on December 29, 2007
I personally feel that the numerous superhero films that have been popping up since "X-Men" came out in 2000 are all of about the same quality. Yeah, everyone has their personal favorites (mine are 2009's "Watchmen" and 2003's "Daredevil: The Director's Cut") but, generally speaking, they're all decent cinematic versions of the comic heroes.
Mark Steven Johnson's "Ghost Rider" (2007) combines Faust and Spider-Man and mixes in elements of all the variations of the Ghost Rider comics up to the present, including the 50's Western hero, but it's main inspiration is the 70s-80s comic featuring Johnny Blaze as the protagonist.
What makes Ghost Rider appealing? Well, the only thing cooler than a guy in black leather and chains driving a Harley is a flaming skeleton in black leather and chains driving a supernatural flaming Harley. That pretty much explains it.
THE PLOT: Johnny Blaze and his father make a living as Evel Knieval-like stunt riders in a carnival. When Johnny's dad is diagnosed with cancer he is misled into making a deal with the devil. His father is healed of the cancer but Satan makes sure he dies in a stunt accident. Because of Johnny's foolish deal he is cursed to become the nigh-invincible Ghost Rider -- a supernatural flaming skeleton.
Some criticize Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze because Blaze is supposed to be about 30 years old, while Cage was around 41. Yeah, someone like James Franco would have been better for the role, especially since Franco looks exactly like Mike Ploog's version of Blaze, but Cage does a fine job. Besides, Cage is in great shape and I know guys 25 years old who look older than him. As for Eva Mendes, who plays Johnny's girlfriend, she's ten years younger than Cage and is both voluptuous and adequate in the role.
Some criticize the film as too serious, others as too goofy, but the fact is that "Ghost Rider" has the same general tone as all the other superhero flicks released since 2000. It's a serious story for the most part, although completely unbelievable due to the subject matter, with some humor thrown in for good measure. In other words, it's neither deathly serious nor a campy goof-fest; it rides the line between these two extremes.
If all you want out of "Ghost Rider" is an entertaining supernatural superhero flick "Ghost Rider" delivers and is worth viewing for this purpose. But the film delivers on a deeper level. Here are a smattering of noteworthy elements:
- Note that Johnny is misled into "selling his soul" to the devil and has to face the negative consequences of his decision. Few people will literally "sell their soul" to Satan as shown in the story but we can all relate to the struggle with the evil that exists within our own hearts. If we decide to live according to the inclinations of our lower, destructive, selfish nature are we not, in a sense, "selling our soul" to the devil? (regardless of whether you view the devil as a literal spiritual being or merely as a symbol of potential human evil). Whenever we choose to live according to this lower nature will we not automatically perform evil and, in that sense, fulfill the devil's will? (ditto).
- Peter Fonda as Satan is perfect and entertaining, as is Sam Elliott as the old Westerner.
- Love is an important theme in the story. Johnny "sells his soul" for love of his father. He didn't do it for greed or some other carnal purpose. This is agape love, self-sacrificial love, love in it's highest and purest form. This puts Johnny on God's side (as Elliott's character observes in the film) and makes him a serious threat to the devil's purposes on earth.
- We also witness Blaze's great love for Roxanne and vice versa, as well as Mack's love for Johnny, etc.
- This is contrasted by the total absence of love in Satan's kingdom. The devil hates his son and vice versa. This is a fitting depiction because God is described as love in the Bible; and since Satan has chosen to separate from God and be His enemy, he has naturally separated himself from love and become love's enemy. Hate in all its ugly manifestations is therefore the essence of the devil's kingdom and relationships.
- When Blaze first turns into the Ghost Rider and goes for a ride in his flame cycle he causes great havoc wherever he goes. You'll note that this is much toned down in his later excursions as Ghost Rider. The explanation? Johnny simply didn't know how to control the supernatural hellfire and "spirit of vengeance" during his initial conversion.
- Although it's supposed to be amusing, it makes sense that Johnny would listen to The Carpenters in his down time. Blaze's daredevil lifestyle and his problems with the Ghost Rider curse would understandably cause him a great deal of stress. Listening to Karen's ultra-soothing voice would be a great pacifier.
- There's a great scene of Ghost Rider riding off the top of a skyscrapper, whipping his chain in exulting fury, and then riding full blast down the building smashing into the pavement below as police and onlookers observe in total disbelief.
- In the comics Blackheart was the only comic character that ever sent chills down my spine (in Ann Nocenti's Daredevil). I didn't get this feeling from Wes Bentley's portrayal in the film, although there's a hint of that. Regardless, Bentley does a fine job in the role. And Blackheart's total ugly wickedness is certainly revealed or demonstrated here and there.
- There's a great musical interlude featuring the Ghost Rider and the Caretaker (Elliott) riding through the night desert for hundreds of miles to San Vengaza. Fittingly, the song is a modern hard rock version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (I love that song! Who doesn't?)
- I saw the theatrical version when it first came out on DVD and recently purchased the director's cut, which adds approximately 10 minutes of extra footage for a total of about 2 hours runtime. Unlike "Daredevil," where the director's cut transformed a mediocre flick into a great one, the extra footage for "Ghost Rider" doesn't make or break the story. In fact, I can't really tell what the extra footage is. It's mostly just extended dialogue, I guess. So, if you don't feel like shelling out the extra cash for the director's cut, you're not missing all that much, if anything the extra footage just slows the film down (but I prefer it).
- The picture was filmed in Victoria, Australia, and the city of Melbourne.
- The Ghost Rider himself (itself?) is a triumph of special effects. Needless to say, the film is enjoyable just to look at.
- On the extra features disk (director's cut only) there's a great 4-part documentary called "Sin and Salvation" on each of the comics incarnations of Ghost Rider up to the present, which runs approximately 45 minutes. It features such comics notables as Roy Thomas, Mike Ploog, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Mackie and many more.
If anything I've mentioned here trips your trigger be sure to check out "Ghost Rider."
on April 11, 2007
This movie was surprisingly good. I went into it, not expecting much after recently watching the Fantastic Four movie. Ghost Rider starts off with a young Johnny Blaze, teamed up with his father, who is sick. He makes a deal with the Devil and sells his soul to heal his father. Unfortunately, the Devil never strikes a bargain with fairness in mind and Johnny is left to wait for the Devil to call. When the Devil calls, the special effects were actually amazing. The story was a bit on the short side with an ending that left a bit to be desired. Overall, this IS a fun movie to watch and the action is consistent throughout. This one will be added to my library when it's released. Enjoy.
on July 25, 2007
When director Mark Steven Johnson was lucky enough to be tapped to helm Fox's big screen adaptation of "Daredevil" he turned out to be an absolute perfect fit for the genre. Not only was he a fan of the comic, but he wanted to go against the Hollywood grain, and stay as true to the source material as possible. A move that was bold, but had proven successful several times over ("Spiderman", "Batman", and "Superman" are good examples), and the choice proved to work out well for "Daredevil" as well, resulting in big box office numbers and DVD sales. So, after achieving success with his first comic book adaptation, Mark moved on to a character even more obscure than Daredevil, and since he'd proven himself with great success previously, Sony gave him the OK to both write and direct what he hoped would be Marvel's next big franchise, "Ghost Rider" starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.
"Ghost Rider" is the origin story of Marvel's self-proclaimed 'Spirit of Vengeance'. After having sold his soul to the demon Mephistopholes (Peter Fonda) to save his father, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) must become the Ghost Rider, a bounty hunter whose purpose is to send escaped demons back to Hell. As if being a demon hunter wasn't enough to deal with, Johnny is trying to rekindle a relationship with an old girlfriend (Eva Mendes), while trying to gain control over the entity within him. Now, a demon named Blackheart (Wes Bentley) along with his minions, have come to Earth in search of a group of evil souls that was hidden by a previous Ghost Rider many years ago, Mephistopholes summons the Ghost Rider to stop Blackheart before he gains control of the souls and destroys the Earth.
"Ghost Rider" was one of those movies where I wasn't sure how it was going to fare at the box office. I had hope that it would do well, but I was aware of the fact that the character was not one of Marvel's most popular or well-known, unlike Spiderman and X-Men, but then again Daredevil wasn't known of too much outside of the comic book medium. The biggest advantages that this movie had going for it was the fact that Nicolas Cage ("Con Air") was attached as the lead star, so fans of his work would surely turn out, Eva Mendes ("Hitch") is popular with guys so that would put some more butts in the seats, and the director had achieved commercial success with his previous effort "Daredevil" so he had garnered some faith amongst comic book fans. With these advantages "Ghost Rider" had a decent chance of holding its own at the box office and possibly spawning a future film franchise. But did it deliver the goods, or was it a film that should have remained in development hell where it had stayed for so many years.
I personally enjoyed "Ghost Rider", even though most critics hated it, I felt that it was a very faithful comic book adaptation, and a rather difficult one at that, since the history of the character has been tweaked over and over throughout the years at Marvel. Director/writer Mark Steven Johnson did a very good job of taking all the various histories of the character, finding the common themes among them and weaving them together to make a cohesive story that was full of terrific special effects, fights, drama, and even some comedy. He proved himself a very capable director for the genre with "Daredevil", and even though this movie isn't as dramatic as his previous effort, it was every bit as engaging and taking a character that is relatively obscure in the mainstream and making him popular is a tremendous achievement and one that both he and Marvel can be proud of.
The actors did very well with their characters, for the most part. Nicolas Cage was an excellent choice for Johnny Blaze, Cage's quirkiness as an actor made him ideal for such a far-fetched role. Eva Mendes was solid as the love interest, early on I thought her performance seemed a little off, but she rallied after her first couple scenes and made the character hers. Sam Elliott was great as Caretaker, his scenes with Nic Cage were used mostly for exposition, but he managed to make them fun, and actually stole the scenes away from Cage every time. Peter Fonda, though not in the movie a whole lot, appeared to be enjoying his role as Mephistopholes, imbuing every line with a hint of malice, and delivering a more restrained performance than most actors when playing a role like his. Which brings me to the weakest member of the cast, Wes Bentley. Wes played the role of Blackheart so over-the-top that he seemed almost goofy in places rather than scary, near the end of the movie he finally scaled back his performance and began to deliver his lines with much more realism and finally fulfilled the villainous role he was in. For the most part if the special effects team hadn't done some tweaking to his facial features and the sound team wouldn't have manipulated his voice, Wes wouldn't have been very effective as the villain, but their work saved his early scenes in the movie, giving his performance a little more balance, but not much.
However, with all the great performances, and even the weak one by Wes Bentley, "Ghost Rider" wouldn't have amounted to anything if it weren't for the outstanding special effects work that brought ol' flamehead to life. The special effects team worked hard to get the digital fire to look realistic, which is not an easy task given how random fire acts, and many times CGI created fire can be easily spotted when compared to real flames. But this time was different, the effects team not only made the fire realistic, but also managed to convey emotions using the flames, by playing with shadows on the skull of Ghost Rider, and also giving the flame a blue hue when he was calming down (a decision that is not actually scientifically accurate, a flame actually turns blue as it gets hotter not as it cools). The Hell Cycle also featured some CGI enhancements, specifically the flaming wheels. In the comics, the wheels were pure flame, but for the movie the decision was made to have actual wheels be engulfed in flames to lend more weight to the motorcycle on screen. The effects for all the demons that Ghost Rider must fight and all the powers he uses to dispose of them were all excellently rendered and are truly top-notch in the field of CGI. The best looking effect sequence was the ride across the desert with Ghost Rider and his predecessor riding side by side, that scene alone is a prime example of how high the quality of the CGI was in this film.
Assisting the special effects wizards were the sound technicians who were tasked with the difficult job of creating sounds that could be passed off as being supernaturally created. In this task the techs succeeded brilliantly, the sounds were all very well crafted, all of the enhanced voices were very cool, most were only subtle enhancements (for Mephistopholes and Blackheart), but Ghost Rider's was by far the best vocal enhancement and the most involved. Every line Nicolas Cage spoke for Ghost Rider was enhanced through several filters to achieve the perfect sound that was described as being a 'deep, demonic, mechanical lion's roar' mixed with his voice.
As a side note, there are two versions of "Ghost Rider" available, the theatrical release and the extended cut. Both versions of the film are very good, but I would have to say the extended cut is the better version to watch, with approximately 20 minutes of footage inserted back into the film. This version of the movie contains much more depth, featuring several scenes that explain a few plotlines a little more, and just serves to flesh the story out a little better, making for a much more fulfilling movie experience.
All in all, "Ghost Rider" is a solid comic book adaptation, that stays true to its roots, delivering an entertaining ride that doesn't disappoint.
"Ghost Rider" is rated PG-13 (for both theatrical and extended cuts) and contains violence and language.
Sometimes a flaming skull can be the mask of an avenging angel.
First of all I admit that I am a long time fan of the Ghost Rider comic series. I waited for this movie to get made for years- through all the delays. Now that it has been made I am not disappointed. I thought that this was a very good job of writing, acting, casting, and special effects.
The first thing you have to realize is that this is a morality play. The Rider is the Spirit of Vengeance. He instantly knows the guilty from the innocent. His greatest weapon is his ability to make criminals feel their victims pain through his "penance stare." He is supposed to be disturbing, upsetting, frightening. If you have a problem with paying for your crimes then you are going to have a problem with the Rider...
I especially liked the tribute to the original western Ghost Rider (excellently played by Sam Elliot) and his tie in to the mythos of the Johnny Blaze incarnation. It was so appropriate to use the old "Ghost Riders in the Sky" theme here for it was the original inspiration for the character.
I wouldn't hesitate to allow children to watch this, but I would watch with them and explain it. Blaze made a deal with the devil, but he did it for unselfish, sacrificial reasons. And while the devil got his soul, he didn't get his spirit. The Ghost Rider is darkness in the service of light. He willed himself from the devil's bounty hunter to his greatest nemesis on earth. He owned his curse and turned the devil's power against him. And the Rider never, ever harms the innocent.
Yeah, I liked the craftsmanship and I liked the message- a lot.
on August 12, 2007
Maybe one of the downfalls I had with this movie is that I hadn't read any of the comics about the Ghostrider, and it didn't provide any significant amount of information for those of us who didn't know. However, I saw the previews and what caught my attention was two things. First, it had Nicholas Cage in it, and I think that he is an awesome actor; no matter what role he is playing. Second, the effects. The way he and his bike turned and changed was awesome.
I do, however, feel that this movie had so much more potential than was put to use! It could have been so much better, in my personal opinion. And the ending didn't thrill me all that much, either. I was very disappointed in the way it was chosen to end.
But, overall, I thought it was a pretty good movie and I would watch it again because I am a die-hard Nicholas Cage fan.
on March 13, 2009
The Extended cut of Ghost Rider takes the average-quality movie, Ghost Rider, and turns it into a movie worth watching. The added and extended scenes add a touch of humor and character to the film, which the theatrical release lacked to a great degree. While the extended cut of Ghost Rider is still not quite on-par with some other superhero and comic movies that have come out recently, it certainly isn't going to be left behind by any Tobey Macguire-starring sequels!
The Blu-Ray's enhanced visuals really flesh out the truly superb computer effects and filmwork for this movie, as well. All in all, I give this blu-ray-enhanced version of the movie a 4 out of 5.
on February 28, 2015
A very well acted movie of a man and his inner conflicts'. My ex-girlfriend introduced this movie to me, and it reminds me pleasantly of her. Sometimes watching this lets me know what she was trying to tell me about myself. A true movie about an underdog that makes up his mind to do what is wright despite anyone's understanding. Golly! I love films like this one! Five Stars. :)
"Ghost Rider" is an enjoyable big screen adaptation of the Marvel Ghost Rider comic that works on most levels. We wanted to see this before heading out to see the new movie, and I am glad for the revist.
No plot spoilers from me: The story starts following Johnny Blaze as a young motorcycle stunt rider that makes a deal with the devil. Like most deals of this type, even when made with the best of intentions, it doesn't work out like Johnny plans. Years later the devil come calling to collect on his debt and that is when things get interesting. As Johnny becomes the "Ghost Rider", he discovers that he has more free will than one might expect for "The Devil's Bounty Hunter".
The casting is fairly good, even with a slightly older than he should be Nicholas Cage in the lead, but it works. I really enjoyed Eva Mendes as Roxanne, Johnny's girlfriend, and Sam Elliott as an unexpected mentor. Peter Fonda also is believable as the devil. The special effects are also fairly good and help carry the movie through the slower parts.
I enjoyed this a lot, especially for a comic book based movie.
on October 2, 2009
4 of 5 stars for the Ghost Rider. I do recommend this movie! First rule of being in a movie: Never sell your soul to the devil! It never works out. In this Marvel comic made into a feature movie, we follow motorcycle daredevil Johnny Blaze who does sell his soul to make his father healthy again. When the devil comes knocking we learn of the legend of the Ghost Rider; the agents who collect debts (souls) on behalf of the devil. We meet a cowboy who we later learn is also a Ghost Rider. Together they battle an evil being who is attempting to steal souls owed to the devil. An interesting story, interesting characters. Well acted, well photographed and great special effects! My favorite scene is the horse riding cowboy aside Johnny Blaze on his motorcycle both moving thru the desert at night leaving a trail of fire.
This is one movie in which I like Nicolas Cage. This is a solid movie that I do recommend!
on August 6, 2007
Despite NOT being a Nicholas Cage fan, I was very hopeful about this film. I mean, how can you go wrong with a character with a flaming skull riding a very rad, flaming bike? Unfortunately, this movie managed to get it wrong on many levels. Casting was a big problem. Cage is a fine actor but he can not carry off a larger-than-life superhero character and was constantly flipping between being overly melodramatic and flopping at attempts to be humorous. Cage was also, I feel, too mature an actor for the role. Quirks that might have been amusing/annoying with a younger actor just seemed somehow pitiful for a man his age. (I don't have a problem with mature superheroes. I have a problem with mature superheroes with the characteristics of a shallow twenty-year old.) I think a better choice would have been a talented but relatively unknown actor for the lead. Peter Fonda was competent but Wes Bentley had more villian flair. Eva Mendes was stuck in the thankless role of the stereotypical 'working girl' love interest. Ironically, I found the supporting actors much more interesting to watch (Peter Callan and Rebel Wilson, as examples).
I could have forgiven this movie a lot if the plot wasn't riddled with holes big enough to drive a flaming elephant through, never mind a motorcycle. (SPOILER ALERT: The motorcycle blows away cars, and burns billboards and lizards but manages to never cause real harm to innocent humans. The painfully stereotypical cops accuse Blaze of somehow single-handedly killing a bar-load of Hell's Angels bikers -- who have obviously died of some seriously unnatural causes -- and their only evidence is his slightly charred license plate found in the city, nowhere near the scene of the actual crime. And there's no path of melted tar to tie the bar with the rail yard so assuming the flaming bike was involved at both scenes is quite a stretch. The same cops are 'smart' enough to track Blaze by his motorcyle's licence plate... but not smart enough to stake out his residence after Blaze escapes from jail. And that's just the tip of the plot-hole iceberg.) Plot holes are distracting, especially when numerous, and they prevent you from immersing yourself fully into a movie. Stretching reality is one thing; throwing it out the window is quite another.
X-Men and Spiderman proved quite nicely that it IS possible to make a solid first movie in an established franchise, despite the inherent difficulties, IF you have tight writing and the right director -- two elements that were missing in Ghost Rider. It's not surprising that the writer and the director were the same guy and that this guy also wrote the screenplay for Daredevil and Electra. 'Nuff said.
Things I liked: The f/x were interesting. Not perfect but fun. (Skull head was way too large. Skulls are not supposed to be the same size as, or larger than, the fleshed-out head. The Ghost Rider's head looked more like a Halloween mask than an actual skull. But the flame effects were excellent, as was the bike design, and the Western Ghost Rider's design and horse.) The scene of both Riders riding together was, I think, the best part of the movie. Not enough to justify the price of a ticket or DVD but nice eye-candy to take away some of the sting of the sloppy, predictable writing and silly plot contrivances. Unfortunately, the f/x went overboard at times. Just because you CAN flip cars and blow up things doesn't mean you SHOULD, especially if it only serves to burn holes in the story. The acting was competent but lacking a certain flair in too many cases, the exception being the supporting/background characters who were quite enjoyable to watch. The reworked, updated "Riders in the Sky" was a nice, haunting touch, especially when coupled with the dual Riders scene.
A few tweaks, a different director/writer, and a younger, preferably less well-known actor for the lead and I think Ghost Rider could have been an excellent comic-adaption movie. As it stands now, it's just an example of failed potential. A little fun, a little excitement... but little else.