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Ghost Rider (2007)
writer and director: Mark Steven Johnson

review by Tony Lee

If there's a serious problem with this adaptation of the popular Marvel comic, it's simply that director Mark Steven Johnson (the maker of Daredevil) attempts too many things at once. Ghost Rider aims to be a modern fairy-tale romance about second chances, a low-key Faustian tragedy, a slickly choreographed action fantasy, a stylised black comedy of transformation horrors, a brooding morality tale about poetic justice, an all-fired-up biker flick like no other, and - of course - the launch platform for another superhero adventure franchise. Ang Lee's epic Hulk managed to combine all of its similarly disparate tropes and stunning mise en sc´┐Żnes into a coherent, magnificent, and sublimely enjoyable whole, but Johnson's Ghost Rider is far less successful in this regard.

While visually impressive, with the centrepiece images of the antihero Ghost Rider's iconic flaming skull (digital effects work, based - as you might guess - on actual 3D x-rays of Nicolas Cage's head!), and dazzling makeover visuals turning Johnny Blaze's classic motorbike (a replica of Peter Fonda's famed 'Captain America' chopper from Easy Rider) into the fiery metal-monster hell-cycle, the film doesn't neglect character building (Cage is surprisingly restrained, throughout, yet nobody does that vengeful melodramatic pointing like old Nic!) and thematic resonance (as with the comic-book version, there are generic echoes of Jekyll & Hyde, werewolf lore, and weird western vigilantism) abounds and combines to provide plenty of spectacular entertainment including, but not only, Eva Mendes' cleavage, and assorted scenes of urban carnage.

As the soul-thieving prince of darkness, Mephistopheles is wholly underplayed by the aged Peter Fonda (interesting casting, but only granting the film a novelty value), and Wes Bentley's turn as the over-ambitious villain Blackheart lacks sufficient impact to convince us he's the son of Satan. Blackheart's trio of supernatural henchmen Abigor (Mathew Wilkinson), Gressil (Laurence Breuls), and Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen), all exhibit powers apparently based on the elements (except fire, naturally) and they are, perhaps, beaten rather too easily by Ghost Rider. However, lacklustre supporting characters are not the primary focus of this movie, anyway. As an origin story, Ghost Rider cleaves to a seemingly contrived wild-west legend, but it's one that eventually pays off handsomely with a bravura night-ride south for our biker protagonist and his mysterious cowboy predecessor, the graveyard caretaker (played with typical whiskey-voiced aplomb by Sam Elliott).

With his flaming whip-chain and soul-destroying 'penance stare', Ghost Rider is one of Marvel's most distinctive heroes, a creature-character whose aspect screams of utterly terrifying malevolence (oh, and you thought Batman looked scary?) who nonetheless unflinchingly opposes evil in all its numerous guises, and punishes the wicked in truly ironic fashion, turning their own crimes against them. Despite his appearance, Ghost Rider is probably the coolest superhero yet to hit cinema. It's a shame the filmmakers didn't include the Rush song Ghost Rider on this film's soundtrack. Instead all we get is a dreary synthesised cover version of Ghost Riders In The Sky.
Ghost Rider teaser advert

Ghost Rider poster

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