Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ghost Rider

When my best friend and I went to the theatre today, we had to stand in line for the first time in ages. The usher called for anyone wanting to see Bridge to Terabithia. No one moved. He called for anyone who wanted to see Hannibal Rising. No one moved. It was clear that everyone in line was there to see Ghost Rider.

Of course, I suppose it should have been obvious that in a small Southern county where tractor pulls and demolition derbies are popular that a movie about a motorcyclist with supernatural abilities would be a big hit. As to whether the movie was actually good, that is a different matter. While I am sure that Ghost Rider probably won't appeal to individuals in certain quarters, what I can say is that it is one fun ride.

Ghost Rider is based on the comic book character of the same name. In the comics, stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze sold his soul so that his mentor might be cured of cancer. Ultimately, because of this, Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider at nightfall, a figure in a leather jacket with a flaming skull who rode a supernatural, flaming motorcycle. The movie does make some alterations to the Ghost Rider's origin story, which might offend some purists, although I feel that the filmmakers actually improved upon it in doing so. Despite the changes, however, Ghost Rider is for the most part loyal to the comic book, to the point that the Silver Age Ghost Rider (Carter Slade, a Western character who first appeared in February 1967) is even included in the film.

Ghost Rider has all the ingredients of a good popcorn movie. It moves at a fairly good pace and has plenty of action. The film features some good fight scenes, such as those in which the Ghost Rider must battle demons with various elemental powers (powers over earth, air, and water). The climax in which the Ghost Rider faces off with archvillain Blackheart is perhaps one of the better such fight scenes in a comic book movie, even taking some unexpected turns. The movie also has some superb special effects. Most importantly, the Ghost Rider looks convincing, with his flaming skull and fiery motorcycle. And there are some pretty impressive, FX driven scenes, such as one in which the Ghost Rider races up a skyscraper on his bike.

Ghost Rider also benefits from nearly perfect casting. Nicholas Cage, a comic book fan himself, was a good choice for Johnny Blaze. He gives the role a bit of quirkiness while still remaining convincing as a man under a curse. Peter Fonda is perfect as Mephistopheles, whose casting in the role is also a bit of an in joke (for those with poor memories, Fonda played Wyatt in Easy Rider, the motorcycle movie. Sam Elliott, veteran of many a Western, is perfectly cast as the Caretaker, who knows a bit too much about the Ghost Rider legend for his own good. For me the only casting which rang a bit false was that of Eva Mendes as Roxanne Simpson. Aside from not thinking she looks much like the Roxanne Simpson of the comic books (indeed, I've never thought Eva Mendes was particularly pretty), there are times when she simply doesn't seem convincing enough in the role.

Of course, Ghost Rider is hardly a perfect film. Some of the dialogue can be pretty goofy at times. And the romance between Johnny Blaze and Roxanne Simpson doesn't really add too much to the movie for me (here I guess it must be kept in mind that I didn't find Mendes's performance particularly good, which might affect my opinion of the romantic subplot). And at times writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's script plays a bit too much by the book, with a few cliches that were old in comic books and movies during the Golden Age of both media.

Regardless, I don't think these flaws will keep many people from enjoying the movie. It is clear that Ghost Rider is not meant to be a thought provoking, intellectual film, but simply a good, old fashioned, fun action movie with a supernatural premise. That it is executed with some good action scenes, fairly solid special effects, and plenty of tongue in cheek humour makes it all the more enjoyable.

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