Congratulations Mark Steven Johnson, you are now officially the Uwe Boll of comic book movies. Whereas his ineptitude and complete disregard for competent film-making destroys any video game adaptation he gets his hands on, your misguided determinism to cram every element of a superhero’s history into your scripts in a futile attempt to appease the fanboys makes every comic book adaptation you take on an unwatchable mess.
Those of you who follow superhero movies know all too well how Johnson butchered the film version of Daredevil back in 2003. Rather than focusing solely on Daredevil’s origins, he shoehorned over 25 years of comic book continuity into a 90-minute film, depriving it of any real character development or story depth. He makes the same mistakes in Ghost Rider, but to such an extent that it makes Daredevil look like The Godfather by comparison. Yes, this movie is that terrible.
To say this movie is a piece of cinematic excrement would be an insult to other pieces of cinematic excrement. The writing is deplorable, the acting by Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, and Wes Bentley is laughably bad, the characters are all one-dimensional, the plot (what little there is) makes no sense, and even the action scenes, which could have been Ghost Rider’s one saving grace, were flat and downright boring. Mark Steven Johnson’s movies have zero atmosphere. There is no creativity in the lighting or the cinematography. It’s all slick, mood-less, brightly lit, basic, “point the camera dead-on and shoot” stuff with no visual dynamic whatsoever. Upon seeing the film’s poster in the theater lobby, which has an aged, white-washed, western feel to it, my friend commented that it’s pretty sad when the poster has a more creative visual look than the actual movie. He was right.
Let’s be honest here, Ghost Rider has always been a C-level Marvel Comics character, with the exception of a hot streak in the early 1990′s. Regardless, he’s a visually stunning creation that should instill awe in an audience and maybe even some fear, if handled properly. It’s really a no-brainer when you think about it, just put a guy with a flaming skull for a head on the screen and have him do cool stuff, right? Wrong. Johnson and crew manage to screw it up, and make the character look silly. HOW THE HELL DO YOU MAKE A FLAMING SKULL LOOK SILLY? Well, they managed it, somehow. Ghost Rider is not taken seriously for one single frame. He constantly mugs for the camera, spouts bad one-liners, cracks his knuckles, waves his index finger in an “ah-ah-ah” disapproving motion, gives the cops the middle finger, and is simply not threatening at all. The special effects are done well enough, especially the penance stare sequence, but what does it matter when you essentially castrate the character?
The other characters fare no better, however. Wes Bentley, last seen videotaping a paper bag in American Beauty, is Ghost Rider’ s main adversary Blackheart, the son of Satan. Once upon a time, this kid was heralded as a great new actor, destined for great things. Well, if those great things included dressing up like a depressed Goth kid and lifelessly spitting out terrible z-grade movie-villain clichés, then bravo, you made it Wes. Blackheart’s minions “The Hidden”, three demons who control the elemental powers of Wind, Earth, and Fire, look like rejects from a third season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They hiss and pout in their crocodile-skin trench coats, but never seem like real threats and are dispatched with ease.
Nicholas Cage, looking absolutely ridiculous in a shaggy black toupee, basically does a bad Elvis impersonation for two hours as motorcycle stuntman-turned-Devil’s bounty hunter Johnny Blaze. Eva Mendes, fresh off such memorable performances in umm…2Fast 2Furious, is wooden, mumbly, and utterly worthless. I’ve seen better acting out of a JC Penney’s mannequin. Peter Fonda makes a decent Mephistopheles, but I kept wishing he’d smash Nicholas Cage over the head with that skull-topped cane, strap on a helmet, steal the motorcycle and ride off with Dennis Hopper. Donal Logue shows up and says some funny stuff occasionally.
The only good thing about this fiery turd is Sam Elliot’s character Carter Slade, the original old-west Ghost Rider(yes they crammed that in). He can make the shittiest dialogue sound awesome and hell, even meaningful. Oh, and Eva Mendes has fantastic cleavage. That’s about it.
There are some cool special effects sequences, and if you’ve ever read Marvel Comics it is a treat to see Ghost Rider whip his chain around and ride his flaming motorcycle on-screen, but beyond that there is nothing redeeming here. Like Joel Schumacher, Mark Steven Johnson should never be allowed near another comic book adaptation ever again. Sadly, he is currently hard at work on the Preacher series for HBO. A terrifying thought for anyone who has ever read and enjoyed that brilliant comic.