Reviews

Ghost Rider (2007)

Marc Calderaro

This script takes generic archetypes and applies them to specific situations only by the cheapest of character-development techniques.


Ghost Rider

Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes, Matt Long, Sam Elliott, Peter Fonda, Donal Logue
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Pictures
First date: 2007
Website
Trailer

Though it might not seem so at first glance, Ghost Rider is an exceptional comic-book character translation to film. Unlike other comic properties like Watchmen or Sandman, the idea of a Ghost Rider movie is organically plausible. The serial storylines were never able to eclipse the painfully iconic image of a flaming skeleton, dressed in leather, riding a motorcycle – which is actually good for filmmakers. Not having to live up to a Dark Knight Returns or a “Phoenix Saga” means that fewer comic fans anticipate the plot and direction of the film, giving screenwriters more freedom with the character and story.

Mark Steven Johnson’s second comic adaptation (Daredevil being the first) takes great liberties with the Ghost Rider premise, but is able to compose a coherent film without betraying the central story: a naïve, young stunt-cyclist, Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage), sells his soul to the devil. Since this unholy pact, Blaze becomes a man so afraid of Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) calling on him, that he barely skirts death with each new Knievel stunt, and gorges himself on jellybeans and the Carpenters (alcohol and hard music would just bait the devil more). And when Mephistopheles’ son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), decides to usurp his father and claim Hell as his own, Blaze is called upon to become the devil’s bounty hunter, the film’s titular hero. But sadly, sometimes the audience will ask for more than a just cogent plot.

When released in theaters, Ghost Rider didn’t fare too well with critics, and the Uwe-Boll-esque critical backlash is widely known. So well known, in fact, it garnered a few minutes of response from Johnson on the DVD’s commentary track:

Sometimes you gotta say “Fuck the critics,” and “Fuck all the haters,” … It’s entertainment … It’s about fun, and sometimes critics forget that … I don’t see Helen Mirren’s name in the credits … It’s a movie about a guy whose head goes on fire and rides a hellcycle … You can’t make films for critics; you kill yourself. I purposefully made this movie pop art…

In many ways, what Johnson says is true: the wall between “high art” and “low art” is not easily broken down. And just because a film aims for substance doesn’t mean it’s inherently better / worse or more / less entertaining than a non-significant one. However, Johnson’s logic breaks down because he doesn’t take into account that critics understand this filmmaker’s quandary. Believe or not, the majority of the critical world sees that holding “entertainment-based” films like Kickin’ It Old Skool to the same standards as, for example, this past year’s critical darling, Pan’s Labyrinth. This is terribly unfair and unenlightened. Blindly assaulting a film for any idea that reinforces the pedestal of value is presumptuous, elitist, and egocentric. Case in point, Ebert & Roeper have seemingly changed their iconic thumb-scale recently as Jackass 2 was given two thumbs up – not because of the “quality” of the film, but more because the film is exactly what it advertises (Roeper’s homoerotic-documentary slant notwithstanding). Although here and there, a critic will unapologetically bash a “lighter” film, for the most part, we are understanding, fun-loving, head-goes-on-fire-enjoying people.

It is with this contextualized, critical eye that I can say, loudly and proudly: Ghost Rider is awful. It’s not because of a deficiency of substance or a hatred of fun. Pulp Fiction is pop-art obsessed and Jaws is merely about a shark that rips people in half, but neither of these excuses negate their critical success. Ghost Rider, on the other hand, is yet-another studio attempt at meaningless drivel, and according to the box office reports ($116 million domestically), it was a successful one.

The script is the worst kind of pander. It takes generic archetypes and applies them to specific situations only by the cheapest of character-development techniques. At one point, Blaze reads aloud from a book about spiritual possession, “The host can gain control of the possessing spirit through concentration on, and manipulation of, the fire element that exists within man.” He then stands up and says, “I am speaking to the fire element in me; give me control over the possessing spirit." That isn’t entertaining; it’s patronizing.

Additionally, the fight sequences are brief and lackluster. A film like this can forgive a shoddy script, but can’t forgive boring action. All of Ghost Rider’s encounters with the four villains in the film last no more than two punches. In the commentary, Johnson admits the reason, citing “every shot of Ghost Rider is a special effects shot,” so there can only be so many shots of him in the film. Shouldn’t that kind of thing be built into the budget? Maybe we’ve been spoiled by the recent high-budgeted comic-book films, but if your lead character is 50 percent CGI, that’s going to seriously affect your funds-allocation – and that’s something that can’t be compromised if you want to make a successful film.

Though Sam Elliott, Nicholas Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes and a wonderful Donal Logue all try to hold this shipwreck above water, the irreparable hull breach is in the lack of jollification. Entertainment should be abounding, not sparse. Johnson’s script confuses the director’s own coolness with the audience’s fun – a fatal error. Yes, the Ghost Rider transformation scene looks great, but once he’s transformed, he does little more than quip.

There are times when we critics are too stern. We can forget the big picture and let the little guy have it for no reason other than self-satisfaction. This is not one of those times. The movie’s just no good.

4
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.