I have never been much of a fan of Nicolas Cage, nor of Ghost Rider. The former always struck me as immensely overrated — capable of only a tiny range of emotions, generally unappealing in what he could convey, and ridiculous even when he means to be serious. As for the Ghost Rider, he’s from that period in the 1970s when Marvel was cranking out superheroes who started not as character concepts but rather as attempts to cash in on the popular trends of the day. I can almost hear the pitches for these guys. “Let’s have a kung fu superhero!” (Iron Fist.) “How about a blaxploitation superhero, like Shaft but with superpowers?” (Luke Cage, Power Man, from whom Nicolas took his last name.) “Hey, maybe a superhero who’s powered by disco music! She could roller-skate around and her superpower could be creating a big light show!” (The Disco Dazzler, and no I’m not kidding.) Then there’s Ghost Rider: “We should have an occult-type superhero who rides a badass motorcycle! His alter ego could do big jumps like Evel Knievel!”
So a Ghost Rider movie with Nicolas Cage in the title role was not exactly calculated to please me, but I went ahead and bought a ticket anyway, because I’m interested in superhero movies. Also, while I don’t care for Cage, I like several of the other principals — Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott — and I’ve got nothing against Eva Mendes. Besides, sometimes the low expectation theory works out really well. However, that was not the case with Ghost Rider. People, this movie was so dumb. It was so, so, so, so dumb.
It could be fun to underline all the reasons why I felt this way, but who has that kind of time? Instead, let me just give you a few of my favorites:
- The Caretaker (Elliott), who lives in a graveyard and is the Basil Exposition of the movie, tells Johnny Blaze (Cage) all about how Johnny has become the Devil’s bounty hunter, he has to hunt the Devil’s son Blackheart (Bentley), etc., and says to Johnny, “You’d better stick around here. They can’t come on hallowed ground.” Five minutes later, we see Blackheart hanging out in a BIG ASS CHURCH.
- When Blaze first becomes Ghost Rider, he leaves a massive trail of destruction, and when he comes back to himself, he sees that the scene is crawling with tons of cops, rescue workers, repair crews, and reporters. One of these reporters is his love interest, Roxanne Simpson (Mendes). They proceed from the scene of destruction up to his apartment, where he explains to her that he suffered this transformation. She says that he’s making up ridiculous stories. He FAILS TO MENTION that his story is the explanation for the otherwise inexplicable damage scene outside, and that the woman Simpson just interviewed gave the exact description of his transformed self.
- The CGI Ghost Rider is given to making the corniest action-hero remarks this side of a Simpsons episode. Example: grabbing an earth elemental demon and saying “Hey, dirtbag!”
- Blaze reads an occult book that says something like, “The possessing demon may be controlled by harnessing the fire element within man.” So then he sets down the book, looks at his hand, and says, “I am speaking to the fire element within me. Give me control of the possessing spirit!” At which point his hand catches on fire and he lights some candles on his wall. Self-control in one easy lesson! This guy could write the shortest diet book ever.
- Before the climactic scene, the Caretaker transforms into Old West Ghost Rider guy and goes on a long dramatic ride with Motorcycle Ghost Rider, only to stop short of the destination and… give him a shotgun. First of all, couldn’t you have just given him the shotgun in the graveyard? Was there any point to the long ride, besides the cool visual? Secondly, a SHOTGUN? This is a really effective weapon against Supernatural Uber-Demon Blackheart? Actually, yes, it turns out to be. Amazing how the cops riddle Ghost Rider with like 8,000 rounds that have absolutely no effect, but damned if some shotgun rounds don’t cause Blackheart a serious problem.
- One more. When telling GR’s origin story, the movie can’t quite bear to have Blaze actually decide to make the Faustian bargain to save his dad. Instead, he accidentally cuts his finger on the contract frame, and when a drop of blood falls on the contract, the devil says, “Oh, that’ll do just fine.” So basically, Blaze spends the whole movie from that point forward angsting and atoning for GETTING A PAPER CUT. This is weak, gutless storytelling, and it makes Blaze ludicrous rather than tragic.
What was good? Well, one thing Ghost Rider has going for him is a cool character design, and the movie does a creditable job of bringing this design to the screen. Peter Fonda is brilliantly cast as the devil, bringing both cycle-movie cred and genuine acting ability to his scenery-chewing role. Wes Bentley also does a fine job in his role — I always thought he had the perfect look for a really creepy villain. Finally, there are a number of funny moments, some of them even intentional.
Overall, though, man what a stinker. All the pieces clicked into place when I saw that the film was both written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the guy who inflicted the Daredevil movie on us. Please, somebody stop this guy before he directs another Marvel film!