Ghost Rider (2007)
There are a lot of films out lately derived from comic books. This trend has taken off in part due to the popularity of the comics creates an instant fan base and partly because the studios tend to make a fortune on these films. Some of these films the comic book aspects are just the foundation for a movie with depth, character development and many other ‘real’ film characteristics. This is actually an excellent way to go but it does set the bar very high. Franchises like Spider-Man and the X-Men include socially relevant plot lines combined with action and incredible special effects. Then there are comic book flicks that just try to be good old fashion Saturday morning entertainment. Ghost Rider is in the later category. Here, the plot is simplistic, the build up to the action over long and the acting a bit on the bland side. But, once things get going it is a kicking action flick. If you don’t want to actually have to think a lot during a film; you just want to experience it, then this may be just right for you. Some films use computer driven special effects to forward the story. This one the use of CGI is just to make something that looks cool. In this it does work, the action sequences here are stunning, almost good enough to cover for the lack of a story line.
Back in the days of the old and Wild West a demonic being called Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) was doing his thing making contracts for human souls. One such contract was with a town called San Venganz for one thousand souls. In order to collect Mephistopheles sub contracts out to a bounty hunter to collect. The bounty hunter double crosses Mephistopheles and runs off with the contract and the souls. Cut to more modern times when a young stunt bike rider named Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) makes a deal with the evil one. Johnny’s father, Barton (Brett Cullen) is dying of cancer. Johnny is reluctant to exchange his soul even for a cure but when cut his hand and his blood drips on the contract the deal is done. As most demonic contracts go things don’t work out the way young Johnny hopes. His father is cured but he dies in a horrible accident. In despair Johnny gives up the love of his life the beautiful Roxanne Simpson (Raquel Alessi).
As the years roll by Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) is a world famous stunt rider. With a name like ‘Blaze’ it’s not like he was destined to become an accountant. Besides, ‘Johnny Blaze, CPA’ would make even less box office that this film did. His abilities make Evil Knievel look like a first grade boy on a tricycle. Johnny can make jumps over a football field filled with helicopters, and walk away unharmed from crashes that should have killed him. Johnny’s manager/best friend, Mack (Donal Logue) is sure Johnny has supernatural protection. Instead of a guardian angel Johnny is protected from another, much hotter, direction. Covering one of his stunts is a grown up Roxanne (Eva Mendes). The old flames start to pick up where they left off. Right about this time the son of Mephistopheles, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) shows up determined to get the contract and therefore the souls owed back. To achieve this goal he calls on three fallen angels, Gressil (Laurence Breuls), Abigor (Mathew Wilkinson) and Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen) to help with the general mayhem, after all every supernatural evil creature needs some minions. Blackheart’s rampage is so extreme that even his father is upset; this younger generation of demons just doesn’t know where to draw the line. Mephistopheles offers Johnny a way out. If he takes on the persona of the Ghost Rider, tracks down and kills Blackheart and his crew he can get his soul back. Shortly afterwards Johnny makes his first transformation into the Ghost Rider. He turns into a fiery skeleton atop a bike made of chain and flames. His weapon is a burning chain that is used like a whip. He also has at his command something called the Penance Stare, which forces his opponent to feel all the wrongs they have ever committed. Let’s send this guy to Congress, that should boost CSPAN ratings a bit. After a little fight Johnny awakens in a cemetery dazed and unsure of what happened. He is approached by a man calling himself the Caretaker (Sam Elliott) who knows all about the Ghost Rider. At this point in the film all pretense of a plot becomes superfluous and the special effects pretty much take over.
There is some good news and bad news about the previous flicks writer-director Mark Steven Johnson has done. The good news is much of his career has been with movies made from comic books. The bad news, they include ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Elektra’. When a film is adapted from a comic book there is a delicate balance that has to be maintained. You have to be true enough to the source to avoid the ire of the fan base and you have to reinvent some aspects to make them play out on the screen. This is where Ghost Rider falls down. In a comic the writers can extend the plot over several issues. In a film you have to create an emotional attachment with the audience as soon as possible. It is also more difficult to do an ‘origins’ saga on film. You need a lot of exposition and that takes away from the action. Here, the beginning of the flick is too drawn out. While the back story is necessary the pacing could be tighter. Fortunately, the saving grace here is the special effects, they are incredible. The flaming skull and bike are more than worth watching. There is nothing wrong with a film that is completely dependant on special effects; they are fun just not as interesting as they could be.
On paper this cast looks great. You have some of the best lead and character actors around it’s just they don’t interact well here. For Nicolas Cage this had to be a labor of love. His real life Ghost Rider tattoo had to be covered with make up for filming. He is such a comic book fan that he even named his son Kal-El, after the real name of Superman. Here he plays Blaze in a straight forward fashion. This is a man bent of revenge and regret. He could have added more of the morally conflicted hero to the mix. Eva Mendes just doesn’t seem to fit in here. There is little chemistry between her and Cage. In the scenes where Mendes has to provide some comic relief she seems lost. Peter Fonda shows that genetics do work in acting. He is able to pull the most out of his demonic role. Sam Elliott is the best mumbling actor ever. He epitomizes the old west with his grizzly manner.
Sony Pictures does the best possible job in bringing this film to DVD. The anamorphic 2.40:1 video is exceptional. The colors jump off the screen bringing the images to life. The audio gives you the choice of either Dolby 5.1 or DTS. Both have excellent range and channel separation but the DTS version has a lot more back fill with the rear speakers. This release is an extended cut with about ten more minutes of action. There are some extras to add to the value. There is an audio commentary featuring writer-director Mark Steven Johnson, producer Gary Foster and special effects supervisor Kevin Mack. Also included is a three part behind the scenes featurette; ‘The Spirit of Vengeance’, ‘The Spirit of Adventure’ and ‘The Spirit of Execution’. Rounding things out is ‘Sin & Salvation’, a multi-part look at the history of the comic. This is one for a rainy summer night. Have some friends over, get some beer and pizza and watch the action.