Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider
Eva Mendes as Roxanne Simpson
Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles
Wes Bentley as Blackheart
Sam Elliott as Caretaker
Donal Logue as Mack
Matt Long as Young Johnny Blaze
Raquel Alessi as Young Roxanne Simpson
Brett Cullen as Barton Blaze
Laurence Breuls as Gressil
Tony Ghosthawk as Team Blaze #1
Hugh Sexton as Team Blaze #1
Marcus Jones as Blaze Team #3
Matt Norman as Team Blaze #4
Lawrence Cameron Steele as X Games Announcer
David Roberts as Captain Dolan
Arthur Angel as Officer Edwards
Fabio Robles as Priest
Charlie Garber as Officer Mackie
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Despite some fun scenes and cool effects, “Ghost Rider” works even less as a movie than it did as a comic book, because once you get past the cool concept and visuals of the character, there really isn’t very much else there.
Stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage/Matt Long) makes a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) to keep his father from succumbing to his cancer, but many years later, the devil comes back to collect on his side of the bargain, turning Blaze into his personal Ghost Rider to fight against Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and his demons. At the same time, Blaze’s childheart sweetheart Roxanne (Eva Mendes) has come back into his life and having trouble dealing with how her old boyfriend has changed.
Who knows how many people that go to see Mark Steven Johnson’s big screen version of Marvel Comics’ “Ghost Rider” will have ever picked up or read one of the characters’ comics, let alone can honestly say that he was their favorite comic book character? After all, Ghost Rider was always more about the cool concept and the visuals than about memorable writing or stories, which is why it never had the fanbase of characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men. While comparisons to Johnson’s last superhero movie “Daredevil” would be easy considering the number of similar scenes and themes, “Ghost Rider” is more in the vein of “Constantine” with its dark religious underpinnings involving good demons and bad.
To his credit, Johnson does try to squeeze in a lot of the mythology of the various incarnations of the Ghost Rider character, but ultimately, the movie suffers from some of the same problems facing so many other comic movies where 40 minutes is spent trying to set things up before we actually get to see the title character. At least we get to see a number of cool cycle stunts beforehand, but there’s way too much needless filler, most of it involving Johnny’s relationship with Roxanne, and by the time we do get to see the transformation that everyone’s paying to see, we’ve already been worn down by the amount of tie spent trying to develop the characters and plot somewhat needlessly.
Does the Ghost Rider look cool? Hell, yeah, but more in the scenes where he’s riding his bike through the desert or up a building than when we’re close-up making us realize that we’re basically watching a talking skeleton. (If only all that CGI-work could have been used to improve the corny lines that come out of the Ghost Rider’s mouth!) Fortunately, there are a number of cool action-effects pieces as the Ghost Rider uses his powers to fight a variety of elemental-based demons, but most of those end far too quickly.
Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer have proven that you can elevate comic book material by getting strong dramatic actors and having them play it straight, and in that sense, Cage often saves things by putting his own distinctive imprint on the Johnny Blaze character. Sure, at times, he veers a bit too much into his always amusing Elvis impression, but he does a good job making Blaze quirkier and more disturbed by what’s happening to him. (One funny touch is Blaze’s proclivity for the Carpenters the horror!) Sam Elliot is also brilliantly cast as Caretaker, filling Blaze in on the myths of the Ghost Rider and adding to the Western feel of the movie that’s set up in the introduction scene.
As the only woman in the entire movie, Eva Mendes is little more than window-dressing, trying but failing to convince anyone that she might be a paid TV reporter, and her awkward romance with Johnny tends to bog the movie down rather than enhance it. One could easily remove her character from the equation altogether and have a stronger film. Peter Fonda and Wes Bentley chew up the scenery as the two main villains, joined by a trio of the type of leather-clad demon minions we’ve seen in far too many other comic movies. More often than not, things falter whenever the focus shifts to any of them over Cage.
Johnson really isn’t a bad filmmaker, having a good eye for sharp visuals and setting a tone, but his writing isn’t always up to snuff, especially when using lines that read well in a comic but sound corny when uttered by bad actors. By now, all filmmakers making comic movie should know that when your characters are fighting, just have them shut up and go at it, because any dialogue is going to sound bad, especially when characters are trying to make cute quips. Maybe this film needed the checks and balances that comes when you have a separate writer and director, so someone could tell Johnson when something didn’t work. Then again, considering how much of the formula is taken from other Marvel films, the money people might not have been the best people to offer that feedback.
The Bottom Line:
While “Ghost Rider” does effectively recapture the feelings one had as a youth when first discovering the flaming chopper-ridin’ skeleton known as Ghost Rider, there’s very little beyond that cool idea that might appeal to anyone besides teenage boys.