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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