- Mark Steven Johnson
- Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliot, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley
- 113 min.
- Release Date
Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson adapts another Marvel comic to film: Ghost Rider. In several comic book series since 1973, Ghost Rider never maintained a solid readership. There were at least three incarnations of the Marvel legend, each with its own origin story. The most popular of the three involved a character named Johnny Blaze, whose initial comic run as Ghost Rider lasted through most of the 1970’s and early ‘80’s. Nicolas Cage hams-it-up as Blaze, a daredevil biker who after making a deal with Satan (referred to as Mephistopheles in the movie), becomes the title figure, the devil’s bounty hunter. Dawning biker garb and a computer generated flaming skull, the character rides on a Harley from Hell, uses a chain like a whip, and talks in a demonesque voice.
The flaming face is an expressionless image constructed using B-grade CGI; it reminded me of the exoskeleton from The Terminator—just a machine walking about, kicking butt. It’s a great concept for villain, but as a main character, it’s too static to be appealing… Luckily Cage’s performance provides a laughably cheesy alter-ego. An avid comic reader, Cage clearly has a passion for the material; he allows every bit of the comic page to come to life in his exaggerated facial expressions. Blaze is a jellybean eating, nature show watching eccentric, which seems real enough, as we can image Cage is the same way.
Sam Elliot narrates the proceedings. His character, “The Caretaker”, was once a Ghost Rider himself in the Old West. With Elliot’s iconic voice narrating, Peter Fonda playing it cool as the devil, and Cage giving an over-the-top performance on the most grandiose scale, one can’t help but admire the cast. Even though the dialogue sounds like it was written by a twelve-year-old, the actors deliver, and because of their prominent careers, they bring credibility to their respective roles (but not much).
With comic book movies, realism traditionally elevates the film from the source material. X-Men gave up the spandex costumes; Batman Begins became appropriately dark (specifically in comparison to the earlier films); and Spider-Man was more about Peter Parker than the superhero. But when Blaze changes into Ghost Rider, Cage begins screaming with wild eyes, almost facetiously, in a very cartoonish way—that’s because most of the movie is a cartoon.
I’ll avoid explaining the plot’s details, not that there’s really much to explain beyond the computer-generated Ghost Rider fighting a lot of CGI demons for the souls of blah-blah-blah… The convoluted plot lazily drags along, giving ample time for the special effects and the film’s campy humor (the film’s true stars) to quickly overstay their welcome. This campiness was either intentional or not. If it was not intended, we can laugh at the film, mocking it about badly written the dialogue—especially the lines for the character Blackheart, one of the aforementioned demons and the primary antagonist (Wes Bently, better known as the creepy teenager from American Beauty). Blackheart declares one too many 1980’s action movie cliché lines like “Surprise!” and “I don’t think so!” for my taste—he should have been fighting Jean-Claude Van Damme, not Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage.
If the campy humor was intentional, it’s okay to laugh with the film, even enjoy it a little, but only in an I’m-laughing-because-the-film-is-laughing way. There was a pathetically forced romance story that Johnson pushes on us. I was about to write that the romance subplot was a desperate attempt to appeal to female audiences, except Blaze’s love interest (Eva Mendes) walks around throughout the film, cleavage abound, as if on display for the men in the audience. So the romance subplot doesn’t wholly appeal to anybody. For some reason, the romance takes itself seriously, while the rest has a trivial attitude toward the material.
In general, I don’t like to use the term “campy” or “camp” as it’s so subjective, but in the sense that Ghost Rider doesn’t take itself seriously, and is at times erratic, the film is camp. It’s almost as though Johnson (who also wrote the script), whose film Daredevil had the same problems, couldn’t decide if he wanted to direct a comic book or a movie. If Johnson had wholly committed himself to one way or the other, it would be a better film. Instead, the result is a garbled mess that managed mild entertainment because of its star power.