Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Nicolas Cage (Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider), Wes Bentley (Blackheart), Peter Fonda (Mephistopheles), Eva Mendes (Roxanne Simpson)
Pity Nicholas Cage and his big geek heart. He’s spent a lifetime pining for a shot at living out his superhero fantasies on celluloid. You suspect that the Oscar he scooped for Leaving Las Vegas was a mere balm for missing the chance to be a deeply improbable Man Of Steel for Tim Burton. From Superman to Iron Man, he’s pursued that inky childhood itch to extinction. So, to wind up in Ghost Rider must be like dreaming of cup final glory with Manchester United and ending up as star striker for Accrington Stanley.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Ghost Rider, the character. Sure, Johnny Blaze may be one of Marvel’s eternal second-tier troupers, but he’s no Black Goliath or Iron Fist. Visually, he’s one of the greatest icons out there, a barbecue-skulled biker haunting the dark desert highways like some Eagles-induced nightmare. It seems a shame that such a memorable icon should end up washed up in such an unmemorable movie.
And that’s a surprise, because the criminally-undervalued Daredevil proved that Mark Steven Johnson loves this source material and can deliver on that love. But this is an infuriatingly hollow rendering of a great character, a flashy-but-flat slice of wannabe Gothic Americana that has the waft of committee and compromise about it. Face it, you always know you’re up to your pits in mediocrity when the bad guys flounce around the screen in Matrix-style long coats to the howl of rock riffs. It all amounts to today’s tedious shorthand for badassery.
Johnson stumbles with the very premise. The tale of stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze trading his soul to the Devil should play out with the power of a heavy metal Faustus. It should be a tragedy of despair, desperation and the fight for salvation, but here Johnny makes the deal accidentally. And Cage’s turn as Blaze is more an accumulation of tics than a character – he drinks goblets of jellybeans, watches chimpanzee videos and worships The Carpenters. They’re amusing choices that reek of late-night brainstorms but never quite disguise the empty figure at the heart of all this.
A scene where he gallops alongside a tarmac-burning Johnny to the sound of “Ghost Riders In The Sky” is a brief flare of genuine pulpy fun. But elsewhere we have some terrible, even embarrassing, turns from Wes Bentley and Eva Mendes and the kind of video game strategic plotting that pits Ghost Rider against escalating adversaries in hyper FX-driven smackdowns.