Ghost Rider review by The Grim Ringler

It can’t be said I am not an optimist when it comes to movies. When the first trailers for Ghost Rider came out I thought they looked good. Sure, some of the CGI looked rough but darn it, the movie looked like it might be fun. Meanwhile, my friends thought the movie looked like utter crap. Bah, what did they know?

Johnny Blaze (Nic Cage channeling the King) is the son of a motorcycle stuntman and learned his own high flying ways from his old man. As a team working carnivals and low-rent circuses, the duo is popular but not far beyond the tent. Johnny wants more. He wants a life with his girlfriend, who is being sent away to keep her from Johnny. On the eve of running away with his girl, Johnny finds out that his father may not do so great on his own, as he’d hoped. Johnny finds a health notice in the trash that reports that his father has cancer that is spreading and suddenly, Johnny’s romantic escape isn’t so romantic anymore. AS he is working on his motorcycle later that night a stranger appears to offer him a deal – he’ll cure the boy’s father, in exchange for Johnny’s soul. Tricked into signing this devil’s bargain, the deal is done and the next day daddy Blaze is as good as new and ready for another day when tragedy strikes during a routine stunt, taking the life of Johnny’s father and damning him to servitude for Lucifer. Flash ahead and Johnny is a national sensation, doing stunts his father never would have dreamed of and living his life as if he’s invincible. Those around him are starting to doubt Johnny sanity after a particularly nasty spill but the boss insists he knows what he’s doing, daring death but always being saved by the intervention of a dark spirit. After a chance re-uniting with his youthful love, Johnny is set to work off his debt to Lucifer, his task being to hunt down and destroy four renegade demons that have a secret agenda with the devil. Damned to go through with the deal, Johnny changes every evening when he is near evil, his body setting alight and head and hands becoming skeletal as he hunts down souls for Satan. What Johnny wants more than anything is to be free of this curse, of his duty to Satan, and to have a second chance at life, but to do it he must trust in another stranger who knows more than he lets on, and who may well know a way to end the curse once and for all.

It’s a shame that comic book adaptations get such a bad rap because there are some very well made, very imaginative films…alas, this is not one of those. I think the problem began with the comic itself. Some things are just not made for transference. This is one of those projects that just don’t translate. It becomes corny and cheesy when it’s made into a live-action film. Had this been an animated film, it might have worked, here, not so much. This isn’t a character people generally know, not one that people have a connection to, and this isn’t a character with terribly memorable villains. Which says a lot. When you can’t even make the devil (ridiculously called MEPHISTOPHELES here) a good villain you’re in trouble. I would imagine that the draw here was that you can start new, with not a lot of baggage being that the character never has been seen much before. The thing is too, the film Daredevil worked for me because it was so energetic and just was what it was. Here, they’re trying to make an interesting character out of, well, a skeleton with sass. Not as compelling as a blind man fighting evil. Now, most fanboys LOATHE Daredevil, and so be it, but what I say is that DD worked as a film, maybe not as an adaptation, but it worked as a film. Ghost Rider just doesn’t.

Johnny Blaze is a character we need to connect with and we just don’t. You meet him as a teen and the kid that plays him doesn’t look a THING like Cage. Not a thing. The character never really has any real moments either. We get glimpses of a man beneath the bravado of the stunt-rider, but we never really care about him or are invested in him, something that’s pivotal if you are to feel anything for him when he becomes the Ghost Rider. And yes, the Rider. They have tried to give him a personality but it just doesn’t work. Sometimes he’s funny (or what the filmmakers thought would be funny) and other times he comes off as a creepy spirit of vengeance. Had they played up the creepy aspect then maybe it’d have worked. You will feel for Blaze as you do for a character beset by a werewolf’s bite because both will become monsters and cannot stop it. Worse than Johnny and the Rider though are the villains.

The devil is bland and far from menacing. He, like the other demons in the film, are not allowed to be creepy but are dressed like lame vampires from some nineties film and then they have some ridiculous ‘scary’ special effects overlaid to show that, AHHH, they are really monsters beneath their human facades. Yawn. There is a moment early on where you see the devil’s shadow behind him and that worked because it’s genuinely creepy, the CGI are just silly.

What writing there is is dreadful. You get the usual cheesy action movie lines, under-developed characters, and honestly, there just isn’t a story here that you really give a damn about. A large part of that is that there is so little flesh given to these characters that the devil is little more than a carnie, the demons are a mimic of awful vampire villains, and the hero and his plight are never full realized. There direction is fine, but too many cutesy tricks and angles take you out of the moment, and the music is simply awful.

The hell of all of it is that there’s a decent movie here, buried beneath it all. Ghost Rider is an interesting character of vengeance. Eva Mendes, while not great, does well with what she has to work with and heck, the sidekick character is shamefully underutilized. They were trying to do too much here and it just didn’t work. I think if they can focus on the initial curse, the cost of the curse and then what that curse means, I think you have an interesting story. Keep it simple. In a second film you can worry about bringing in all sorts of villains and all that, but for the first film, it’s just confusing and ends up saying and meaning nothing.

This film won’t kill the trend of comic adaptations but we’ll hope that Hollywood takes notice. Better for me would be that Marvel takes notice. Their animated films that have come out this past year (two Avengers and a new Iron Man film) are great and do things right. This isn’t just a disappointment, no, it’s a waste, of talent, of time, and of money. I can appreciate the passion behind the film, and the wish to make a good film but it just didn’t come together and, in the end, this is just dreadful and that’s it.

3 out of 10 Jackasses
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