Okay, Ghost Rider is not spectacular. In fact, there are points when it is downright embarrassing. But, c'mon people, if you are watching a movie about a man with a flaming skull for a head and a super bike from hell, you can't really complain about the film being unrealistic and cheesy, can you? Then again, maybe you can.
For the uninitiated, Ghost Rider is based on a comic book character that has largely been 2nd, or even 3rd grade in Marvel's list of heroes, but as with most underdogs and satanic motorcyclists, Ghost Rider has its own share of loyal fans who have tried to keep up with the various incarnations. For the fanboys – this is the Johnny Blaze version.
Nicolas Cage plays Johnny Blaze here, who sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) as a boy for saving his cancer-stricken father. He inherits unholy powers, and turns into the Ghost Rider at night – Satan's personal mercenary for hire. Childhood love interest Roxanne (Eva Mendes) is now a cop, who is trying to find more about the skull-faced man, while Johnny has to now try and stop Blackheart (Wes Bentley), Mephisto's son, from collecting some particular souls, after which he plans to overrun his father.
The story is completely perfunctory here though. The film is all about a motorcycle from hell, a rider whose head is a flaming skull, and magic chains of fire. Yup, either this is a film for you or it ain't. Anyway, the story needfuls are done, and then the film gets to the business of showcasing its CGI to the audience. Director-write Mark Steven Johnson takes clichés, bad dialog, plot holes and corny one-liners, and shakes them up to provide us with the Ghost Rider narrative.
Indeed, after Elektra
, Johnson has got a lot to answer for, and he does not disappoint with another embarrassingly written film. The dialog and the exposition about religion and demons is childish and amateur at best. It doesn't help that all the other worldly characters look campy and entirely devoid of coolness, and the main character – ostensibly the coolest thing around – has nothing much to do.
What really hurts is the lack of Ghost Rider action sequences, as they are few and far between. Nicolas Cage is great as the entirely scatter-brained Johnny Blaze, and it shows that he has obvious enthusiasm for the character. However, as soon as he is all hellfire on 2 wheels with a skull, the film ceases to have anything interesting for him to do. The CGI budget has obviously been cut as the action set pieces for Ghost Rider lack the immediate punch of the other (successful) Marvel franchises, and some villains actually look tacky.
Even so, the action remains watchable. It is the non-action, non-Cage bits that drag the film down. Johnson keeps trying to build up the tension, but never actually succeeds in sustaining it long enough to hold your interest. Apart from Cage, Sam Elliott as the caretaker enunciates his bits so well, the hammy dialog seems interesting. Eva Mendes is terrible in her miscast role as Roxanne. Her romance is forced, and though she be smokin' hot, she can't act.
The film does have its strong moments with Ghost Rider, to be sure, but it squanders them as soon as it presents them. It almost feels like Johnson tried a few things before he got the script he wanted, which was poor anyway. They should have had more about how Blaze turns into Ghost Rider when in the presence of evil. This has the potential to become a story akin to the Beauty And The Beast, but meanders into becoming a Booty And The Bike.
Even with tacky CGI in parts, the movie looks fantastic overall. The visual language of the film has a lot of comic book sensibility to it, and the dynamic camera helps things a lot. But a lot of inventiveness for what is essentially a hollow sequence serves to highlight the faults rather than hide them. A lot of fans of the comic book fans have invested heavily into the Ghost Rider mythos, and after watching this screen adaptation, I doubt if their memories of how 'cool' Ghost Rider was will remain intact.