Published on March 3rd, 2007 | by Mike Barnard0
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Sam Elliott
The pairing of hot and cold action star Nicolas Cage with the questionable talents of comic book adaptation specialist Mark Steven Johnson was always going to be a ride into the unknown, but their efforts go badly off course in a shallow adventure. This effects-filled attempt at a franchise starter sees Cage as Johnny Blaze – a death-defying motorbike rider who by night transforms into a flaming motorbike rider and bounty hunter to the devil, Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda). With a burning skull for a head, he’s on a mission to stop a group of fallen angels led by Mephistopheles’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) from unleashing hell on Earth.
For the obligatory origin section, we first meet young Johnny as part of a stunt double act with his cancer-suffering father Barton Blaze and in the perfect relationship with beautiful girlfriend Roxanne (Eva Mendes). When Mephistopheles shows up offering to cure Barton in return for Johnny’s soul, everything is rosy…for five minutes. The very next day Barton dies after crashing during a stunt and Johnny flees from his girlfriend to await his calling to become Mephistopheles’ henchman. Flashforward to a fully-grown and world-weary Blaze defying death at every turn, amazing everyone but himself: he is too used to surviving gruesome crashes as he is being kept alive for a more enviable task. When Blackheart and his rabble turn up, Mephistopheles enforces the terms of his contract to turn Blaze into the Ghost Rider. Armed with a motorbike, chain and lots of fire to defeat the foes it is goodbye Cage, hello CGI superhero number 53.
Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil and Elektra movies (both of which he wrote, and the former he also directed) were low on intelligence and high on laboured action, and this is no different. Cage sleepwalks through his role as Blaze, mostly looking like he only got up a second before shooting each scene. As the Ghost Rider, computer effects take over from any acting ability and it is in these moments that you realise how much fun this film could have been. Riding through the streets and up skyscrapers he obliterates roads, cars and everything else with gloriously over-the-top pyrotechnics spurting out in all directions. Yet, when he faces off against each opponent, they are defeated in a matter of seconds. There are no lengthy battles, just a disappointing swirl of his chain for each. Away from all this, Bentley, Fonda and Mendes struggle with clunky dialogue that is only there to forward the story as quickly as possible; Sam Elliott’s wise caretaker who guides Blaze is as corny as can be.
The dark depths of Batman Begins, the teenage strife of the two Spider-man films and a very personal Superman Returns all proved that comic book movies do not have to be dumbed down because they are heavy on action set pieces. Ghost Rider bearly leaves a skidmark on the road of emotions as it speeds through a series of daft sequences that might sell a few toys, but will not be signposted as great cinematic eye candy. Questions such as how a superhero made of flames can delve to the bottom of a river, survive and then drive a motorbike on the surface give a sense of how stupid it all is. After the awful remake of The Wicker Man and now this, Cage needs to produce something special next to make up for crimes against cinema. Please, let us hope it’s not a Ghost Rider sequel.
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