Film review: Be prepared for superhero sideshow with ‘Ghost Rider’
Special to the Daily
Summit County, CO Colorado
When comic book sequences are made into movies these days, thankfully there are no action bubbles reading “POW!” “ZAP!” “BLAM!” There are, however, human actors who transform into ridiculous flaming skeletons. Silly as it is to a viewer who not only doesn’t appreciate but knows nothing of the Marvel Comics character on which it was based, “Ghost Rider” was still somewhat interesting. The uninformed theater visitor should still know what she’s getting herself into.
This movie is about a teenage motorcycle rider/carnival stuntman who sells his soul to the devil and in later years mysteriously takes on superpowers that allow him to morph into a crime-fighting badass with a flaming skull instead of a face. He rides a sinister-looking bike that leaves fiery trenches wherever it goes and can drive up the sides of buildings. Oh, and his name is Johnny Blaze.
At first, the story unfolds like a sappy after-school special. Blaze is the single child of a small-town motorcycle man (Brett Cullen). Father and son star in a popular carnie sideshow, simultaneously leaping through rings of fire. The young Blaze has a girlfriend, Roxy, with whom he agrees to run away after a romantic picnic in a flowery meadow that culminates in Blaze etching their initials into a tree.
Young love disseminates when evil circumstances propagate the elder Blaze’s death, Mephistopheles’ (Peter Fonda) ownership of Johnny’s soul and sad separation of the lovebirds.
Fonda is a perfect dark lord in his trench coat and glowing red eyes. He has competition though. His son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) wants his father’s contract of stolen souls and is prepared to challenge him for it along with his antagonist friends ” a werewolf-looking guy who can turn into air and another drippy Trent Reznor doppelganger who can turn into water ” all of whom, of course, speak in a throaty growl.
Blaze, older now and very skillfully rendered by Nicolas Cage, is forever guilt-ridden about his father’s death and lacks a real will to live. He thus goes on to become a first-rate (among mullet-bearing fans) stadium stuntman who can jump his motorcycle over helicopters and football fields. Oddly, even when he crashes, he’s never seriously injured.
Blaze again crosses paths with his long-lost love (Eva Mendes), who has become a news broadcaster. Their reunion is somewhat complicated, however, by Roxy’s lingering heartache at being left in the rain the day they were meant to run away together as teens, and er ” by Blaze’s second identity as the flaming skull.
Consensus among online comic geeks is that “Ghost Rider” and its story line hold true to the one-dimensional print namesake. Although he’s not as popular or cuddly as the likes of Batman or Spiderman, “Ghost Rider” has been blowing up the box office. While those widely recognized superheroes have somewhat grotesque origins involving diseased rodents and insects, Ghost Rider’s special powers aren’t as uniquely derived. But on paper, a flaming skull has a sort of cool simplicity compared to an overgrown bat or spider.
Despite what you may hear or read, the acting is quite good. Blaze’s character is intriguing, and Cage does an excellent job performing his idiosyncrasies; ie, endlessly perusing literature on goblins and drinking jelly beans out of martini glasses. Sam Elliot, who plays a mysterious gravedigger and friend to Ghost Rider, also does a fine job. The real drama though, was flawlessly executed by the flaming skull. That guy deserves an Oscar.
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