Review by Paul Stathakis | March 7, 2007

A forgettable superhero

With the excep­tion of the upcom­ing “Spi­der-Man 3” (2007), com­ic book adap­ta­tion films are not in demand. “Ghost Rid­er”, a title and char­ac­ter belong­ing to Mar­vel Comics, could not have hit the­atres at a worse time despite its suc­cess­ful box office results.

If there are two ele­ments which will attract view­ers to see this movie, it’s the cast led by Nico­las Cage and Eva Mendes. But the per­for­mances fall sur­pris­ing­ly flat under the direc­tion of Mark Steven John­son, a film­mak­er who is not new to com­ic book adap­ta­tions – his last film was “Dare­dev­il” (2003).

Ghost Rid­er”, like oth­er films of its nature, focus­es on a cen­tral char­ac­ter who is actu­al­ly a frag­ment­ed man. He’s often mis­un­der­stood but intend­ed to be accept­ed as a hero due to a trag­ic event involv­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber. Stan Lee and Mar­vel seem to have uti­lized this for­mu­la over the years, time and time again, with sev­er­al of their fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters. The Punisher’s rage sur­faces when his wife and fam­i­ly are killed. Dare­dev­il decides to become a super­hero when his father dies at the hands of a ruth­less crime boss. Spi­der-Man promis­es to guard the inno­cent from the crim­i­nals when his uncle is slain. The list of char­ac­ters is long but their pur­pose, what dri­ves them to become these super­heroes, is anal­o­gous. John­ny Blaze (Nico­las Cage) is a top motor­cy­cle stunt­man. His risky feats call to mind those of the real-life leg­endary motor­cy­cle stunt­man Evel Kniev­el. Blaze’s shows put action and thrill in over­drive. He sets out to excite audi­ences with his death-defy­ing stunts.

At the begin­ning of the film, we learn that Blaze was inspired to become a stunt­man because his father was one. His father was diag­nosed with can­cer when John­ny was a teenag­er, and to save him, Blaze sells his soul to the dev­il (Peter Fon­da). In return, the fiend promis­es John­ny that his father will be cured from can­cer. When the deal turns sour and Johnny’s father dies, John­ny grows angry and vows to get his revenge someday.

Those who are famil­iar with the Ghost Rid­er series will be thank­ful for the adap­ta­tion. When Nico­las Cage trans­forms into the Ghost Rid­er, his head trans­forms into a fiery skull and even his motor­cy­cle, which at times seems to have a life of its own, bursts into flames. Teenagers will love these spe­cial effects if they haven’t seen bet­ter effects or any of the Spi­der-Man films.

Alas, the dia­logue does not reflect the sub­stan­tial work that was put into the effects sequences. Con­sid­er a scene when Blaze is inter­viewed by an attrac­tive reporter, Rox­anne Simp­son (Eva Mendes). She asks Blaze a ques­tion. He paus­es, reflects on the ques­tion, and after five sec­onds sim­ply answers, “Yeah.” Prob­lems with the script also sur­face through­out the film as demon­ic crea­tures pur­pose­ful­ly chal­lenge Ghost Rid­er, but the film can­not decide whether it wants to be a hor­ror film or an action-packed dark super­hero movie. Cer­tain moments feel inspired from films deal­ing with char­ac­ters being pos­sessed by the devil.

From a visu­al view­point, “Ghost Rid­er” does man­age to con­jure up a few images that are to say the very least pleas­ant to watch. One such scene shows Ghost Rid­er rid­ing with a care­tak­er (Sam Elliott). The two char­ac­ters, one rid­ing a horse and the oth­er his motor­cy­cle in the desert almost feels like a direct trib­ute to Ser­gio Leone’s west­ern fea­tures, or John Ford’s pic­tures. Even the back­ground music sounds like a score straight out of a west­ern movie.

View­ers seek­ing orig­i­nal­i­ty should shy away from this movie or, at least, set their expec­ta­tions low. “Ghost Rid­er” is a ride down a famil­iar sce­nario but this time with under­de­vel­oped char­ac­ters who recite the dia­logue of an under­de­vel­oped writer. Cer­tain scenes con­tain strong emo­tions but they come in short sup­ply here. Some of the action scenes are daz­zling but also serve as time-fillers. For a film based on a pop­u­lar com­ic book series it is flat, pre­dictable, and has an uncon­vinc­ing love sub­plot. It sim­ply does­n’t bring any­thing new to the table.


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