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February 27, 2007 > Ghost Rider-A Movie Review

Ghost Rider-A Movie Review

By Jeremy Inman

Marvel's Ghost Rider falls victim to the same set of characteristics that plague most of the modern super hero movies: a watered-down script aimed at mass appeal, an underdeveloped love plot, insufficient screen time of the titular hero, and under motivated main characters.

Having said all of that, Ghost Rider is actually a pleasant surprise. Though it carries the same stigmas as every other comic book movie (which comes with, among other things, the expectation of failure) Ghost Rider manages to be entertaining, well-paced, and action packed. Surprisingly, even though Marvel's skull-headed spirit of vengeance isn't necessarily a recognizable figure in the mainstream today, filmmakers took great care to remain relatively true to the character's roots and abilities.

The comic book Rider was one of the first of a wave of "anti-heroes" from Marvel Comics in the early seventies. Along with notables like Wolverine and the Punisher, Ghost Rider had a more adult appeal - he had a darker outlook, appearance and used less traditional crime fighting tactics. With his trademark "penance stare," the Ghost Rider sends his victims into a personal hell fashioned by their own sins, sending them into a catatonic state. Luckily for skeptical fans, this ability, as well as a close approximation of the character's origin, made it into the film.

According to the comics, Johnny Blaze made a deal with the devil to cure "Crash" Simpson, his adoptive father and stunt cyclist mentor, of cancer. Crash received a clean bill of health but then shortly thereafter died in a mysterious accident during a stunt. The devil, called Mephisto in the comics (and NOT the actual Devil from the Bible, though he often posses as the Biblical Satan) immediately cashes in on his deal with Blaze, bonding a hellish entity to the young stunt rider causing him to transform into Ghost Rider at sundown. As the Rider, Blaze's job is to send the souls of the wicked to Mephisto's realm, a close approximation of Hell.

In the film, Mephisto is Mephistopheles, the actual Devil. Blaze made the deal to save his real father, Barten Blaze, instead of Crash Simpson. Like the comic, the film version of the Rider immediately challenges his new master, pitting him against the forces of hell itself while he fills its ranks with the wicked.

Director Mark Steven Johnson, fresh from his last super hero movie, Daredevil, handles the character and the material adequately. Like Daredevil, it's apparent that, given the source material, Ghost Rider would have made a much better R rated movie. As often is the case, it's apparent to audiences that the PG-13 rating (as well as the insubstantial love plot) was tacked on by the studio to appeal to a wider audience. It's because of this that the film suffers. Furthermore, Johnson was torn in too many directions; Ghost Rider is a horror movie, a standard super hero flick, a western, and an occult film. Having picked just one or two of these genre specifications and then cranking the action up to an R standard would have better served a character that is a walking skeleton that's on fire.

For those who don't know, when Johnny Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider, the skin melts off of his face and his remaining bare skull lights on fire. Surprisingly, the special effects for this film looked great. The Rider had a powerful screen presence - setting off sprinklers and leaving melting puddles of shoe rubber wherever he walks. He often points into the audience and lets loose with a vicious and terrifying howl from hell before jumping into action on his trusty bike, complete with flaming wheels and the ability to ride up walls or across water. While I could have used more Ghost Rider and less of Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze, the film was well-paced, balancing the Rider's nightly escapades with Cage's attempts to cope with the aftermath.

Unknown to most audiences, Nicolas Cage is a huge comic book fan (he named his son Kal-El, as in Superman) and his favorite character is Ghost Rider. His giant Ghost Rider tattoo had to be covered up before shooting everyday so he could play Blaze. As such, his conviction is apparent as he tries to do justice to the character within the confines of the structure of the film.

As is often the case, the plot leaves much to be desired (or even understood). The film follows the familiar and now tired patterns of the genre but still provides viewers with a spectacle worthy of paying for. While it's no Spider-Man, Ghost Rider has plenty to offer. It's worth the price of the ticket to watch this hellish apparition in chains and leather chaps chuck fire at evildoers and deal out vengeance in fiery spades.

Rated PG-13

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