It Burns! (Ghost Rider, 2007)
Nick Cage huh? Well, that seems like a marginally less odd choice than playing Superman. Tim Burton tried to make that happen. Do you also remember a time when Cage was a highly praised actor from quirky Cohen Brothers films? If not, you probably were born after Michael Bay’s seminal the Rock. That is the film that altered the trajectory of Nick’s career that careened out of control resulting in…
Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider is both a supremely odd and obvious choice and for a film. As any thirteen year old boy can tell you…drawing a biker with a flaming skull for a head is really cool. On the other hand…live action could render such an image rather…goofy. The end result though is that, for Nick Cage’s career? This was a major step up from the Wicker Man remake.
Written and directed by the man who brought us Daredevil four years earlier, the film opens with young Johnny Blaze (who looks nothing like Nick Cage), a circus stunt performer. He discovers his father has cancer. To save his father, he makes a deal with Wyatt from Easy Rider (Peter Fonda) who is actually the devil. His father is miraculously cured of cancer-only to die the next day in a fiery motorcycle crash. That wily devil. At this point, the nature of Blaze’s end of the deal is not quite known. He meets with his one true love Roxanne Simpson (the younger version played by Raquel Alessi, who actually looks like she could grow up to be Eva Mendez) and tells her he must leave.
Blaze becomes a famous traveling stunt cyclist, Evil Keneivel style. Which as apt, because I am pretty sure, motorcycle stunt daredevils have not been in fashion since the 1970s…when, you know…Ghost Rider was created. Anyways, he rides in a big tour bus with his crew which includes Marvel Movie Veteran Donal Logue (Blade). I like Donal…this is a good sign.
Johnny is tormented by an alter ego nobody else is aware of, so they think he is just kind of going crazy. But when he feels the presence of Evil, he bursts into flames and gets a bad-ass motorcycle. His superpowers include tentacle like chains, a fiery skull head and the Penance Stare. Basically, he looks deep in your soul and if your soul is bad? You are tormented with the emotions of your victims or something. And your eyes turn to stone. Or something.
Meanwhile, Blackheart-the Son of Satan, y’all- comes to our plane of reality with a few elemental themed demons (as in earth, water and air). They start killing bikers, cuz that is what demons do. But Blackheart has a plan, he wants to upset the throne of hell and rule the world. The devil is not keen on this, so he calls on the Ghost Rider-who it turns out is actually the Devil’s Bounty Hunter… DUM DUM DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!!!!!
Roxanne shows up in a tight dress to wow Johnny as she is now a reporter. They share the typical “I have not seen you for years!” stare. Johnny, tortured as he is, causes all the warm and fuzzy feelings to return to Roxanne.
Johnny gets into a fight with Blackheart’s demon thugs, and then causes all sorts of havok downtown, riding his motorcycle up the side of buildings and such. This is, admittedly a pretty awesome sequence. Roxanne, intrepid reporter realizes the Ghost Rider is Johnny Blaze. Meanwhile, Blaze seeks out sacred soil-a cemetery. There he meets another Marvel Movie Veteran-Sam Elliot (last seen in Ang Lee’s the Hulk). He is the mysterious caretaker who seems to know a whole lot about Johnny’s curse. This is beautiful stunt casting.
He reveals the specifics of Blackheart’s plan and provides an important artifact that both the devil and Blackheart need or want. They ride off together, and we discover Sam was also a Ghost Rider. Johnny finds out that Blackheart has kidnapped Roxanne (dammit…this is why you don’t fall in love, people!). He finds an old city in Mexico that apparently holds the worst souls-because this was the most evil town in the world or some other. After dispatching of the henchmen, Johnny finds that Blackheart is absorbing the souls into himself(?). Johnny needs to stop him by sunrise. Johnny realizes that he has the ability to beat Blackheart now, since Blackheart finally has a soul. He performs the Penance Stare and destroys Blackheart. The Devil shows up and Johnny declares he will use his curse to fight the devil, he will own his curse. The devil gets mad and Johnny rides away.
As previously noted, this was directed by the same guy who directed Daredevil, Ghost Rider’s biggest setback is…well…it does not feel nearly as crazy as it should. You have a guy in black leather, chains and has a flaming skull for a noggin. That just screams for insane and crazy action. Own the goofy stuff, don’t be so serious. And there are moments that seem to reach for the brass ring, like the Ghost Rider speeding up the side of a tall building.
And it wastes some good talent in dull by the book roles. Logue’s Mack is a typical “concerned friend” whose real duty is to be tragically killed by the villain. Mendez’s Roxanne lacks much personality (and I suspect -along with Mendez herself-she was chosen as much for her comic book babe proportions as anything else). The script presents a character who is like a blander Lois Lane. In spite of a great casting choice, Elliot is given a thankless task. He is nothing more than the needed exposition mystery man.
Really, Peter Fonda seems to be the only one having any fun. And what a great choice to play the devil. And that is where the film really falls short. It is simply is not much fun. It stars Nick Cage, and has every opportunity to let him cut loose…and they don’t.
I think it is worth noting that this came out around Valentines weekend…like Daredevil, it was promoted as a date movie. Like Daredevil, it was not really that romantic. When it comes down to it, Ghost Rider is guilty of one of the worst sins of a comic book movie. It holds back and keeps it’s heroes and villains tamed.