Sunday, February 12, 2012

Striving For Average, Ghost Rider Is More Underwhelming And Predictable Than Actually Bad.

The Good: Decent general story, Most of the special effects/character designs, Acing is fine
The Bad: Utterly predictable, Odd character incongruities, Never quite pops
The Basics: Ghost Rider fails to be superlative in any way, but is not the worst Marvel superhero film ever.

I never had any real interest in watching Ghost Rider. In fact, I recall being very surprised to see it in my wife's DVD collection when we moved in with one another. I probably would not have watched it, save that my wife snagged us sneak preview tickets to the sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance for this week. So, figuring that I ought to go into it prepared, I sat down with her this afternoon and we took in Ghost Rider. It was only after the film began that I realized I had read a graphic novel that had Ghost Rider in it (albeit as a peripheral character), Shadowland: Blood On The Streets (reviewed here!). Considering that Ghost Rider did not remain on his feet very long in the book, I had pretty low expectations for the film.

And Ghost Rider is not terrible. It, like Jonah Hex (reviewed here!) suffers more from being predictable and somewhat uninspired than it does from being actually terrible. In other words, the movie is predictable, relies upon some obvious conceits and simply never pops, as opposed to being genuinely, unrelentingly bad. The elements in the movie never rise above what one might expect from a superhero origin story and the idea that the movie has a character with a somewhat righteous anger never quite lands.

Following an explanation of what the Ghost Riders are - bounty hunters for the devil - young Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stunt rider and all-around daredevil, is tapped by the devil Mephistopheles to be the latest incarnation of Ghost Rider. Johnny is reluctant, but when Mephistopheles offers to cure his father's cancer, Johnny witlessly relents. When his father is killed the same day his cancer is cured, Johnny tries to run away from the devil and from the love of his young life, Roxanne.

Years later, Johnny is in his prime when Mephistopheles comes calling. On the day he is reunited with Roxanne and performs his most dangerous stunt jump of his life, Mephisopheles resurfaces to have Johnny take out a mysterious man, Blackheart. Granted the full fire-wielding powers of the Ghost Rider and riding around as a flaming skeleton on a transformed motorcycle, Ghost Rider goes up against the supernatural Blackheart and his elementally-empowered demons. But Blackheart is a devil himself and when the police, in chasing down Johnny, expose Roxanne to him, the Ghost Rider must find a way to save the world from a demonic apocalypse.

Ghost Rider has many of the elements of a successful and decent superhero story, but nothing rises above the typical. Paired with some utterly unfathomable elements - like a Ghost Rider who outruns the devil on his horse (an act that seems odd when Mephistopheles clearly travels between different planes of reality) - Ghost Rider simmers. While the love story between Johnny and Roxanne has the potential to be integral to the story and characters, it is never presented with enough passion to make it seem as vital as it ends up being. In other words, it is a simple plot point, as opposed to a genuinely strong character aspect.

On the plot front, the movie is predictable. The devil makes a deal with a man, comes to collect and the man is stuck trying to save his soul and outwit the devil. In taking on the powers granted to him by Mephistopheles, Johnny meets a mentor (Caretaker), puts a loved one in peril, and slowly dispatches his enemies. The movie has the pretty typical moments of training or understanding where the protagonist slowly learns his powers and limitations and the film climaxes, like virtually every superhero film, in a big battle sequence. But, again, in Ghost Rider, the elements feel more typical and trite than extraordinary.

Similarly, on the character front, the arcs are predictable. The movie has all of the typical hero elements along with the usual romantic subplot - that is almost vital enough to matter - and the wisecracking sidekick. Again, at no point does the antihero protagonist actually pop. I continued to not actually care if the world of the Ghost Rider did fall to the devil because there was not enough (nor anyone) significant enough to actually care about.

On the acting front, Nicholas Cage does fine as Johnny Blaze, though he is remarkably passionless in his scenes with Eva Mendez. He plays shocked and stupefied opposite her, not actually in love. Similarly, Peter Fonda seems asleep at the wheel as Mephistopheles and Sam Elliott is playing an archetype more than an individual as the Caretaker. Even Wes Bentley gives an understated performance as the villainous Blackheart. And while many of the lines of dialogue are just obvious, guessable (about two minutes before they are delivered) and just bad, the acting is not. The actors do what they can with the material given to them, nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, the special effects are fair. Director and writer Mark Steven Johnson does a fine job with the general look of the movie. The creature designs are good, though the Ghost Rider skull looked much more animated than real. The editing, on the other hand, it atrocious and sucks the movie down a little.

On DVD, Ghost Rider comes with two commentary tracks, two featurettes and previews, none of which reveal just how there was enough enthusiasm in the project to warrant a sequel.

For other movies based upon the Marvel comic books, please check out my reviews of:
Captain America: The First Avenger
X-Men: First Class
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk
Spider-Man 3
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Blade: Trinity


For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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