When Ghost Rider hit theaters in February, it was roundly panned – except by those few reviewers who were actually familiar with the property. We, like the film’s not insignificant audience, recognized that it worked – and for a few very simple reasons: it respected the source material, and it managed to meld its disparate elements [werewolf movie, biker movie, gothic western and melancholy romance] into a unified whole…
Shortly after young Johnny Blaze discovers his father is dying of cancer, the ultimate seducer/salesman, Mephistopheles [Peter Fonda] appears to offer him a deal. In exchange for Johnny’s soul, Meph will cure his father’s cancer!
The next day, Barton Blaze [Brett Cullen] is "healthy as a horse" and Johnny prepares to run away from the circus with girlfriend Roxanne [Raquel Alsip]. As he heads away from the Blaze tent, he hears the sound of a crash. His completely healthy father has crashed and is dying.
Furious with himself, his father and, especially, Mephistopheles, Johnny hops on his motorcycle and rides off – taking a nasty spill at a crossroads, where old Jack Ketch himself appears to lay his claim and let him know that one day he will be required to provide a service…
Ten years later, Blaze [Nicolas Cage] is now a world famous super-Knievel, jumping two-dozen semis and bounding up from falls that would kill anyone else. His best friend, Mack [Donal Logue], suspects something’s up but has no idea what. Blaze may rock out to AC/DC when he’s working, but at home, he sips jellybeans out of a martini glass and listens to The Carpenters – rather than facilitate his demons, he’s fighting them all the way.
Almost simultaneously, Roxanne [Eva Mendes] and Mephistopheles come back into his life. Old Scratch wants Johnny to chase down some fallen angels and send them back to hell. Roxanne, it seems, never got over Johnny [despite her protestations to the contrary].
Unfortunately, one of the fallen that Johnny is to chase down just happens to be Meph’s son, Blackheart [Wes Bentley] – and he’s more powerful than Johnny [possibly because he doesn’t have a soul]. That gets in the way of romance when Johnny becomes The Rider on the same night he’s to meet Roxanne for dinner. And things rapidly get worse from there…
Writer/Director Mark Steven Johnson has created a movie that draws heavily [and appropriately] on the mythos of the Ghost rider comics. Much of the character comes from the original Johnny Blaze, but flourishes can be tracked to a later version named Danny Ketch.
The idea of a town of a thousand souls who are so evil they make Saddam Hussein look like Walt Disney is pretty cool – as is the idea that controlling those souls will allow Blackheart to take over the world and oust his father from his kingdom in Hell.
The film leans more toward action heroics than outright horror, but The Rider’s Penance Stare [when an evil man looks into The Rider’s eyes, he feels the pain of his victims – tenfold!] is genuinely creepy, and the effects that accompany the Stare are unique.
The mysterious Caretaker [Sam Elliott] may be a device to feed Johnny necessary exposition, but he’s also played a pivotal role in the tale of the thousand souls. His need for redemption allows Johnson to reference the Ketch comics and pay homage to the western hero that run under the name Ghost Rider in the ‘50s and early ‘70s.
Most of the performances are very good – especially Elliott [who can do no wrong, it seems], Alessi, Cage and Bentley. Eva Mendes seems to have some problems [you can tell when that happens – suddenly her body seems more lush and her teeth seem whiter], but does have some good moments. Logue is excellent, as well, but his part is way too brief – Mack exists to bolster Johnny [if a good guy like Mack pals with Johnny, then Johnny must be a good guy, too, right?].
The effects are good enough that we never notice the real fire in one key scene when it happens [check out the commentaries – I don’t want to ruin the surprise]. The lack of use of the earth elemental is also explained in the commentaries, but his short appearance is still one of the film’s biggest flaws. He really should’ve been replaced with a character who could have been used to better effect.
Extras are plentiful: the Audio Commentary by Johnson and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack is extremely cool – and speaks to why certain scenes were cut from the theatrical cut; the Audio Commentary by Producer Gary Foster looks at the film from the point of view of production issues; there are three "making of" documentaries: Spirit of Vengeance; Spirit of Adventure, and Spirit of Execution that cover pre-production, production and post-production; Sin & Salvation is a series of four featurettes that look at the history of the Ghost Rider in comics, and Animatics is, as you might expect, a collection of animatics for a number of key set pieces.
There is also a bonus disc that looks at two major collectibles from the movie and excerpts from Ghost Rider panels at both the 2005 and 2006 comic cons.
Grade: Ghost Rider – The Extended Cut: B
Grade: Features: A
Final Grade: B+
EM Review by Sheldon A. Wiebe
Originally Posted 06-14-07