Crash and Burn

Comic book films have been huge as of late, and Mark Paul Steven kicks off 2007’s comic releases with “Ghost Rider.” This is Johnson’s second directing stint in the Marvel universe, and just like he did with “Daredevil” in 2003, he wastes yet another Marvel character.

“Ghost Rider” exposes the story of Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a stunt biker who performs in carnivals with his father. In love, and strong headed about his abilities, Johnny takes a major blow in finding out about his father’s cancer from smoking. Slightly unstable, he’s quickly coaxed into making a deal with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), in which he sells his soul to save his father. After his father dies in a crash, Blaze leaves behind his true love Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes) along with everything else, becoming a huge stunt biker success.

Flashing forward about 10 years or so, Blaze is reunited with Roxanne, but also with Mephisto. Under Mephisto’s control, Blaze’s alter ego of the Ghost Rider is brought out from within, and he must fight Blackheart (Wes Bently) and The Hidden from creating Hell on Earth, while also protecting his love.

The plot itself is decent enough, despite being heavily changed from the original Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider story (in which he sells his soul to save his stepfather, Crash Simpson). However, like most other comic book based films, “Ghost Rider” falls victim to a comic movie’s most feared foe: the cheese factor.

Everything in the film seems a little awkward. Mephisto, Marvel’s version of Satan, is more of a creepy old man than anything else. Blackheart is much worse. He is like a stereotypical pale kid wearing all black who thinks he is a lot tougher and cooler than he actually is (his cohorts, The Hidden, do not deserve to be talked about).

Cage’s performance is decent, but the character is socially awkward, from the wannabe cocky attitude to the obsessions with television, The Carpenters, and “drinking” jelly beans. Also, there is this whole pointing thing that he does that leaves you wondering why he needs a four-second pointing build up before he says something. Unfortunately, all that can really be said about Roxanne is that Johnson should be grateful he landed Eva Mendes in that role.

It is very possible all of that could have been avoided with a much better script and half-way decent dialogue. The themes of redemption and second chances, along with the “you can’t live in fear” aspect, all fall flat. Johnson really flat-lined with the dialogue, though: “You’re going down.” “I’m going to use this curse against you.” That is all that really needs to be said.

Visually, the movie is pretty good. The Rider suffers a bit, because his skull seems to be floating too much, but his overall movement is well done. The Hell-Cycle is hands down the best part of the movie, along with the Rider’s powers. The Penance Stare shows the guilty party the sins they have committed in their life and puts that pain into them. It is actually very cool.

By the end of “Ghost Rider,” it will become very apparent why it is not exactly on the top of Marvel’s most famous list. From a visual standpoint, the Rider is one of the greats, but this film goes to show: 1) he can not be adapted very well into a film, and 2) Mark Steven Johnson should stay away from Marvel characters. On the whole, it feels like a low-level western horror movie. Even Johnny Blaze would not be able to survive the crash and burn of “Ghost Rider.”