Sunday, 12 February 2012

From the archive: "Ghost Rider"

It's telling that Ghost Rider - like Daredevil, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson's previous attempt to kickstart a superhero franchise - has been rushed out in the first months of the year, rather than risk having its flaws exposed in the harsh light of the movie summer season. Avoiding the same studio (Sony)'s Spider-Man 3 would seem to make good business sense, but you know a film's not quite up to speed when it also appears to be running scared of the not-hugely-anticipated Fantastic Four sequel. Nicolas Cage's conflicted stunt-cyclist Johnny Blaze is a very Evel Knievel: a long-standing pact with Satan (Peter Fonda) turns him into a flaming-skulled biker after dark, sent forth against his will to do the Devil's work. Fortunately, the re-emergence of his childhood sweetheart as Eva Mendes sends Johnny running for his first-edition Faust to right all his past wrongs.

Ghost Rider is likable when it's not being loud, but it tends to garble several years' worth of comic-book mythology in the absence of one wholly satisfying storyline, and Johnson seems hellbent on keeping his most appealing elements - Cage, Mendes and Donal Logue, as Blaze's best bud/chief mechanic - apart for long stretches. With Fonda only here for the Easy Rider nod, we're also left with a bargain-basement villain in Wes Bentley's Blackheart, who looks like an escapee from the Underworld films and snarls lines like "Mephistopheles, I knew you'd come." Solid U.S. box office suggests there's an audience of undemanding teenage boys out there for it, but this is one of those flimsier, vaguely cheesy comic-book adaptations that doesn't even pretend to say anything about the real world: all the emphasis on burning gas and oil (Blaze even confronts Satan on a Texaco forecourt) looks somewhat off-message in the week Al Gore won an Oscar, and it takes place in a universe where a wine waiter only shrugs his shoulders when Mendes asks whether she's pretty.

(February 2007)

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