flawed.
Ghost Rider is about a curse. Every so often, Mephistopheles will approach a troubled person, someone who would be willing to give anything in order to save someone, or some other noble cause. The price is merely a single soul, and in return the person will become something of a debt collector for Hell. The cursed will become the Ghost Rider when he is called upon, a fiery skeleton of vengeance, out doing the bidding of his master, or so the master would like to believe. You see, nothing always works out the way it should.
At some point in the past, a Ghost Rider realized what the result would be if he collected a certain large debt, and decided to take off with it. Jumping to the present, there is something of a power struggle in hell, as Mephistopheles' offspring, Blackheart, is attempting to wrest control from dear ol' dad. To aid him, he has come to Earth in order to find that old, unfulfilled debt collection. Along the way, he calls upon the help of a few elemental demons called The Hidden. It will not be an easy task, especially when Mephistopholes decides to tap his latest Rider.
Sounds pretty cool so far, doesn't it? Unfortunately, many of the details here are either left uncovered, or are covered in voiceover rather than in the unfolding of the script.
Now, while the above is a good part of what the film is about, it is not nearly the primary focus of the film. As the title would appear to suggest, Ghost Rider is our main character, and one that I was a fan of back in my comic collecting days. (What can I say? I loved the image of the fiery skull).
Some years ago – I would guess around 25 – there is a young carnival stunt bike rider named Johnny Blaze, whose father is dying of cancer. This news brings with it a visit from a mysterious gentleman offering a deal — his father's health for his soul. In a flash, the deal is done, and Johnny has to live and wonder when his time will be up.
Now, I am sure you can see where this tale lines up with regards to the power struggle. What follows is Blaze becoming the Ghost Rider, dealing with a love lost from his youth, and trying to find a way out of this battle with his life.
All of this sounds really cool on paper, but the end result is a mixed bag — a mixed bag that I happen to have enjoyed, but a mixed bag nonetheless. The script doesn't clearly define all of the story details, leaving it a little muddy, and it is littered with corny one-liners. The saving graces are the effects and the fun performances from a few.
I have never considered myself a fan of Nicolas Cage, but more often than not, I find myself liking his performances. His take on Johnny Blaze is an interesting one. He is a man constantly searching for himself, carrying the weight of his youthful decision on his long, sad face. He seemed to be channeling Elvis in the performance, and it worked. The way it was written, the strange tics he brought to the role fit and brought a little fun to it.
Also notable would be the performances of screen veterans Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot. Fonda, in his role as Mephistopheles, brought a wonderful sense of quiet menace to the role. On the other hand, Sam Elliot exudes cool as The Caretaker, who harbors an old secret; he is just wonderful as our guide through the dark world of the Ghost Rider. Even Wes Bentley was effectively droll as the cruel Blackheart.
Now, what review would be complete without mention of the effects? I thought the effects were very well done. Ghost Rider looked great — from the way he moved to the flame effect, to his fights with all comers, I was a believer.
It is by no means a great movie; it may not even be a good movie, but I enjoyed the fiery spectacle, I had fun with the corniness. The movie invites the wrath of critics the world over as a flashy spectacle with no heart or substance. In a way they are right, by there is no explaining how everyone will react, and I liked it. Also, I would not be surprised to see a director's cut when the DVD is released. It happened with Johnson's previous two superhero flicks, and this one feels like there was a chunk of story missing. It smacks of studio meddling, and marketers with creepy smiles.
Whatever, I enjoyed it for what it was, and I am not apologizing.