Welcome back to my “Good Things About…” feature, where I attempt to find some redeeming qualities in some of the worst superhero/sci-fi/fantasy/geek culture movies of all-time. This time I set my sights on the excremental Ghost Rider films, slapped together and vomited on the screen by Sony.
We are unquestionably in the midst of a golden age of superhero films right now, thanks in part to Blade in 1998, and Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. Those two films performed well at the box office, proving to the major Hollywood Studios that serious takes on comic book characters could draw huge mainstream audiences, and be profitable into the early 21st century and beyond. But it seems like for every soaring triumph like The Avengers or The Dark Knight, there are shoddy superhero translations that make you wish the studio execs had left the characters trapped in the pages of their comic book titles.
I’ve already covered two of the worst offenders in this series: The Fantastic Four and Daredevil, and now I’ll set my sights on the fiery turd known as the Ghost Rider franchise. Is there anything redeeming about two films starring a clearly insane Nicolas Cage in a bad toupee hamming it up as a daredevil motorcycle stuntman who transforms into a hellish rider with a flaming skull for a head? Believe it or not, I managed to come up with six good things about these two hot messes. (See what I did there?)
6.) Sam Elliott
Sam Elliot was a supporting player in the first Ghost Rider film, and with his trademark bassy and commanding southern drawl, he instantly lent weight and credibility to the proceedings in the far too few scenes he was featured in. Elliot played Carter Slade, a character from Marvel’s western comic book stories who first appeared in 1967 and was actually called Ghost Rider, due to his all-white masked get-up and his pale stallion. Slade’s alter-ego would later be changed to “Phantom Rider” when Marvel created the fiery-skull version of Ghost Rider that we know today.
In the film, Carter Slade is an unassuming undertaker at a cemetery that Johnny Blaze is drawn to, but eventually he reveals to Blaze that he was in fact the first “Ghost Rider,” and transforms into a decaying, hellfire-spewing cowboy who rides on a skeleton horse (also on fire, naturally). It made for quite the badass visual, and honestly — Cage’s performance as Ghost Rider was so terrible, and the narrative of the character so dull — that I wished the entire movie had been about the Carter Slade Ghost Rider.
5.) Spitting Bullets
Somehow, Ghost Rider made enough money to spawn a sequel, albeit a much smaller budget one. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was directed by the Crank tandem of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who are famous for imbuing their films with juvenile humor, gratuitous sex & violence, insane stunt work, hyper-speed crash editing, unorthodox camera angles, and outlandish filming techniques. They immediately decided that this filmmaking philosophy was suitable for their Ghost Rider sequel, so there are car chase sequences where the camera operator was on roller blades, as well as a sequence where Ghost Rider urinates, and of course, spews jets of flame out of his penis. Classy.
However, a similar gimmick to the flaming pee in the movie worked out much better. At one point in the story, Ghost Rider is surrounded at a deserted construction site by dozens of armed thugs, and they proceed to pump hundreds and hundreds of rounds of automatic machine-gun ammo into his
face skull. Ghost Rider simply chomps down, and spits the hail of hellfire-laden bullets right back at the mercenaries, shredding them to pieces. It’s an absolute blast of a sequence, with solid special effects work; one of the few bright spots in an otherwise catastrophically bad sequel.
4.) Blackout’s Powers
Blackout is a third-rate Marvel Comics baddie played by a fourth-rate actor in a B-movie superhero shit show, but his one saving grace is his cool power. The movie version of Blackout is a low-level arms dealer, who is transformed by Satan into a creature who can make things age and decay with a touch. This makes for some really well-done special effects throughout the last third of the movie, as we see Blackout cause people’s flesh to shrivel and peel off; metal vehicles to rust and rot; glass to yellow and crack; and other suitably sickening and rotting results.
3.) Idris Elba
Idris Elba is one bad dude, plain and simple. His eyes bore right through you, his voice commands your respect, and his mere presence carries an air of honor and nobility; all while maintaining a level of badassery that’s hard to equal. In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Elba plays Moreau, a member of a secret religious order who seeks Ghost Rider’s help in protecting a young boy from the devil himself. He’s the best thing about this otherwise silly and forgettable crapfest, and like Sam Elliott in the first Ghost Rider film, I found myself wishing the movie was all about Moreau kicking ass and taking names.
2.) Eva Mendes
Hotter than Hellfire.
1.) Ghost Rider’s Burnt & Crispy Makeover
The first Ghost Rider movie delivered a traditional visual representation of the character that was more or less exactly how he looked throughout the 80’s and 90’s; i,e. lots of leather, spikes, chains and shiny chrome. But for Spirit of Vengeance, Neveldine & Taylor’s design team came up with a cool and interesting makeover for ol’ Ghostie that actually made sense in addition to being awesome to behold — if Ghost Rider is constantly on fire, shouldn’t he be burnt?
The result was a Ghost Rider who trailed plumes of charcoal-black smoke as he rode a motorcycle that looked burnt and blackened and was so hot its tires were melting. Ghost Rider’s jacket leather jacket was crispy, ashy, and charred, and the flames coming off of his skull looked so convincing that you could almost feel the heat coming off of them from your living room couch. It was a visceral, gritty change that took an already very visual character to another level. I only wish someone had burnt the script to this turkey to ashes.