After watching Daredevil the other night I thought I’d revisit another of the more obscure Marvel characters who have appeared on film in the last decade in the form of flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, Ghost Rider.
Unlike Daredevil, which I still really enjoy as a film, my previous viewing of Ghost Rider had, while enjoyable, largely found that enjoyment in the sense of ‘so bad its good’, so I was still looking forward to this for, if nothing else, Nic Cage hamming it up a treat.
While the film certainly has an element of an enjoyable quality it is severely hampered in two regards. First is how little sense it actually makes, even in the terms of its own universe you get the feeling that the scriptwriter (who is also the director) Mark Steven Johnson, cares more about getting his Ghost Rider to do cool things than to do things that make sense or actually move the story on which leads to a middle portion of the film that simply gets boring, despite featuring a flaming skeleton on a flaming motorbike riding up the side of a skyscraper.
The second problem is in the villains, at the start of the movie two ‘bad guys’ are set up in the form of Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda in what seems to be a reference to Easy Rider the filmmakers must have thought was clever, but really isn’t) and Blackheart (Wes Bentley looking like a reject from The Lost Boys). As the film goes on it becomes clear that not only is our ‘hero’ trying to fight the bad guys, they are also trying to fight one another and that leaves the dynamic of the movie very unbalanced as, rather than feeling like a deconstruction of the standard good vs evil approach to comic book movies, what we get is a confusing mish-mash of half -developed characters (including the trio of Blackhearts henchmen and Johnny Blaze’s love interest Eva Mendes).
Much like Daredevil, which was also written and directed by Johnson, it feels like the aim is to get in as many characters from the Ghost Rider mythos as possible in under two hours which leads to many characters who seem like they maybe should be major players coming across as bit parts who have no real basis and this includes our main villains and, to a lesser degree, ever Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, himself.
Speaking of Ghost Rider and his alter ego he is certainly the most entertaining part of the film but it feels like Nic Cage is unsure how to play the character. At the start of the tale he comes across as something of a celebrity idiot channeling Elvis, but this is counteracted by the fact he is consistently reading fairly hefty tomes about pseudo-religious mythology relating back to his “deal with the devil”.
As the movie goes on this side of his character is forgotten (seemingly along with his career as a stunt rider) as he goes about being a judgmental spirit of vengeance which leaves Nic Cage with little to do as he spends much of the second half of the film shrouded in less than impressive CGI which it has to be said has dated very badly and leaves where the film may have found some eccentric charm on the virtual cutting room floor.
The other major issue I had with the film is how much it treats its audience as being as stupid as Johnny Blaze, particularly near the start, where we are constantly shown flashbacks to scenes which we only saw less than five minutes before and in the most obvious of ways.
While Daredevil was certainly flawed but remains enjoyable, if as something of a guilty pleasure, Ghost Rider attempts to be the same but unfortunately treads just the wrong side of the ‘so bad its good line’ to mostly land in so bad its bad territory – though it has left me intrigued by the sequel which I’ve heard is, impressively, very much inferior.