Raise your hand if you ever read a Ghost Rider comic.
Yeah, thought so, me neither, so all I know from the books is he’s supposed to be a guy on a motorcycle with a flaming skull. That was the only expectation I had. Does the movie succeed in that department?
The answer may surprise you.
Nic Cage is easily the best thing Ghost Rider has going for it. I always knew Nic was a talented showman, capable of some amazing feats. His character, stuntman Johnny Blaze, is a neurotic bundle of quirky gimmicks. He puts on his Southern boy charm he’s perfected long ago in movies like Raising Arizona and Con Air, drawling and goofing it up. He inexplicably loves monkeys and enjoys listening to The Carpenters. He eats candy from a martini glass, shaking it a little with refinement before each “sip”. He’s a nice guy, very boyish yet, also insane. His entrance is ridiculous and what I wish the whole movie was. He’s at a stunt show and Ozzy’s heavy metal “Crazy Train” plays. Everyone looks like they’re having a grand ‘ol time, watching Nic jump about 8000 trucks. All his fans are gay, hairy old guys but Nic doesn’t mind! He points at them! He points a lot! If there’s one thing he does ten thousand times, it’s point! What is it with Marvel movies and pointing at people?
Unfortunately, it takes an awful long time to finally get to Nic Cage. Ghost Rider starts off exactly the same as the Daredevil movie: Young kid copes with his father’s failing career, the kid goes on about dreams and hopes and whatever and the father just lumps about until he dies. Then the kid transmogrifies into Nicolas Cage. The kid doesn’t even slightly resemble Nic Cage’s freakishness. He’s a gee-whiz heart throb, waaaaaaaay too squeaky clean, tweezered, pedicured and permed to be anywhere near Nic’s frightening likeness. Plus, he’s supposed to be a carny. And he’s got a beautiful carny girlfriend…? I know realism is a lot to ask for in movies like this but there’s only room for one devilishly handsome superhero carny. (LINK TO ROBIN)
Seriously, except for the addition of a hot babe who eventually grows up to be C-list honey Eva Mendes, it’s the exact same thing as Daredevil’s opening and it’s just as stupid and useless. Daredevil at least had the good sense to speed things up with a dopey montage. In Ghost Rider it feels like the events are happening in real time, the beginning is that slow. It is so dull, so predictable, so wasteful. Why dedicate your budget and screentime to something so rote? We know the dad’s gonna die. We know he’s not gonna run away with Teen Hotness. Under the hands of a capable filmmaker the whole childhood sequence would have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s superhero-origin-by-numbers, one two three, which shouldn’t come as a surprise at all really because Ghost Rider is written and directed by the SAME EXACT GUY WHO WROTE AND DIRECTED DAREDEVIL.
So, what does the useless beginning set up? Peter Fonda shows up, presumably to add a few extra wings to his house ($$$), and also to play the Devil. By the way, Peter Fonda was in Easy Rider. Get it? Ghost Rider! Easy Rider! BUTT RIDER. STINK RIDER. lol where was i oh yeah, the movie wastes no time displaying CG unfit for even a Playstation. Can’t there be a representation of Satan without the actor’s eyes glowing like two stupid headlights? They even do the evil shadow thing. Peter Fonda walks by and his shadow is some hunchbacked goat creature. Cartoonish, certainly. Cute or dumb? I can’t decide. Dumb, I think. Constantine’s Satan was far, far, far better. Peter Stormare clearly relishes his role in that. Here, Peter Fonda sounds like a bored and embarrassed David Carradine.
Hell, the whole movie reminds me of a lesser Constantine. Guy makes unholy deal, becomes unholy crusader and pain in the Devil’s ass, four hundred thousand allusions and references to the Bible ensue, hint at sequel. Copy and paste.
Heroes are only as good as their villains and unfortunately, Ghost Rider’s villain isn’t even Peter Fonda, it’s Wes Fucking Bentley, the video camera kid from American Beauty. As I noted earlier, I am about as familiar with Ghost Rider as I am the recipe of an avocado salad (Fresh avocados tossed with sweet onion, green pepper, tomato, cilantro and lime juice) but I do play Marvel vs. Capcom 2. One of the playable characters in the game is Blackheart, who Wes Bentley plays in this flick. Blackheart looks nothing fucking like Wes Fucking Bentley. Again, I can forgive deviations from the source material, especially if it’s a second hand source like a fighting video game, but the artists and designers didn’t even try to make a visually compelling character. Blackheart’s from the fucking pits of hell and what do we get? Some bored-looking douchebag with a smirk and a coat. Is that not the laziest shit you ever heard of? What kind of budget were these guys working with?
Wes Bentley: “Hey guys, I’m here! What’s my character gonna look like? Will I wear a suit or should I dress in green golf balls like that Gollum guy?”
Designers: “Wes, fuck off with that shit. Our budget’s nowhere NEAR Gollum dollars. You’re wearing a black trenchcoat and we’re draining your blood.”
Wes Bentley: “Jesus, why?!”
Designers: “Mark thinks it’s best you look like some pale bitch. We also got a great deal on these coats so we’re gonna dress your henchmen the same way and have you galavant around with a bunch of Mortal Kombat rejects.”
Wes Bentley: “Fuck!”
Yet they COULD have made something with their limitations, or had Wes even bothered to put a spark of personality in Blackheart. His delivery is totally phoned. They use so many voice filters he might as well be on a phone the whole time. He’s a dud and the movie seems to know it. He’s barely onscreen and when he is the movie slows to a crawl. Not that the rest of the movie is a fucking dynamo of excitement, it clearly wears its mediocrity on its bike leather sleeve.
Remember the Phoenix in X3? Yeah, for those four minutes she was in the movie? Remember her power? She just dissolves people like Blade does when he defeats a vampire. Copy and paste. In Ghost Rider, Blackheart shoves his hand into people, like Agent Smith does in Matrix 2 and 3, and uh, shrivels them up and turns them blue. Exciting. Wait, no, completely fucking underwhelming. We’re supposed to be frightened aren’t we? Devilspawn wants to take over the Earth and that’s all we get, people-shaped blueberries. Willy Wonka was a more terrifying villain.
Eventually Eva Mendes shows up as a news reporter, in a dress that matches the walls. And would you believe it, the director has so little faith that we remember who the hell she is we flashback to a younger, hotter Mendes. This happens all throughout, by the way. Flashing back to scenes we JUST saw. Thankfully, a nice and goofy interview scene happens where Nic completely ignores Eva’s queries and, enraptured she’s returned, asks how she is. “How’s your father? I heard ya got married”, etc. It’s cute and he’s just a goofball. Oh, Nic. His friend comes over and says something like “I take it you guys got some kind of history.” Yeah, no kidding! Clear shades of Jon Faveau doing the exact same thing to Ben Affleck after he encountered Elektra. Copy. Paste.
So, where the ever-living FUCK is Ghost Rider, huh? Almost… almost… First, Nic and Eva set up a dinner date. Nic is all charming and boyish, pumping his arm “YES!” Cut to Eva in a cleavage-exposing dress waiting for Nic to show up. Her balloons are so bouyant I expected them to collect their own atmosphere. Besides that, she really fails to convince as anything other than typical comic book cockbait. So, mission accomplished, I guess. Meanwhile, Nic’s somewhere talking to a mirror. His hands get hot, like they do, and he freaks out. He runs into Peter Fonda and his goofy hair, and points for the 12,000th time at the Devil. Then they talk. A lot.
Then Nic’s motorcycle gets a mind of its own and sends him on a destructive ride. Cars are demolished, parking meters melt, all that shit you saw in the trailer. A car crashes into a guitar shop and gives off a great heavy metal twang. It’s some sweet destruction that actually resembles fun and the effects are passable since most of them look practical, and not CGI.
So does Nic turn into Ghost Rider yet? Fuck no, the editors fucks up and cuts to Wes instead who continues to bog everything down. I guess he is a decent villain if he makes me want to kill myself than rather watch him. He turns fat guy into a blueberry. CUT BACK TO NIC, who’s fun to watch overact as he transforms, laughing maniacally, eyes bugging out, generally going insane. Then, finally, he becomes a guy with a flaming skull and wouldn’t you know it, his skull looks too small.
The one thing they had to do right and they fuck it up. The skull does look more proportionate as the movie goes on but c’mon. First impressions, people. We’re over 40 minutes into the movie, but still. Tiny Skull on Fire kinda robs any “WHOA!” factor the introduction might have had. Now that Ghost Rider is finally goddamn here he can maybe do something, like fight some guys maybe.
Sho ’nuff, Blackheart and his bland, dreadlocked cronies show up for the most boring, stale fight scenes ever shot. The camera literally just sits there, it looks like it was all filmed on a tripod as Ghost Rider easily dispatches one of the poor dopes with a flaming chain whip. Whoa, flaming chain whip!? Yeah, this movie manages to make that boring too. The guy he kills isn’t even centered on frame, he’s somewhere on the left of the screen. It doesn’t even look like a stylistic choice because the movie is a fucking black hole of style. Was the cameraman asleep? Was ANYONE awake for this movie?
The movie even cuts back – during the “action” it cuts BACK to Eva Mendes, who is ACTUALLY FALLING ASLEEP WAITING FOR NIC. The movie can’t bothered to deliver decent action it prefers to show us some sleeping broad. Un-fucking-believable.
Oh, look, more shitty CG. Ghost Rider’s power is a conglomeration of Lame and Outright Fucking Lame. He points at someone – POINTING SCENE #14,708 – holds them up by the neck and peers into their soul, which is located in their eyes in this movie, and we’re treated to an overextended over-Photoshopped scene of fuck all know’s what. The movie tells us it’s their past sins but I saw Jack and shit. Swirling orange bullcrap is the best I could make out. This sequence is interminable. Then the camera pulls back “out” of the guy’s eyes and they’re now all brimstone and burnt and Ghost Rider walks away. That’s it. That’s just about what Ghost Rider does the whole movie. He also lassoes a helicopter but that’s not as awesome as it sounds. He just tugs on it, the chopper looks cheap and CG as hell like a Nintendo 64 game, then lets it go.
Marvel movie alum Sam Elliot shows up for more punishment as the Liam Neeson character. A fuckton of religious imagery comes along with him: angel statues, stained glass, crucifixes, headstones, churches, cemeteries. Fucker lives IN a cemetery. Sam creeps Nic out with weirdo speak, y’know, to teach him his Ghost Ridery responsibilities. Who isn’t tired of Yoda-esque mumbo jumbo yet, huh? Just tell it to him straight, Sam! The Dude in Big Lebowski didn’t even have to put up with this much shit from Walter.
Eva Mendes continues to bounce around doing who-cares-what. There’s one more decent scene between her and Nic where he tries to confess to her he’s Ghost Rider and it comes off as Nic coming out of the closet. The Ghost Closet. Then Nic’s arrested. There’s a good cop, bad cop interrogation scene, Nic points it out, ha ha ha, and Nic gets to mosh and go nuts again in prison as transforms again. Wes, the Devil’s Intern sics another henchman on him, a guy who is pretty much one of the Ghost Twins from Matrix Reloaded. Blah blah blah. Rinse, repeat.
Remember the trailer where Ghost Rider drives on the side of a skyscraper? Then you remember how it has all the impact of a… a… butt… in your face. Well, it’s such a boring display of computer know-how and whatnot it’s unfortunate someone in Russia was impressed enough to do the same thing in Day Watch. It’s like someone desperately wants a successor for the Bullet Time trend so they chose this stupid stunt. Fuck. My. Ass, it’s dumb. And since David S. Goyer co-produced or whatever you can be sure to hear some slack-jawed cops say dumb shit like they did in Batman Begins. “The suspect is going… up!” ROFL
At this point I’m so fucking tired of it all I just want the climax to deliver something. Anything. Wes can play tiddlywinks with his sphincter and I’d be satisfied. Sam
Elliot gets roughed up by Wes – because that’s a thing that could happen – then Sam instills in Nic a load of pep and vinegar and talk of how selling your soul for love has the power to change the world. The look in Sam Elliot’s eyes during this delivery is so authentic and maddening it’s almost enjoyable, and I wish these two characters were in a completely different, better movie. The closest we get is when Sam reveals himself to be the first Ghost Rider – flaming skull, cowboy duds, flaming horse and all. This isn’t a spoiler, or a revelation really, because it’s on the back of the fucking box and prominently displayed in the looping DVD menu animation. OH WELLZ LOL
The camaraderie is short-lived however and Sam just reverts back to boring human status a minute later and goes away. I can only assume a THX-style budget drought is to blame. Oh, and a shitty poor writer and director. Ghost Rider once again goes through the motions, easily and stupidly killing another henchmen to make his way to Blackheart, who is summoning the evil souls of an evil dead town. Yeah, I know, whatever. He does this by reading from an evil contract he attained by beating up Sam Elliot. Does he spout some arcane, devilish incantation? No, he fucking says “All of you, come to me!” Then Mummy Returns stuff happens. Y’know, mummy/ghost things fly around like a Disney Halloween special, with super-exaggerated facial expresions all IN YOUR FACE with rubbery jaws and I want to kill myself.
Blackheart then sucks up these souls and turns into Legion, “For we are many.” Don’t think Legion is some different, new character or anything, he’s the exact fucking same! Wes just has red cartoon eyes and spiky Baraka teeth now. His newfound strength? He walks towards Ghost Rider and pushes him, then takes buckshot in the groin. LEGION, do something COOL, you FUCKER. “All of your souls will be mine now,” he yells. Legion, don’t you mean “Ours?” \:3
So how does Ghost Rider defeat him? Because Blackheart/Legion has all the souls of some evil town now he’s susceptible to the Penance stare or whatever and we’re treated to more dopey CG soul searching. It’s the most anticlimatic asswiping I’ve seen since, I dunno, I hear that Sopranos ending was horrible. Good thing I never watched Sopranos. Suckers.
Nic and Eva kiss, Pete Fonda shows up one last stupid time, Nic Cage points at him. Pete’s all “Give up your powers” and Nic’s all “No! I’m gonna own this curse and use it against you!!” y’know because the Devil killed his father a million years ago. SEQUEL TIMEEEEE!!! Cue horrible credits music with lyrics like “Ghost Rider’s in the sky.” The music, by Christopher Young, who also took over from Danny Elfman for Spider-Man 3, which means an oddball soundtrack that only barely fits if you think Ghost Rider deserves hokum Western tunes and not blazing heavy metal riffs like a tool of the Devil should have. It’s like Marvel just hands out jobs to anybody who walked by the studio once before. Like Jon Favreau.
Woe to anyone who gets this on DVD. Borrow it, mock it, send it back because if lazy, paint-by-numbers product like Ghost Rider is all we’re going to get from Marvel from now on, then they can just stop. Word is they can’t even be bothered to deliver a Fantastic Four movie with a Thing’s-dick-is-made-of-rock joke in it. The hopeful, carefree days of Spider-Man 2 and X2 are long gone. They need to recover from this slump with Iron Man or Hulk or SOMETHING or they can go… to hell.