Marvel Movie Madness! Part 15: Ghost Rider

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Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.


Part 15: Ghost Rider (2007, 27% @ 131 reviews)
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, starring Nicolas Cage, Wes Bentley, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliot

Ryan: Over my lifetime, my feelings on Nic Cage have gone from apathy to distaste to befuddlement to acceptance and, finally, amusement. Nowadays, I tend to enjoy the way he throws himself into every role, primarily because I get a kick out of his wild antics and hilarious facial expressions. With that in mind, I was actually prepared to give Ghost Rider the benefit of the doubt; I kind of wanted to like it, and was half expecting that I would.

Unfortunately, despite the abundance of Nic Cage freakouts, some surprisingly effective (at times) CGI, and the unexpected presence of Sam Elliott, the film is simply plagued by too many little issues to earn even a begrudging seal of approval from me. The three things I had the most trouble accepting? 1) Ghost Rider suffers from tonal schizophrenia, melding silly gags (a motorcycle that comes when you whistle for it) with demonic imagery a bit too intense for younger audiences; 2) Wes Bentley, while certainly creepy, is not menacing at all, and he thus makes for a poor central villain; and 3) little details go unexplained, resulting in either confusion or too great a suspension of disbelief (how exactly does one "outrun the devil," and why is it apparently so damn easy to do?). But let me emphasize again that those are just three of the problems; there's lots to talk about here.


Jeff: There's a certain cheese factor built into every superhero movie -- what looks awesome on the page doesn't automatically translate well on screen, and that includes dudes in costumes battling it out while the fate of the world/universe hangs in the balance. There are two main ways of dealing with this: you either treat these struggles as one part of an otherwise ordinary framework, and ask your audience to suspend disbelief as little as possible, or you embrace the campy humor of it all.

Ghost Rider chose the latter option (most of the time, anyway), and it sort of undermines the entire movie's reason to exist. In the comics, Ghost Rider isn't cheesy at all -- in the '70s and '80s, when I read the books, he might have been the most badass Marvel hero of them all. But on the screen...well, he's a flaming CG skeleton in a biker jacket. It's hard to pull off with a straight face, so Ghost Rider doesn't even try.

This is a shame for a lot of reasons, chief among them the presence of Nicolas Cage, one of the few actors who really seems nuts enough to go Method as a messenger of Hell. Cage is trying here, and although his decision to make Johnny Blaze a quirky guy doesn't always pay off, he's far from the worst thing about the movie. Ghost Rider is the type of film where the devil shows up with thunder, lightning, and a skull on the handle of his cane, and where a renegade demon wanders into a biker bar (helpfully named "Saloon") and is stopped by a biker named Killer who growls, "Angels only." Without getting overly precious about a comic book character, this is a needlessly silly film that wavers between disrespectful and outright hostile to its protagonist's mythology. The only way to enjoy it is with a heavy dose of irony -- and that's only if you don't care about Ghost Rider at all.

Ryan: You know, Jeff, when I heard they'd cast Nic Cage in the role, I did wonder exactly what kind of movie it was going to be, because, like you mentioned, I had always remembered Ghost Rider to be a pretty no-nonsense kind of character. Casting Cage sort of automatically undermines that. And what was with the strange finger-pointing thing he did throughout the movie? Was that a reference to some signature pose of his in the comics that I'm not aware of? If so, it might have worked on the page, but on screen it came off looking rather goofy.


Tim: You know, I've never been a big fan of the auteur theory -- given the number of people involved in the making of a movie, it seems reductionist to say that any film is the product of an individual's singular vision (apologies to Andrew Sarris for my simplistic description). However, watching Ghost Rider forced me to consider another possibility: what if an actor, by sheer force of personality, puts his stamp on a film so thoroughly that virtually every other element is consigned to the background? Ghost Rider may not be much of a comic book movie, but as an unintentional argument for Cage's auteurism, it's priceless.

Remember when Magic Johnson said, "There will never, ever be another Larry Bird?" There will never, ever be another Nicolas Cage. What other actor could possibly deliver the following lines of dialogue like he means it?

"Mack, you touch the Carpenters or that chimp video again and we got a scrap on our hands."

"Thanks for the info. I feel much better knowing I'm the devil's bounty hunter."

"You're both good cops. And you provide a very, very important civil service. In fact, when I finish my stunt career, I intend to apply my skills to being a motorcycle policeman."

The answer, in short, is no one. In her outstanding essay, "The Heat-Seeking Panther," Slate critic Dana Stevens wrote, "When Cage takes on these outsize B-movie roles, I don't believe for a moment that he is just nodding wearily to his agent (and his accountant). I think he's fulfilling a vision, albeit one that looks inscrutable from the outside, of choosing roles in the kind of movies he himself loves." When Cage is howling maniacally while his skin burns, or drinking cup after cup of water and tossing each on the floor (in a church, no less), or writhing on the ground at his father's gravesite, he displays such insane commitment to his performance that your first instinct is to chuckle, and your second is to shake your head in slack jawed appreciation.

I know we're supposed to be talking about Ghost Rider, but I can't muster enough enthusiasm for the movie to take our task seriously. If this was made in the 1970s by Roger Corman as a low-rent knockoff of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia or something, I would have liked it a lot better. It's most interesting as a tale of a cocksure stuntman, the sweet gal who loves him, and a deal with the devil. It wouldn't be the Ghost Rider of the comics, but it might be a better movie. Good for us that it is what it is, since we get to see Nicolas Cage do his thing. God love him.

Jeff: I agree with you, Tim -- that's kind of what I was getting at with the last sentence of my writeup. This is the only way to enjoy the movie: as glorious schlock, untethered from the source material. But if it doesn't work as a Ghost Rider movie, then why involve the character at all? Why not just make a movie about Nicolas Cage as a guy who's tormented by the devil and bursts into flame against his will?

One reason and one reason only: Because the Ghost Rider brand has built-in commercial value. Every franchise is built to make money, but I felt like Ghost Rider was more flippant about it than most. All of Cage's insanity isn't enough to keep the movie from ringing hollow.

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Comments

King Crunk

King Crunk

This is an amazingly bad movie. The action scenes are jaw droppingly uninvolving. I'd definitely put this in the top five, probably even top three worst superhero movies.

Jun 10 - 11:47 AM

Brian R.

Brian Rokosz

see Drive Angry instead...pretty much the same movie if you sub a motorcycle for a 70's muscle car and a flaming skull for beer being drank out of one....and the crappy shotgun/chain whip with a normal gun and the godkiller.....oh and drive angry is more fun. William Fitchner kicks Wes Bently's ass.

Jun 10 - 11:47 AM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Drive Angry was god-awful.

Jun 10 - 01:35 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

True, but it added just enough nudity to make itself watchable . . . . a PG13 superhero movie on the other hand . . . . . .

Jun 10 - 05:47 PM

iakobos

J Taylor

I remember this movie having serious tonal problems because on the one hand the subject material should be horror but Cage can't help but be campy. And the two don't mesh together in this movie. I agree that Cage completely threw himself into the part but it didn't work right for me. However, for a night at the theater back when it came out I enjoyed it but haven't revisited it since then.

Jun 10 - 11:58 AM

Noah James

Noah Kinsey

I just felt like this movie couldn't find the balance between being a serious film - about how to take a life sentence of damnation and instead choose to rebel against it - or a campy romp. The reason it couldn't master the balance? Because you can't combine the two effectively - ESPECIALLY if the third factor of it having a comic book franchise gets thrown in there.

You know, I used to HATE Cage. But as I matured, I realized that he's the male version of Jodie Foster - an amazing actor who chooses bad movies (except Face/Off for him, Lambs for her). And I can't hate him for throwing himself in this, because you KNOW he was in heaven in a genre (comics) he knows and loves.

The blame lies squarely on taking a character that has survived on its gritty storytelling and merged it with Adam West-ish Batman series. They say the next one will be darker, but I wonder if the damage has been done.

Brian R. - I felt the same way seeing the trailer for Drive Angry.

Ryan - The finger pointing isn't from the comics. Did it make you as uncomfortable as it did me?

Jun 10 - 12:07 PM

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

Yes, yes it did. It was sublimely awkward. Really strange choice to make for the film.

Jun 10 - 12:33 PM

Amalgamate7

Norman Dostal

Noah, Cage is not amazing-hes lucky. He was so bad in Peggy Sue and a dozen others-he was good in one movie and it wasnt Face Off.

Jun 10 - 12:21 PM

Sputnik99

sputnik 99

Oh, I don't know. I liked him in Raising Arizona, Con Air and the first National Treasure. None of them super blockbusters, but very watchable, IMO.

Jun 10 - 01:03 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Cage was flat-out phenomenal in Matchstick Men and Port of Call.

Jun 10 - 01:37 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Agree, Watcher. I liked him in Face/Off and Adaptation, too.

Jun 10 - 03:31 PM

Hollywood Karma

kevinsmithsux Last

Matchstick Men is a damn fine film. Really, really, REALLY enjoyed Nic's performance in that one.

Jun 10 - 04:29 PM

Maalstrom Aran

Tom F

Yah, Matchstick Men is my favorite Cage movie. His neurotic appearance and OCD acting really made the movie for me.

Jun 10 - 07:19 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

Matchstick Men is top notch. If Cage is playing a character that's batsh*t crazy then he's spot on. So basically he can play himself.

Jun 10 - 10:42 PM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

He brought home the cake in Leaving las Vegas and Port of Call.
Then he ate it in Matchstick.

Jun 12 - 08:46 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

I have no love for Cage, but even I wouldn't say he's only been good in one movie. Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Port of Call. All phenomenal performances, Cages problem is you've got a ten percent chance of getting one of these, a thirty percent chance of good to average and a 60 percent chance of getting a Wicker Man or Ghost Rider.

Jun 11 - 11:59 AM

SpitfireOverThames

Sean Strickland

He was really good in RAISING ARIZONA, though. :) And its hard not to like him in CON AIR...

Jun 13 - 10:42 AM

SpitfireOverThames

Sean Strickland

The film could've been done right, I'm convinced. If THOR could be made as well as it was, so could GHOST RIDER. It just means they need a director who knows what he's doing. The CGI is overblown, especially of the Ghost Rider's skeletal face. The sets are obviously fake and sound stages unconvincing. The story isn't that good... In all truth, its the kind of film you'd see on SCI-FI channel.

Jun 13 - 10:45 AM

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

Yes, yes it did. It was sublimely awkward. Really strange choice to make for the film.

Jun 10 - 12:33 PM

Captain Terror

Captain Terror

I've always felt that the Ghost Rider character could best be translated to film using the Robert Rodriguez "Planet Terror" approach. Throw plausibility to the wind and just wallow in the bad-ass-ity of it all. Take it too seriously and you end up looking absurd. Treat it with too much camp and you ruin what's cool about the character in the first place.

Jun 10 - 12:52 PM

gridlock'd2

First Last

Good call.

Jun 11 - 01:57 PM

CyborgUnicorn

Cyborg Unicorn

Wow, are you serious? Do you honestly consider Planet Terror to be anything BUT camp?

Jun 21 - 02:27 AM

Wisenheimer

Joshua Dinsmore

I saw this once and it wasn't something that I'd watch again.

Jun 10 - 01:00 PM

Simply Cinema

Anders Gatten

I thought it was ok. Mind you I was a lot younger, but I thought it was cool.

Jun 10 - 01:05 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

Young you was terribly wrong.

Jun 12 - 06:59 AM

Sputnik99

sputnik 99

Oh, I don't know. I liked him in Raising Arizona, Con Air and the first National Treasure. None of them super blockbusters, but very watchable, IMO.

Jun 10 - 01:03 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Cage was flat-out phenomenal in Matchstick Men and Port of Call.

Jun 10 - 01:37 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Agree, Watcher. I liked him in Face/Off and Adaptation, too.

Jun 10 - 03:31 PM

Hollywood Karma

kevinsmithsux Last

Matchstick Men is a damn fine film. Really, really, REALLY enjoyed Nic's performance in that one.

Jun 10 - 04:29 PM

Maalstrom Aran

Tom F

Yah, Matchstick Men is my favorite Cage movie. His neurotic appearance and OCD acting really made the movie for me.

Jun 10 - 07:19 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

Matchstick Men is top notch. If Cage is playing a character that's batsh*t crazy then he's spot on. So basically he can play himself.

Jun 10 - 10:42 PM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

He brought home the cake in Leaving las Vegas and Port of Call.
Then he ate it in Matchstick.

Jun 12 - 08:46 PM

Simply Cinema

Anders Gatten

I thought it was ok. Mind you I was a lot younger, but I thought it was cool.

Jun 10 - 01:05 PM

The NewHampshire Database

Kirk McCarty

Young you was terribly wrong.

Jun 12 - 06:59 AM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

terrible movie...the thing that disturbed me the most was the fact that he was able to kill his villains in like 5 seconds. I honestly do not even wanna talk about this movie. it was just that bad. I mean I actually thought Nicholas Cage was alright, and it had some good CGI, but in the end...pretty terrible.

20%

Jun 10 - 01:07 PM

Captain Terror

Captain Terror

I believe there's a fundamental problem that any GR movie is going to have to face: talking skulls always look silly on film. (And yes, I've seen enough of them to feel confident in this assertion LOL) In a drawing or a cartoon you can get away with it, 'cause your imagination is doing some of the work for you. But on film, it's always going to be nothing more than a bottom jaw flapping up and down, even if you fill it with the voice of JE Jones or Orson Welles. My solution: make a Bakshi-style R-Rated animated film instead. (Hey, a nerd can dream...)

Jun 10 - 01:11 PM

Justin D.

Justin D.

I would have to agree. No matter how much CG is used a flaming skull head would be hard to take seriously. I'm sure it could be made less goofy if the script was good at least, but sadly this movie didn't even have that going for it.

Jun 10 - 05:15 PM

Brian R.

Brian Rokosz

Cage had a few good movies knowing who he is as an actor...those were Face/Off, Con-Air, and The Rock....other than that nope...even tho i stick to my point about Drive Angry being fun...but that wasn't a nic cage movie, it was a William Fichner movie.

Jun 10 - 01:19 PM

WaistOfTime

Jade Palooka

true. i was really surprised to learn that Adaptation actually was no cut and paste job and that the other twin guy did stuff like Leaving Las Vegas, Birdy or BL:POCNO, which is somewhat remarkable. considerung Nic Cage A: Wild At Heart all the way..

Jun 10 - 01:46 PM

Balls McHammer

kolya Fist

LOL - Those were horrible, horrible, just GOD F-ing awful movies. He did do some good work though they were a little arty: Raising Arizona, Wild At Heat,and Red Rock West were all brilliant, but so were the directors. Those films you mentioned were just pieces of sh*t by piece of sh*t directors. Jon Woo might be decent in his native China, but in US cinema he's terrible, and Michael Bay is just a cancer on film, and Simon West, who is just the King of sh*t Jerry Crapheimer's abortion.

Jun 10 - 08:00 PM

Brian R.

Brian Rokosz

those movies are 90's action...if you didn't like those...and possibly Bad Boys....then idk what you do for fun on the weekends when USA has a Cage-a-thon and plays The Rock a million times. Sean Connery as pretty much an old James Bond, even trained by British Intelligence...sigh...The Rock will always be one of my favorite movies...Face/Off is high up there tho, but The Rock looks better on bluray. I'll give you Con-Air, but add to the list of things only Nic Cage could say: "Why couldn't you put the bunny back in the box?" Saying Face/Off and The Rock were god-aweful is pretty much saying America sucks...cuz those were some damn fine 90's action...in fact...im gonna watch both right now...

Jun 10 - 09:02 PM

Confounded

Matthew Bertram

I like Cage and Mendes' relationship better in Bad Lieutenant when she's a hooker and he's a drugged up cop. She's horrible in this (not that the rest of the cast is better). And Sam Elliott was very under-utilized. That "last ride" crap? What would have been a cool action scene with 2 riders fighting off the group of demons turned into a two minute soundtrack clip followed by, "well, see ya." I like Nic Cage. I don't like his choices, but I like him. At his best, he owns the role. At his worst, he's entertaining to watch. Even when he elicits groans, they're half-chuckles. But this film was just a mess of no one knowing what they were trying to accomplish.

Jun 10 - 01:24 PM

Captain Terror

Captain Terror

Thank you! The ride with Elliot was a giant waste of potential awesome-ness! (That was one of my pet peeves, just had to get that off my chest. Carry on.)

Jun 10 - 01:35 PM

ZenFan

Dylan Hair

Pacing of this movie was far too slow for me, which is what ruined it. Just never got into it.

Jun 10 - 01:25 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Drive Angry was god-awful.

Jun 10 - 01:35 PM

Murdoch

Murdoch +

True, but it added just enough nudity to make itself watchable . . . . a PG13 superhero movie on the other hand . . . . . .

Jun 10 - 05:47 PM

Captain Terror

Captain Terror

Thank you! The ride with Elliot was a giant waste of potential awesome-ness! (That was one of my pet peeves, just had to get that off my chest. Carry on.)

Jun 10 - 01:35 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Cage was flat-out phenomenal in Matchstick Men and Port of Call.

Jun 10 - 01:37 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

Agree, Watcher. I liked him in Face/Off and Adaptation, too.

Jun 10 - 03:31 PM

Hollywood Karma

kevinsmithsux Last

Matchstick Men is a damn fine film. Really, really, REALLY enjoyed Nic's performance in that one.

Jun 10 - 04:29 PM

Maalstrom Aran

Tom F

Yah, Matchstick Men is my favorite Cage movie. His neurotic appearance and OCD acting really made the movie for me.

Jun 10 - 07:19 PM

Alan Smithee

Alan Smithee

Matchstick Men is top notch. If Cage is playing a character that's batsh*t crazy then he's spot on. So basically he can play himself.

Jun 10 - 10:42 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

I remember being in an unfamiliar part of town and having about 5 hours on my hands, so I watched 2 movies in a row: 300 and Ghost Rider. I loved the first one (I still think it's hella awesome) and fucking hated Rider. It's such a massive change of tone, both movies try to be "cool", but only one pulls it off. There is something to be said for mindless testosterone-fueled bravado, when it works - it works REALLY well, and Snyder certainly knows how to stage a fight scene and have his actors give manly-yet-sentimental speeches, the kinds where you wanna raise your beer and scream "FUCK YES!", cos that's what a REAL man would do. It's all bullshit, of course, but it's satisfying nonetheless.

Rider, though, looked cheap as hell, cheesy beyond awful and just fucking stupid. The story-line was almost nonsensical, the villain was about as threatening as that purple, gay Teletubby named Tinky Winky (Dipsy was awesome, though, he would pwn ur ass, noob), and he and all his minions reminded me of those Goth kids in South Park. I did enjoy the parts of the movie where Cage was human, as soon as that skull came out, though, it was all over.

Jun 10 - 01:45 PM

King Crunk

King Crunk

I also agree with what you said about Snyder, and I find it funny that you mentioned how cheap Ghost Rider looked in comparison to 300, when its budget was nearly double 300's.

Jun 10 - 03:36 PM

The.Watcher

The Watcher

Right, but it all depends on HOW you spend your budget, not the actual size of it. 300 had a very cool comic-book aesthetic, it looked great. Ghost Rider did not, and at the end of the day, that's what matters.

Jun 10 - 04:59 PM

Bow Ties are Cool

The Holy Rainbow of Awesomness

What are you talking about the goth kids where the most entertaining villains in a movie for a while. How can you not smile when they tried to be badass.

Jun 11 - 01:29 AM

WaistOfTime

Jade Palooka

true. i was really surprised to learn that Adaptation actually was no cut and paste job and that the other twin guy did stuff like Leaving Las Vegas, Birdy or BL:POCNO, which is somewhat remarkable. considerung Nic Cage A: Wild At Heart all the way..

Jun 10 - 01:46 PM

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