Review by Mark Wiechman
Stars: Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Matt Long, Raquel Alessi,
Peter Fonda, Sam Elliot
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Audio: English 5.1 DTS, English and French 5.1, English/French Spanish subtitles
Video: Color Anamorphic widescreen 2.40.1
Features: See Review
Length: Two discs, movie is 123 minutes
Release date: June 12, 2007
“I am the only one who can walk in both worlds. I am Ghost Rider.”
Many of us like to reminisce about how cool it was to be a kid, and when I look back I have three especially fond memories: playing in the snow, getting my first electric bass, and collecting comic books. I was particularly fond of the lesser known Marvel Comic heroes such as Iron Man, Daredevil, and the Ghost Rider. While the Spider-Man films have exceeded my expectations, I have been especially proud of how well Daredevil and X-Men turned out since there was a less developed mythos from which to draw story ideas. I feared that Marvel would not put the same effort into each one, much like a music label pushing some acts and hoping the others just catch the wave.
Ghost Rider as a comic book hero is clearly a product of the muscle car, mystical, motorcycle era in which the comic started. Johnson also was in charge of the Daredevil movie, which was not brilliant but very good as is this film.
The story is simple: a young cyclist Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) sells his soul to the Devil in turn for curing his father of cancer, then goes on to become a poplar daredevil who survives harrowing crashes on his bike. He knows it is probably because the devil wants him to live long enough to be of use to him, and sure enough, one day he asks him to destroy his own son, who has grown too powerful. In return, he will release his soul. Watching him transform into the Ghost Rider at last is a marvel of special effects. He receives amazing powers including shooting hellfire at people and the fiery skull while doing supernatural stunts on his bike. Most interestingly, he makes criminals see the consequences of what they have done by looking into his eyes with the Penance Stare, thus giving them a fate even worse than death.
As I mentioned in my World Trade Center review, I am not the biggest Nicholas Cage fan but he has turned in many excellent performances and my opinion of him grows. Interestingly, this was supposedly a vehicle for Johnny Depp, but I can’t picture him in it at all. While he is more charismatic than Cage, I am not sure he could have done the tongue in cheek moments as well as Cage did.
One hilarious aspect of the character is that he listens to the Carpenters and eats candy constantly, while the rowdy crowd at the shows listens to metal of course. The film is definitely not on the level of some of other Marvel productions but is straightforward enough to be entertaining and overcome some of the lack of originality. There are just so many other films about demonic possession, but then this dude has a much cooler bike. Cage strangely makes such an odd character pretty believable. I have reviewed many movies which, whether good or mediocre, seemed to go on forever, but this one is well-paced and I enjoyed every minute of it. It gets more and more interesting as it goes on and overcomes some of the limitations of the source.
Eva Mendes as our heroine….can I get an Amen? A dark and lovely girl for our dark and flammable hero? Peter Fonda as Satan? How’s that for the past catching up with you? Satan’s presence is so dark that the wind changes direction and beer freezes in the bottle. Sam Elliot plays the Caretaker, a gravedigger who seems to know everything about him and past Riders. As always Elliot adds guts and realism, and the whole film has something of a western feel to it. Mendes is strangely uninteresting, obviously sexy but she’s just reading lines most of the time, her news reporter character just not very interesting. Toward the end she finally seems awake but there is some missing potential. The villains are supposed to be escaped demons from hell, but they only seemed like thugs with good CGI. On the other hand Fonda is wonderfully subdued and believable.
No problems I can see. Colors are full, CGI merges seamlessly with other footage. While no cinematography awards will be given, it is still very well done. Watching him ride down the skyscraper and even ride his bike on water is wild. I need a widescreen, HD-TV now for sure.
The soundtrack is sparse but well mixed, dialogue clear throughout. The rear channels are only used sparingly but effectively, especially when the rock music plays and the motorcycles roar.
Plenty of features to keep you occupied all summer! Disc One includes the longer version of the film. The new footage is mostly between young Johnny and his father, which are excellent to include and only minimally slow the pacing down. There are two commentaries, one with Producer Gary Foster and a second with Writer/Director Mark Steven and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack. They are both excellent and reveal plenty of important information about the whole movie and how this release is different from the theatrical release.
Disc Two includes three “Making of” documentaries: “Spirit of Vengeance,” “Spirit of Adventure,” and “Spirit of Execution.” There is also a rare history of the character upon which the film is based, “Sin & Salvation: Featurettes Chronicling 40 years of Ghost Rider Comic Book History.” These are all far ore engrossing than I expected, almost better than the film! An “Animatics” special rounds out the second disc, which is just a playing of the primitive early digital outlines for the film with heavy metal in the background and is not too valuable.
No, it’s not fantastic, slightly less time and money went into it than some other Marvel films, but it is fascinating to see a demon do such much good, much like other Marvel heroes who fight their own demons. It is a superior film using a second tier hero. Remember his motto: “You can’t live in fear.” Good advice from a supernatural hero.