Ghost Rider opens with a gravelly voiced narrator (the always wonderful Sam Elliott) offering some back-story to the Ghost Rider legend, and suggesting that sometimes legends are true. Johnny Blaze (played by Matt Long as a young man) is the son of a daredevil stunt rider named Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen). Johnny performs motorcycle stunts along with his dad in a small time circus. When his dad appears to be succumbing to cancer, Johnny makes a pact with the devilor perhaps just a devilish alter ego here referred to as Mephistopheles (a slyly cast former
Easy Rider , Peter Fonda)to save his dad. But as with most satanic deals, theres a catchand a trick. The catch is that Johnny owes his soul to the devil who can come calling to collect anytime he wants. And the trick is that the devil has no intentions of actually keeping Johnnys dad alive. Johnny copes with the tragedy of his father's death by heading off on his own and attempting stunts that are increasingly dangerous. Each time he defies death, he tries to convince himself its because hes a talented stuntman and not because the devils keeping him alive.
Nicolas Cage and Sam Elliott in Ghost Rider
But when Mephistopheles comes calling late one night, Johnny (Nicolas Cage) realizes that he cant escape his fate. Hes told that he will now be the devils bounty hunter. During the day he will be normal but at night and in the presence of evil, he will turn into Ghost Rider, a super powered biker with a flaming skull and a super cool chopper that comes when he whistles. With his pennant stare he can force evildoers to look into their own souls and make them suffer the torments of their victims. He's also helped by such weapons as fire chain, Hellfire Shotgun, and, of course, his Hellcycle.
At the moment, Mephistopheles is concerned with a troublesome young upstart named Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who wants to take over earth. Mephistopheles wants Johnny to dispense with Blackheart and his trio of elemental demons. But as Johnny fights these demons, he develops a rebelliousness that prompts a showdown with Mephistopheles. Along the way he meets up with an old flame (Eva Mendes) and a grizzled old-timer (Sam Elliott) who knows more than he lets on about pacts with the devil.
Mark Steven Johnson comes to Ghost Rider after the humiliating and humbling experience of directing Daredevil . Johnson, who also attended the Ghost Rider panel at Comic-Con, had to deal with even more skepticism that Cage, all because of the fiasco of Daredevil . He had to face a number of fans who simply said: Mark, Daredevil , what the f---? His candid answer was that yes things went wrong with Daredevil (mostly having to do with cuts the studio supposedly demanded) but Ghost Rider would be different. Fittingly, Ghost Rider is all about second chances and thats what Johnson has received, a second chance from Marvel to tackle a comic book and do it right. The resulting film doesnt have the heart and soul of Marvels Spider-Man nor the muscled oomph of Marvels Blade , but its an entertaining popcorn movie that benefits from some stellar casting.
Cage has fun as Blaze/Ghost Rider. Hes not as over the top as hes been in films such as Wild at Heart , but hes got the right blend of sincerity, goofiness and intensity to make the character entertaining. Eva Mendes looks great as the romantic interest Roxanne and seems game for the twists and turns of the plot, but she's nothing special. Peter Fonda (who could have played a little more off of his connection to Easy Rider ) slithers as the slippery Mephistopheles and Sam Elliott makes a sage mentor for Blaze. Wes Bentley is adequate as the evil Blackheart but he doesnt bring much venom to the role or delight in his wickedness.
The effects are mostly impressive as Ghost Rider flames up and rides his Hellcycle up and down skyscrapers. Ghost Riders flaming skull and fire chain are nicely rendered and integrated into the film. But the trio of elemental demons never get to strut their stuff and end up being rather lame combatants. The end battle involving Ghost Rider, Blackheart and Mephistopheles needs to be cranked up a few notches in order to really be called a climax. One annoyance is the amount of destruction Ghost Rider causes to the city and violence to the cops that are just doing their job. He seems to create more chaos for the city and its law-abiding citizens than for the bad guys.
Ghost Rider (Rated PG-13 for action violence) is by no means a remarkable film but its an entertaining one. It's not a comic that I ever read as a kid but the film apparently draws on early material but tweaks the storyline to combine characters and streamline information.
Companion viewing: Spider-Man, Blade, Wild at Heart, Easy Rider, Lifeguard (for a young Sam Elliott)