Ghost Rider (2007) — Nic Cage is on fire! Literally!

“The story goes he’ll be normal during the day, but at night, in the presence of evil, the Rider takes over.”

Drew’s rating: I don’t get it… where’s the invisible ghost who types messages and solves mysteries?

Drew’s review: Do you want to know what went through my head when I first heard about this movie? No? Too bad, pal… this is my review. I thought, “Who on earth decided a Ghost Rider film would be a good idea?” Not because I dislike the character, but because he’s always been about 90% image, 10% story. True, nothing’s more badass than a guy with a flaming skull riding a motorcycle… but despite an interesting, Faustian origin, Ghost Rider never had many memorable comic tales.

Blame constantly shifting writers with different ideas for the character — now he hides his curse as a stage act, now he’s a superhero, now he’s a spirit of vengeance — or blame ’70s culture, but even occasional guest appearances by Jesus (you think I’m kidding?) couldn’t give Johnny Blaze a steady, consistent direction, a problem that haunts the character even today.

But still, okay, I get the appeal — unlike Spidey or the Fantastic Four, nobody knows anything about Ghost Rider except his image, giving the filmmakers freedom to reinvent the story as they saw fit. Hey, it worked for Blade. Unfortunately, in this case that translates into a movie that’s genuinely pretty good at the beginning… but then sinks like a stone after Ghost Rider’s first transformation. It would not be inaccurate to describe it as thirty minutes of cool wrapped in an hour and a half of suck.

Growing up with his father’s stunt riding show, a young Johnny Blaze discovered the same day that his girlfriend Roxanne was moving away and his father was dying. But that night a stranger appeared, offering a solution to at least one problem: He’d cure Barton Blaze’s cancer, and all it would cost Johnny is his immortal soul. Taking the deal, the teenager watched with horror the next day as his now healthy father died in a failed stunt instead. After that he carried numbly on with life, becoming a famous cyclist but always knowing his payment would come due someday.

Well, that day is now: the Devil’s son Blackheart wants to steal a scroll from his father holding the key to a million damned souls, so papa transforms Blaze into the Ghost Rider so he can teach that boy a lesson. Armed with the power to baffle med students and roast marshmallows on his head, Blaze now must juggle demonic bounty hunting with protecting the newly-returned Roxanne. But at least he gets a sweet-ass chopper.

Anyway, since this movie seems to consider itself some kind of quasi-western, I’ll review it that way. Pardner.

The Good: Nicolas Cage. As others have said, he’ll take even a bad script and leave his own unmistakable mark on the role (in this case, drinking jellybeans from a martini glass), so Blaze ends up being a funny, likeable guy. Eva Mendes does fine, even if most of her dialogue is non-verbal to the tune of “Look, I have breasts! They’re big and round! And perky! Did I mention I have breasts?” Speaking of impressive special effects, the bike stunts and transformations into Ghost Rider are mighty cool as well (minus the inexplicable cackling and opera music), with some pretty realistic CGI flame effects. Plus Sam Elliott was an inspired choice for the role of old cowboy the Caretaker, and Peter Fonda gives a nicely subdued, menacing portrayal of Mephistopheles, at least early on.

The Bad: Blackheart and his cronies. I’m so sick of damn trenchcoats in movies… I’m sorry, did you just step out of The Matrix? Blackheart’s clearly meant to be the new, edgy punk rock of evil, and it just doesn’t work; when will Hollywood learn it’s the subtle malevolence we love in villains, not the over-the-top “I’m so eeeeevil, can’t you tell, I’m wearing black and I keep talking about doing mean things” approach. You could argue that’s intentional, showing Mephistopheles is greater than his son, except then he wouldn’t need Ghost Rider. And since Blackheart dominates the movie, that still leaves us SOL.

But that absolute worst part of the film? The dialogue. Rule #1 for making movies about comic characters: leave the dialogue behind. Melodrama that works on the printed page just doesn’t hold up on screen, and it completely destroys Ghost Rider. I honestly believe this would have been a relatively decent film if I didn’t literally wince at every other line in the second half. Yeah, it’s that bad.

The Ugly: sweet Lord, the dentistry. Mephistopheles and Blackheart show their freeeeaky teeth about a half-dozen times each (the better to chew the scenery with, my dear), and it’s as overdone as everything else in this flick. Note to filmmakers: once is cool, multiple times makes us wonder if you’re marketing the movie to orthodontists.

The tragedy is that there IS some good in this movie straining to get out: the beginning is promising and the whole thing’s pretty slick looking. But in the end, that’s what it is — plenty of style, not much substance. Compare it to the X-Men films — Brian Singer made cosmetic changes to the costumes and continuity of the X-Men mythos to appeal to mainstream audiences, but by doing so reinforced the overall message and feel of the comics.

Ghost Rider does the opposite: keeps the general origin and appearance of the character but makes everything else far too busy and overdone, to the detriment of the overall story. He’s a bounty hunter for lost souls, but also a fire elemental who fights earth, wind and water, oh, and a modern cowboy to boot? The original comics weren’t so great that every element of them needed to be incorporated (trust me), and while the film features a nicely streamlined origin, it derails with almost everything after that.

I advise either leaving after the first half hour or watching with the sound turned off; otherwise, you’re heading for a spill, good buddy.

Justin’s rating: I’d love to see a scooter-riding Ghost Rider, patrolling supermarket aisles everywhere with Hell’s vengeance

Justin’s review: It’s safe to say that Nicolas Cage, alias Nicholas Coppola, is no stranger to bizarrely bad film roles. Whether it’s watching him wig out about bees in The Wicker Man, channel John Travolta in Face/Off or rewrite 200 years of American history in National Treasure, it’s just a treat to have him visit our homes and bug his eyes out while ranting about this or that. He’s kind of like that crazy uncle who may or may not actually be related to family, but you keep inviting him over to Thanksgiving because his behavior will give you something to gossip about the next day.

Ghost Rider isn’t the worst of Nic Cage’s films, but it could be used as corporal punishment for your children. “You didn’t eat your broccoli? Ghost Rider for you, young man!” “NOOOO!!!”

It may be unfair to lay it all at the feet of Mr. Cage, yet since he shows none of the boyish charm that makes him tolerable in other movies, I’m not inclined to commute his sentence. It also doesn’t help that this is a B- or C-list Marvel superhero, something for the Harley Davidson/heavy metal crowd, but nothing that got fans in a tizzy over. And it certainly doesn’t help that it’s bound to Eva Mendes (alias “Busty McGee”), who vomits up such a lackluster performance that at one point – and I’m not kidding here – she’s upstaged by a Magic 8-Ball. I don’t know why she got this role – well, I do, because the camera all but shoves our face in her cleavage – but she’s right down there with Denise Richards and Tara Reid as actresses who should never have accepted film roles in which they have to pretend to be a talented professional.

Taking its sweet time getting around to a muddled superhero origin story, Ghost Rider wastes a good 45 minutes or so with an elaborate (and hokey) backstory concerning bounty hunters empowered by the devil to do his bidding, usually by setting themselves on fire and causing large amounts of property damage. Johnny Blaze (Cage) is a motorcycle jumper who assumes the role as the most recent Ghost Rider, mostly because he’s an idiot and thought that making a deal with Satan wouldn’t involve a good amount of “liar liar pants on fire”. Well, he got the lies, and his pants are set a-Blaze. Is that enough bad puns for this paragraph? Good. Moving on…

As he woodenly tries to reconnect with a childhood sweetie (Mendes), Blaze is tasked with taking down four fallen angel things, each with the power of a different element so that it sort of feels like a Captain Planet cartoon. Earth! Air! Water! Sideburns! Along the way he’s mentored by Sam Elliott, who looks just like he never left the set of Tombstone (and is harboring such a surprise that if you can’t guess what it is, you’ve fallen into a coma like 95% of this film’s audience). Cue lots of flame, motorcycles, leather, chains and chaps.

As a superhero, Ghost Rider harbors traits of both Spawn (with the whole Hell theme) and, oddly enough, the Hulk. Well, he kind of talks like the Hulk, in catchy one or two word phrases which probably look wayyy better on the comic pages than they do coming out of a CGI skull’s mouth. Speaking of which, while his effects are passable (including the physics-defying ride up a skyscraper), the director was obviously a horror aficionado and went all-out for some of the most creepy and disturbing visuals for the bad guys that you’ll probably ever see in a Marvel movie. It’s weird to say this, but they should’ve really just scrapped the whole Ghost Rider concept entirely, and thrown the plot into deep horror country, where it could’ve thrived properly instead of being second fiddle to a Megadeth cover.

By the end of this flick, both my wife and I were riffing on every other little thing that would happen, including a mind-boggling moment when Ghost Rider rides by and torches a desert lizard for no good reason. Lizard! We hardly knew ye! So that can’t be a good sign of high quality, right?

Didja notice?

  • Thanks for showing us, um, “your” abs there, Nic. That’s either the best CGI in the movie, or he is seriously ripped.
  • After Sin City, is it just fashionable for comic characters to steal people’s jackets?
  • Jumping into a river can’t be good for all that leather.
  • Lady Luck: And why did he need spikes on his jacket? Me: Just to, I don’t know… look more badass? Lady Luck: Yeah, his head’s on fire!

One comment

  1. “Ghost Rider never had many memorable comic tales.”
    I liked the one where it turns out he’s actually a deep cover agent for Heaven. Sort of Heaven’s black ops.

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