Friday, February 23, 2007

Review: Ghost Rider

It's a law of physics that you can't make a movie about a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle and have it be Uncool. And if you include an unshaven Sam Elliot in Western gear, then your movie becomes automatically Likeable.
But it doesn't, unfortunately, make it Good.
Standing around after Ghost Rider last night talking with my buddies about the movie, I tried comparing it to Ang Lee's Hulk. The middle part of Hulk, where he's fighting tanks in the desert and jumping around looking for a place to be alone, is a perfect recreation of every Hulk comic that any child of the '70s ever read. The really long lead up to it and the weird fight at the end were annoying bookends to that beautiful segment, but they don't take away from how utterly cool that was.
My point in bringing it up was that parts of Ghost Rider really nailed what made me love the comic as a kid. There was a point towards the middle where I forgot about my frustrations from earlier in the movie (mostly involving Nick Cage's overacting a few times) and just revelled in seeing the Ghost Rider zoom around town on that unholy bike of his bringing vengeance to the guilty. But as the movie wrapped up and started concentrating on its story again, the disappointment crept back.
The plot of Ghost Rider blows. Not the origin sequence. That's okay. But the stuff about a contract that the Devil once had for the souls of an entire town and how this contract somehow has the ability to grant an unbalancing amount of power to whichever demon holds it. First of all, it's never explained just why this particular contract is so powerful. Yes, there are probably thousands of names on it, but how do those make a difference to a being that's got to have billions upon billions of souls locked up over the course of human history? It's a stupid object to have everyone hunting for.
Actually, the whole focus on demons is a drawback. Ghost Rider is demon enough for one movie. Yeah, he's the coolest looking one in the show, but having other demons playing such important roles in the story waters down Ghost Rider's uniqueness. The best Ghost Rider comics aren't the ones where he's battling Hell, they're the ones where he's fighting the Orb or trying to rescue a girl from an evil shaman or something. (Fans of the '90s version may disagree with me, but they're wrong.) Weird villains, but relatively mundane. Human, at least.
And as long as we're talking about demons and the plot, I've got to gripe about the end. So if you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know what happens, consider this your Spoiler Warning and skip the following paragraph.
The plot of the movie revolves around Mephistopheles' trying to get his hands on the Special Contract and keep his son Blackheart (pffft!) away from it. That's the whole reason he turns Johnny Blaze into Ghost Rider in the first place. Instead of following orders, Johnny gives the contract to Blackheart, but uses it against him, destroying both Blackheart and the contract in the process. So then Mephistopheles shows up, but rather than being pissed over not getting his contract, he all but applauds and slaps Johnny on the back for a job well done. Even offers to remove the Ghost Rider curse. But when Johnny refuses -- wanting to use the Ghost Rider powers for good -- Meph throws a fit and is all, "I'll get you for this, Johnny Blaze!" You'd think Meph could just take the curse back regardless of what Johnny wants, but apparently not. Maybe it's the kind of thing where Johnny has to willingly give it up, but that doesn't make much sense and even if it's true, it would be nice to have that piece of information foreshadowed earlier rather than implied by Meph's otherwise inexplicable reaction.
Another problem I have with the movie is the acting. I usually like Nick Cage just fine and he's funny and charming through most of Ghost Rider. The writers put some nice touches on his character by giving him some quirks, but Cage's charisma also helps out. Yet, like I mentioned earlier, there are a few times when he just overacts as he's striking a dramatic pose or falling down or something. During those times he reminds me of a seven-year-old pretending to be a super hero on the playground. To be fair though, some of that may be in the directing. The kid playing Young Johnny Blaze strikes a similarly cheesy pose (basically he's standing there with his feet spread apart, pointing intensely at the person he's talking to) at one point, but I don't know if he was told to do that or improvised it after watching Cage do it. Either way, regardless of who's doing it or whose idea it was, it's silly-looking.
The worst acting in the film though comes from Eva Mendes. Cage has said that she'd make the perfect She-Hulk, but she doesn't make a convincing reporter for local TV news, much less have the chops for a more complex role like Successful Trial Lawyer Dealing with the Physical Oddity of Being Big and Green. Her performance in Ghost Rider might have been okay had she been playing a reporter for Hard Copy, but she wasn't able to communicate the professionalism of a serious journalist.
She does have the look for She-Hulk though. She's a good-looking woman, no question. And that, plus Nick Cage's humor, plus great effects (both visual and sound), plus Sam Elliot, plus the fact that it's Ghost Rider, all combine to make a movie that I liked. It's just too bad that it had a crappy script and some acting problems to keep me from liking it more.


West said...

Your and the 4th Letter reviews really nail it.

There's coolness, but it's not a movie I'd recommend to most. Too many things don't make sense.

I can't believe they didn't explain... *spoiler warning*

. Blackheart was able to enter the church, when Blaze had been told that "hallowed ground" was safe.

Michael May said...


" Blackheart was able to enter the church, when Blaze had been told that 'hallowed ground' was safe."

And not just once, but TWICE!

West said...


I spotted some moments that seemed to scream "Budget limitations," but examples like the above are simply poor storytelling.

By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with you about certain Hulk scenes being pretty impressive.

In fact, I loved those enough to say that I loved the film... but I recognize that it got Anged-up a bit too much.

Michael May said...

Ha! I'm adding "Anged-up" to my vocabulary.


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