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Friday, February 16, 2007

Ghost Rider

Marvel Comics has gone to the trough more often than a dehydrated pig during a drought in August as they hope to recreate the successes of their Spiderman and X-Men franchises with another from their host of comic book characters. So far they haven’t come close, though they have found what I would call two-tiered success with some of their releases. The Fantastic Four, for instance, was a movie that anybody could go see and “get” whether they had ever picked up one of the comic books or not. The same with the Blade movies, but then there were Daredevil, Electra, The Crow and The Hulk, which were going to satisfy only the most loyal fans willing to overlook the spotty acting, the substandard CGI, and the writing which was as complex and three dimensional as your average comic. Most moviegoers looked at these offerings and just shrugged.

So now comes Ghost Rider, another Stan Lee creation like all those mentioned above. It seems that by the time Lee got around to Ghost Rider he was grasping for new ideas because I didn’t find this “superhero” very
“super” or much of a “hero.” The Ghost Rider is Johnny Blaze (seriously, a great name for a man whose head flames up like a cigarette lighter. I just never want to meet someone named Alan Analeakage in Stan Lee’s world ~ or mine for that matter). Johnny (played by the somnambulant Nicolas Cage; The Wicker Man) is a stunt driver much like real life’s Evil Knievel only dumber because Johnny was duped by Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda;
Wild Hogs) himself into signing over his soul to the Devil and so now Johnny spends his nights as Satan’s personal bounty hunter. As soon as Cage said those words I snorted a piece of popcorn up my nose and almost choked to death from laughing so hard until I realized that the crowded theater was not joining me in appreciating the zaniness of this idea. I suddenly felt very panicky, like one would when finally figuring out that they were the only human being in a room full of rabid dogs. These were FANS and they were going to take this movie with the reverence a priest reserves for Mass. It was my job to be quiet and revere the visual feast before me.

So for the next two hours I bit the inside of my cheeks every time someone said a terrific line of dialogue, such as when, after a night of having turned into a flaming skeleton, the now-human Johnny is asked by the cemetery
caretaker (Sam Elliott;
Barnyard) how he is feeling and Johnny replies while rubbing his temples as if nursing a headache “Yeah, I'm good. I feel like my skull is on fire, but I'm good.” I almost had tears in my eyes by this point but I remained as hushed as the rest of the audience. Apparently comic book readers don’t have great senses of humor.

I’m sorry, but Ghost Rider is not a serious or worthwhile movie on much of any level but I can appreciate it for what it is ~ a craptastic bit of fun for the fans of the comic book, though probably not for many others. The plot seems weak and the driving goal is hardly worth fighting over. Mephistopheles and his wayward son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley;
Weirdsville) are both fighting to gain possession of a stolen contract guaranteeing the souls of a thousand people damned to Hell. My thought is “So? If they’re all going to Hell anyway, what difference does it make whether Daddy or Junior gets the contract? They’re all going to the same spot, so what’s the point? That’s not made clear until the final few minutes of the movie, and by then it is sort of a default secondary concern as the big battle is between Blackheart and Ghost Rider is what is what really counts, even though it really just consists of the two super-strong muscle boys tossing one another around and destroying a lot of decaying old buildings in the process. It’s not exactly Spiderman thrilling, but for the Goth guys who haven’t been out of their basements since last May when X Men 3: Last Man Standing opened, this is a Big Whoop and who am I to rain on their parade or that of their compatriots?

Ghost Rider reminded me a lot of going to the Champlain Valley Fair’s
carnival during the summer. Everybody does it even though you know it is going to be full of cheesy rides that are more tacky than scary and you know from the outset that you aren’t going to learn anything or walk away from the experience with anything more than an adrenaline rush and the knowledge that you are a little lighter in the wallet, but if that’s what you are looking for, well ~ Hey! ~ who am I to stop you? Have fun.

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