Saturday Movie Review – “Ghost Rider”

Marvel adaptations are doing so well at the box office that they’ve started to adapt the B-list. This film opened with $44.5 million last week; let’s see how much of that momentum is maintained this week.

Cast and Crew

Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze / Ghost Rider
Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles
Eva Mendes as Roxanne Simpson
Donal Logue as Mack
Wes Bentley as Blackheart
Sam Elliott as Caretaker

Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Complete details can be found at this IMDB page.

Premise

Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the devil for a good and noble cause, and is cursed by being bonded to the demon Zarathos. (NOTE: I don’t recall if the demon was actually named in the movie; I pulled the name from the comics.)

High Point

“He thought it would be cool.”

Low Point

The cartoony feel to the chain. It ignores gravity and never kinks, so it just doesn’t seem like a chain to me.

The Scores

It’s hard to be original when you’re adapting another material. They did effectively draw from the full 35 year history of the character, but the way they did so might seem disjointed if you’re not familiar enough with the source material to understand the intentions behind the images, attitudes, and situations that appear on screen without sufficient explanation. I give it 3 out of 6.

The effects are, oddly, impressive while still being unconvincing. As mentioned above, the chain doesn’t behave properly. In addition, the flame around the skull looks kind of neat, but the flame never obscures the skull like it does the material behind the skull. As a result, it never quite escapes the two dimensional feel of a comic book, which is a problem when the three dimensional object on screen turns. When the visual effects team makes a mistake like that, it stands out, but often that’s the only way to tell where the CGI ends and the real world begins. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story never makes it clear when revealing what makes the contract so powerful, nor why the Ghost Rider has so little learning curve in combat. (Comic readers will know why he can fight well from day one, but most of the audience won’t.) Most of the character motives and elements are in place. They are generally trite and cliche, but they’re in place. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting is not bad at all. Cage is a natural fit to the character of Johnny Blaze. (In fact, he wore his own clothes in the role because they were better suited to the character than anything they had in wardrobe. They even had to use makeup to hide his Ghost Rider tattoo.) The rest of the cast play their shallow characters well. I give it 4 out of 6.

The production shows an improvement over Johnson’s work on Daredevil. The editing is tighter (though, I suspect, it was an editing decision that places Roxanne’s restaurant scenes before the transformation instead of during or after), and there are fewer ill-composed shots resulting from directly translating comic book panels to a different aspect ratio without adjusting the positions. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response wasn’t bad, but wasn’t particularly good. Without a combat learning curve, there’s very little suspense. The film should have been 20 minutes longer, and every second of that time should have been spent showing these other demons pounding Ghost Rider into the ground. Without enough challenge, there’s just not enough suspense. I give it 3 out of 6.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a particularly good one. Comparing again to Mark Steven Johnson’s previous comic book adaptation, I’d say that it’s of the same quality as the theatrical cut of Daredevil, but definitely not as good as the director’s cut. (Incidentally, Johnson says there probably won’t be a director’s cut of this one, as the studio agreed with most of his decisions.) I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, Ghost Rider receives 26 out of 42.

3 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “Ghost Rider””

  1. hossman says:

    power of contract and learning curve

    The story never makes it clear when revealing what makes the contract so powerful, nor why the Ghost Rider has so little learning curve in combat. (Comic readers will know why he can fight well from day one, but most of the audience won’t.)

    As someone who has always been aware of the character but never actualy read the books, this peeks my curiousity … can someone elaborate on these points? What are the reasons for these in the comic that are’t explained in the movie?

    • fiziko says:

      Re: power of contract and learning curve

      As someone who has always been aware of the character but never actualy read the books, this peeks my curiousity … can someone elaborate on these points? What are the reasons for these in the comic that are’t explained in the movie?

      The combat learning curve is using an interpretation of his powers from the comics. It is as follows: Most of the audience (including the person I saw the movie with) expected a Spider-Man type of learning curve, where the hero gains powers, slowly learns how to use them, and finally gets enough of a handle on them to effectively fight. Ghost Rider isn’t a person with powers, though. The Ghost Rider is the demon spirit of vengeance bonded to a human host. In the comics, it took a while for Johnny Blaze to notice, and he was eventually forced to fight Zarathos for control of his own body. In the movie, the replacement is immediate, and the Ghost Rider already has full knowledge of his powers and how to use them. He fights at least as well the first time we see him as he does the last time. Blaze eventually gains control, but there’s never a loss of skill at any point along the way. Unfortunately, they didn’t explain this very well, so most of the audience walks away feeling like the origin took a while to get to, and then was rushed through too quickly because there’s nothing to learn except control of the transformations. They should have either spent more time explaining the nature of Zarathos (which would slow the movie down with needless exposition), or reduce the influence Zarathos had, making the fights harder and longer (which is what I would have done.)

      The contract wasn’t in any of the comics I’ve read, but I’ll elaborate on what I meant: The contract is for 1,000 souls. Somehow, this provides Blackheart with enough power to challenge Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles would also gain a significant amount of power from this contract. What confuses me is why a mere 1,000 souls would make such a difference to an immortal like him, particularly since he’s probably accumulated a few million over the centuries. This was never explained in the movie.

      • timnus says:

        Re: power of contract and learning curve

        What confuses me is why a mere 1,000 souls would make such a difference to an immortal like him, particularly since he’s probably accumulated a few million over the centuries. This was never explained in the movie.

        Here’s my theory: All the souls that go to demons are split up between the demons, regardless of quality, on a rotational basis, unless a demon has prior claim to one. The 1000 souls Ghost Rider has to pay are selected by Blackheart, and are of only the finest quality. These souls are then used like cards in a game of war, giving Blackheart a very stacked deck and allowing him to beat Mephistopheles. See? Perfectly plausible.

        ;-)

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