Continuing our Halloween Cavalcade of Heroes Who Are Monsters, let’s take a look back at 2007’s Ghost Rider. Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the man who earlier brought us Ben Affleck as Daredevil, Ghost Rider tells the story of Johnny Blaze, carnival stunt rider who becomes the Devil’s bounty hunter.
The film opens with the legend of the Ghost Rider, a cowboy who stole a contract from the Devil: a contract for 1000 souls. The legend doesn’t explain exactly why the contract is so important or what would happen if the Devil got hold of it.
Fast forward to about 10 years ago, where young Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) is a motorcycle stunt rider in a carnival show with his father Barton (Brett Cullen, better known to fans of Lost as Goodwin). Johnny’s a good-hearted kid whose looks are only marred by his bad haircut and his penchant for pointing dramatically.
Johnny is in love with Roxanne, but her father is sending her away because he doesn’t think Johnny is good enough for her. According to Roxanne, her father thinks Johnny is “just a face” (okay, she actually says “phase,” but between her accent and what happens to his face later, I like my version better).
But before Johnny and Roxanne can act on their plan to run away together, Johnny learns his dad has cancer and is doomed to die. And that night, he is visited by a mysterious man in black–Mephistopheles, the Devil himself (Peter Fonda).
He gets Johnny to agree to a bargain: in exchange for Johnny’s soul, Mephistopheles will restore his father’s health. Of course, the bargain goes bad. The very day that Barton’s health is restored, he dies in a crash during his act. Johnny runs away from the circus and Roxanne.
Fast forward another ten years. Johnny Blaze (now played by Nicolas Cage) is a super-successful celebrity, the greatest motorcycle stuntman ever. He makes incredible jumps with flawless, uh…
Okay, he kind of sucks. On the other hand, he still does the pointing, like a bad Vegas Elvis impersonation.
And see, most of us, when we age, our faces look mostly the same, but our hairstyle changes with the times. Blaze’s face completely changes, but his hairstyle stays the same, so we know who it is. His assistant Mac, played by Donal Logue, obviously wants desperately to get out of this movie.
It’s a weird performance by Cage. Everything about his performance is mannered and overthought. Blaze avoids the trauma of his past by watching monkeys on TV, listening to the Carpenters, and “drinking” jellybean cocktails. And in pretty much every scene, he just seems lost, like he just got out of bed and is desperately trying to wake up enough to understand what people are saying.
Meanwhile, in the desert, there’s this demon named Blackheart (Wes Bentley), who summons some weird elemental henchmen to help him search for the legendary contract. And here is the second huge problem for the movie, because no matter how much they try to make him look scary by morphing fangs and shit on his face, I just cannot take this guy seriously.
Back to Johnny, where, right before his biggest jump ever, who should come back into his life but Roxanne (Eva Mendes), all grown up, beautiful and graceful and, uh…
Erm. Okay, in this scene, she’s kind of awkward and wearing a shapeless dress that doesn’t complement her figure at all. But in other scenes, she, um… Let’s face it, she’s pretty awful. At least she shows some cleavage.
So she has the world’s most awkward interview with Blaze, who is seriously on drugs or something, because he seems not to realize what a TV camera is or why it’s pointed at him. And then she leaves, and Johnny chases after her, but not before leaping his cycle over 6 helicopters.
Just before the jump, we have possibly the only good character moment in the entire film, when Mac exasperatedly asks Johnny why he wants to jump helicopters. There’s a quick flashback, and then Johnny says, “My dad thought it’d be cool.”
And Mac has to admit that it is cool. And for just a couple of seconds, in this almost two hours of movie, you have what looks like two real guys having an honest moment together. And then the moment passes, and you’re back to having a Nicolas Cage-shaped hole where the main character should be, papered over with weird mannerisms.
So Johnny and Roxanne make a date, which is the devil’s cue to show up before they can meet. Peter Fonda gets the opportunity to make a meta-joke by saying “Nice bike…”
See, Johnny Blaze’s chopper is modeled after the Captain America chopper Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider.
At least it gives Johnny the chance to point dramatically again.
Seriously, this is going to be a major recurring element of the story. I wish I were kidding.
So while Roxanne is getting drunk at a restaurant and playing with her Magic 8-Ball while waiting for Johnny (I wish that were a euphemism), Johnny ends up being transported to a rail yard where Blackheart has started his search. And the initial transformation looks painful and spectacular, but once again, Cage’s performance steps on it because he does this weird ass maniacal laugh midway through.
Finally we have the Ghost Rider in all his flaming skull glory. And yeah, still pointing.
He kills one of Blackheart’s elemental henchmen, and then transforms his motorcycle into a special flaming demon bike.
He then takes out a random thug mugging a girl, so we can see his special power, the Penance Stare, which (like the Crow’s 30 hours of pain trick last week) inflicts the pain of his victims on the aggressor. And leaves his eyeballs all burned and crusty.
By dawn, he finally ends up passed out in front of his father’s grave, in a graveyard run by a mysterious caretaker who knows way too much about Ghost Riders, if you know what I mean.
Sam Elliott is pretty good in the role. Luckily, it’s written in such a way that he really only needs to be Sam Elliott, so he’s got an advantage over the other cast members who have to play real characters.
Johnny goes back home and studies his reference books on the supernatural, which tell him that “the host can gain control of the possessing spirit through concentration on and manipulation of the fire element that exists within man.”
Sounds like new age gobbledy-gook, right? But Johnny merely holds out his hand and says, “I am speaking to the fire element within me. Give me control over the possessing spirit.”
Wow, that was easy. Roxanne shows up and there’s an awkward scene between them with one of the least romantic kisses ever. These two have absolutely no chemistry at all. She leaves, just in time to miss Johnny getting arrested. Because the cops found his license plate in a street full of blown up cars. Pretty flimsy, but then what’s new about that with this movie?
The cops interrogate him, then throw him in jail, where there’s more laughing…
And more pointing…
And then the Ghost Rider escapes the cops by, among other things, driving straight up the side of a building.
He kills the wind elemental demon on the roof, then escapes to the graveyard again where the caretaker tries to convince him to abandon all ties to humans. But he loves Roxanne and won’t leave without saying goodbye. Which of course walks him right into a trap, whereby Blackheart defeats him rather easily–the Penance Stare doesn’t work on him, since he has no soul. Blackheart kidnaps Roxanne and tells Blaze to deliver the contract to the town of San Veganza by the next morning.
Johnny returns to the graveyard, where he learns what we already knew–that the caretaker is actually Carter Slade, the previous Ghost Rider. And then we get the movie’s Supreme Moment of Cool as both Ghost Riders ride out side-by-side to deliver the contract.
Unfortunately, it ends up turning into a Supreme Moment of Stupid as Slade tells Johnny he can’t stay for the fight. Seriously, why ride all this way and then just leave?
Johnny heads into town alone, battling the water dude on the way. As Johnny stumbles out of the water, exhausted and disoriented, his bike is waiting for him and revs at him impatiently. His bike is a dick.
Johnny delivers the contract to Blackheart, who summons all the town’s lost souls to him and becomes the supremely powerful Legion.
But with the help of Roxanne and Slade’s shotgun, Johnny is able to overcome Blackheart. It doesn’t hurt that the infusion of souls renders him vulnerable to the Penance Stare. In the end, Mephistopheles appears again, offering to let Johnny out of his contract (and incidentally take away Johnny’s powers). Johnny refuses… and points.
If I were Roxanne I would be really pissed at Johnny for choosing me last a third time. But who cares? Movie’s over, right? Thank God.