The Marvel Movies: Ghost Rider (2007)
Nicolas Cage was bound and determined to be a superhero.
In his ill-fated, post-”Batman” haze, Tim Burton tapped Cage to play Superman in a proposed mid-’90s reboot of the franchise. Thankfully, everyone from Kevin Smith (who wrote several drafts of the script) to Burton to producer Jon Peters (who at one point wanted Superman to have a gay robot sidekick, not fly or have a cape, and fight a giant spider at the end) thought better of it, and the project was shelved.
Fast-forward a decade or so, when director Mark Steven Johnson, in the wake of his middling success with the Ben Affleck “Daredevil” movie, was tapped to direct the adaptation of “Ghost Rider,” a biker avenger whose head is a flaming skull. So who took the lead role? That’s right, Cage, who was so giddy at the opportunity to play a hero that he apparently forgot to read the script (or perhaps was too busy fighting off creditors to do so).
Anyway, “Ghost Rider” is one of the darker Marvel heroes — a strange, Gothic creature who sells his soul to the devil but has second thoughts later and rebels against him. A dark, depressing, fully fantasy film seemed to be in order.
But what we got was kissy-face between Johnny Blaze (the Rider’s subtly named alter ego) and Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes), silly jokes, faux witty banter and a general lightheartedness that does neither the character nor the film any favors.
The filmmakers couldn’t seem to take the material seriously, with Ghost Rider calling baddies “dirtbag.” Plus, in between turns as the hero who says things like, “Your soul is stained with the blood of innocents,” Cage plays Blaze with a ho-hum detachment — a laid-back celebrity too cool to sweat the weight of his own fame, much less someone worried about ideas like justice and cruelty.
And of course we get the film’s signature joke, where he notes after his first trip that he “feels like [his] skull is on fire,” is called “bonehead” by Sam Elliott, who plays a sort of elder Ghost Rider (don’t ask), and, in one particularly embarrassing scene, Blaze emerges from the shower and, apparently trying to recreate his transformation, clacks his teeth and makes faces to the mirror.
Then there’s the villain, Blackheart, who in the comics is a giant, hulking entity who looks fearsome and is merciless; in the film he’s played by Wes Bentley, best known as the simpering emo boy that Thora Birch falls for in “American Beauty.”
The action scenes move seemingly in slow motion, with only the most obvious of beats — including one in the county jail that seems better suited for “The Incredible Hulk” than “Ghost Rider” where a gang of jailed fans of Blaze’s attack him … because he crashed at the county fair.
“Ghost Rider” was focused more on being a cutesy romantic comedy than an action film or an exploration of the dark recesses of the human soul. It manages to be neither romantic, funny, exciting, or engaging, but merely an exercise in rank futility — one of the least-super superheroes around.
Next time: Spidey takes a dark turn…well, kind of.
Previous Marvel Movie Entries
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade II (2002)
X2: X-Men United (2003)
The Punisher (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Blade Trinity (2004)
Fantastic Four (2005)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)