Ghost Rider (2007) dir. Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott
I hope my credibility will still be intact after this review because, believe it or not, “Ghost Rider” is actually pretty good. That’s not exactly praise to go on a poster, but it certainly surprised me. When I first saw the trailer earlier in the year, I couldn’t think of a worse premise - a flaming motorcycle riding superhero with Nicholas Cage and Peter Fonda. Nothing seemed appealing especially considering writer/director Mark Steven Johnson’s last film was “Daredevil”. But the film was highly successful in the theatres and so I just had to see what I was missing (Sony was also kind enough to send me a copy including an elaborately detailed die-cast bust figurine of the Ghost Rider!). And so, with low expectations the film surprised me with an entertaining and fun comic book adventure that I’d watch over “Spider-man 3” any day of the week.
As I started watching I was waiting for the film to get bad, but it didn’t – ok the ending was sloppy – instead it pretty much had me glued to screen most of the time. Nicholas Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a charismatic stunt-bike jumper. We first see him as a teenager performing with his father. When his father develops cancer Blaze sells his soul to the devil (Peter Fonda) to save his life. But the devil tricks him and his father dies tragically performing a stunt. But it’s too late for Blaze as his soul is already condemned for life.
Years later the devil finally returns to complete the second part of his deal. Blaze becomes a “ghost rider” – a messenger who collects the souls of others meant for hell. All the information stuff about the ‘rules’ of the ghost rider is told to us in an opening narration – by the wonderful gruff voice of Sam Elliott. With the motivations, background, legend and lore out of the way, the action can start. Like the Hulk, Blaze soon finds out, in times of need, he can change into his crime fighting alter-ego – “Ghost Rider”. His head explodes into a flaming skull, his bike transforms into a bad ass flaming chopper, and his weapon of choice, a thick chain whip, a la Indiana Jones. It’s something I’ve never seen on film before – no tights, capes, or masks, just flames, skulls and chains.
The special effects which looked hooky in the trailer were believable and exciting once the backstory and characters were set up. Since reality and plausibility are the first things to suspend when watching a comic book film, its success depends largely on its hero as well as that indefinable ‘cool-factor’. Every time Nick Cage’s head exploded into flames I perked up in my seat. Cool. Score one for “Ghost Rider”.
The film scores again with Cage as the hero. As an actor Cage unfortunately carries with him the weight of his bad casting choices. Yes, he’s overacting and chewing the scenery like in previous films but he plays Johnny Blaze with such enthusiasm it trumps all his baggage.
Like most films of its ilk the grand finale is a let down. The final confrontation with the evil Wes Bentley is a sloppy mess. The elaborate details of the devil’s contract maguffin get lost in a mélange of overwrought psychedelic special effects. The film also tops two hours, which is a big no-no for a disposable film such as this. But for most of its 123mins I was engaged and entertained, and though the film is disposable I still have my “Ghost Rider” bust sitting on my office shelf. Enjoy.
The “Ghost Rider” Gift Set is now available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Buy it here: Ghost Rider (Extended Cut with Premium Item Gift Set)