This weekend number one son Tommy and I extended Comic Book Day to become Comic Book Movie Day, as we caught a matinee of “Ghost Rider” starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes.
I am only barely familiar with the Ghost Rider character from the comics. I vaguely remember him to be a motorcycle stuntman named Johnny Blaze that was somehow cursed to become the Ghost Rider, a kind of Specter wannabe creature of vengeance. I suspected he was the result of Stan Lee and some of the Marvel boys getting together and thinking a motorcycle rider with a burning skull for a head and chain whips would be “cool”. I actually have no idea how the character came about, but I thought it was a kind of stupid idea so I never even looked at a Ghost Rider comic book.
Likewise I had very low expectations for the movie. It had been in production a looooong time. I remember seeing the “Ghost Rider” motorcycle on display at the San Diego Comic Con… in 2005! Usually that does not bode well for a comic book movie when it’s release is that far removed from the display of a fully realized major prop. Plus it starred Nicholas Cage, and I still cannot figure out how he ended up being an action movie star. Comic books geeks everywhere were weirded out when he announced he had named his son Kal-el… and weirding out comic book geeks is not easy. I had seen some footage and previews and frankly it looked pretty dumb. I would not have gone to see the movie except Tommy really wanted to see it.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. The movie treated itself with just the right amount of camp and self parody, without slipping into a total goofy farce. Cage is a great straight man and played Johnny Blaze with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness that was hysterical at times. His Evil Knievel/Elvis stunt rider took the whole “Devil’s bounty hunter” thing in stride like it made perfect sense. There were site gags here and there, especially with the fire, that were very funny. The special effects were high on the cool factor. Surprisingly the least interesting times were when Cage really was the Ghost Rider. He looked silly with a head too small for his broad shoulders. I know it was ‘anatomically correct’ in it’s size, but it still looked like a shrunken head. Peter Fonda played the devil with a wry grin… and a gigantic wig. An inspired casting. All in all the movie embraced the essentially silly nature of the subject matter and delivered a fun and mostly well paced ride, while taking advantage of the ability of today’s special effects to literally bring the comic book page to the big screen.
Now for the bad stuff… not much of a contest between the Ghost Rider and the bad guys. In fact, the antagonists were awfully lame in both acting and on the badness scale. That aspect of it could have been a little better conceived, even if the movie wasn’t meant to be serious (as it clearly was not). Half the fun of this kind of movie is having bad guys that are over the top. Eva Mendes played Cage’s love interest, a TV reporter (what is it with super-heroes and reporters??). She might be a good actress but you wouldn’t know it from this role. She was basically talking cleavage, and added nothing to the film in either humor, drama or interest. Sam Elliot plays the mentor/Whistler character, and he spits out terms like “bonehead” trying to act cranky but looking like he’s bored out of his mind. It makes me appreciate the job Kris Kristofferson did in the Blade movies at bit more.
There is some violence and some scary demon images, but nothing too horrific. There is worse in the Ghost Rider comics, which were quickly put back on the shelves after Tommy wanted to get one and I looked it over. The first one I picked up had a decapitated body with the head staring out next to it and lots of gore within the first three pages. Game over. The movie has more cartoonish violence. The main baddy kills people by touching them and they turn into mummies. Other than that and some of the usual punching and explosions, just the demons get killed. Ghost Rider also has a “pennance stare” which burns the soul out of evil doers. That has the scariest imagery in the film.
This movie isn’t for deep thinking, but nobody would mistake it for trying to. I found it entertaining because it manages to be super-hero cool and still poke fun at itself…plus no tights.
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