I enjoyed this film for the anatomical gift that it was.
Cause of death of the host probably began at an announcement at Cannes in May of 2000 when Marvel 'Studios' chose to seek out Crystal Sky Entertainment to produce a film of their character, Ghost Rider, without a solid screenplay.
This film, at some point, had a screenplay turned in by Shane Salerno, after Columbia Pictures had picked up where Crystal Sky Entertainment and Dimension Films had failed.
Eventually, Columbia got Ghost Rider out of Mark Steven Johnson, of whom they pinned the directing and the writing credit.
There's clearly something wrong when a film takes seven years to put into theatres, and almost five of those years were spent searching for a screenplay to commence filming.
Let me count the number of useless characters in this film for you.
1. Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes) - At every turn, Roxanne was attracted to the bad boy that Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) was, for no good reason.
In one set of scenes, you have Blaze turn into Ghost Rider for the first time, fight evil that night, blow off his date with Roxanne, end up in a graveyard with an old stranger, and return to an earlier scene of chaos he committed while turning into Ghost Rider.
There Roxanne is, covering the scene, since she's a reporter. He talks to her, and she spurns him completely.
Blaze's date skip reminded her, as she told Blaze, of how she was left standing under the tree as a teenager, by Blaze, for no apparent reason back then, either, after they had made plans back then to run off and be together as lovers. Fool me twice, shame on me, right? Wrong!
Roxanne later shows up at Blaze's place, in apology for her cold treatment on the street that day. You see, Roxanne can't get enough of Blaze, but the problem is that you have a scene which requires Blaze to do something to win her back, but the writer solves this problem by having her win herself back with her bad boy addiction. Essentially, Roxanne is part of a confusing second act in which Blaze desires to get a second chance at life, but really, all Roxanne does is put up a minor fight at every step of the way, when she's not actively helping him with little requirement for effort on his own part.
2. 'The Hidden' - Grissel (Laurence Breuls), Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen), and Abigor (Mathew Wilkinson) - these three fallen angels were cast out of heaven, as told by Caretaker/Carter Slade (Sam Elliott), "by St. Michael himself." They're a gang of three that roll with Blackheart/Legion (Wes Bentley), the son of Satan/Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda). I think Grissel was Earth element, Wallow was Water, and Abigor was Wind. Ghost Rider was Fire? Anyway, it's more characters that do not work well.
Mephistopheles bargains with Blaze to send The Hidden plus his son back to hell in exchange for the soul that he swindled from Blaze. Essentially, Ghost Rider's the only one who can catch unpunished and escaped evil souls and send them to their proper place in Hell.
In this soft second act, Blackheart's gang should pose one of the major complications to Blaze's want (a second chance). Even though Ghost Rider's purpose is to reap undesirables like The Hidden, such kinds of supernatural bad guys should pose some sort of extended threat to Blaze. Unfortunately, each of the three really went down after literally just one bum rush. Easy resolutions to Blaze's problems are a recurring problem with this film.
3. Caretaker/Carter Slade - this guy reminds me of The Stranger from The Big Lebowski. That's because he is. If you've watched this film and Ghost Rider, and you go through the rest of your life thinking The Stranger is Carter Slade, then you're right there with me.
Blaze ends up in an old graveyard of people connected to the town of San Venganza, of which a big heap of mess was caused between Slade, a previous Ghost Rider, and Mephistopheles. That Ghost Rider was sent by Satan to collect the souls of the town's inhabitants, who had clearly and collectively turned that place into a concentrated batch of evil. The danger Blaze and all of Earth face with Blackheart . . . it stems from that Ghost Rider's refusal to hand over the souls.
Essentially, Caretaker is this stranger, no joke, who Blaze runs into after his all-night high on Ghost Riding, in this graveyard of people from that old bad town.
I have plenty of problems with the ideas behind this particular plot twist. Carter Slade stopped being a Ghost Rider the day he refused to give up the souls to Satan, and he went into hiding. This happened, however, over one hundred years in the past. This means the Caretaker's well over 100 years of age when he meets Blaze, and this apparently explains itself away when Slade rides along with Ghost Rider to the final battle, when Slade tells Blaze that he only had one last ride as a Ghost Rider in him, and he finally made right in his life what had went wrong (second chance). Then, Slade literally rides into the night, and that's the last we see of him.
Don't even get me started on the shenanigans the two of them exchanged for out-loud grasp at logic with a minor complication between Blaze and Slade. Blaze needed that original contract to help win the eventual duel with Blackheart. Essentially, for Slade, anyone soulless who was spirited enough to sell his soul for love was good enough for Slade to risk the annihilation of the world as a negative outcome . . . should the battle with Blackheart go the wrong way. Blaze lost his soul because his heart betrayed his mind in return for absolutely nothing. Satan cured his dad's illness, and then he killed his dad the next day. Blaze. Moron. Slade? Also.
The reveal of the Caretaker as Carter Slade was predictable, of course. The writer never bothered to have Blaze ask just how in the hell he knew all of this Ghost Rider stuff. Of course, by the time Blackheart confronted the Caretaker, beat the crap out of him, but failed to kill him unlike every other person Blackheart had encountered, it should have been painfully obvious.
4. Captain Dolan (David Roberts) - This character poses another minor complication in Blaze's quest for a second chance. He shows up on the scene as chief of investigation surrounding a series of crimes in which people are burned to death. What Dolan doesn't know is that the massacre at the bar and the night watchman in another scene were both the work of Blackheart. What he sees is the Ghost Rider, and he tries to make a connection with Blaze by finding his motorcyle's license plate at a scene of a crime. Keep in mind, Dolan takes in Blaze based on one license plate in a sea of wrecked cars in the city square, fueled by the suspicion of Blaze's pyrotechnic background as a connection to all this burning.
This character essentially disappears like Slade. After Blaze is put in a jail cell, surrounded by evil souls, his Ghost Rider curse kicks in at night, which helps him get out of the jail by burning through the bars. By now, it's obvious to the entire fictional world the writer's painted . . . Blaze is Ghost Rider. He's also being held for the murder of these people who were burned to death . . . plus being escaped from jail . . . he's practically public enemy number one. Dolan brings every law enforcement official under the sun, including S.W.A.T., to chase the Ghost Rider. They fail to capture this beast. The writer leaves Ghost Rider as a wanted criminal on the loose.
And then . . . Dolan goes to Roxanne's television station later the next day. He's looking for Ghost Rider in connection with the missing Johnny Blaze. At least, that's how I gathered. The dialogue lead me to believe that Dolan couldn't make the connection. Also, no manhunt for Ghost Rider or Blaze ensues. The writer dropped that angle like it was hot.
5. Mack (Donal Logue) - Mack is Blaze's buddy. He's also one of his chief management in the entourage of Blaze's Evel Knievel-like career.
Mack introduces the second act when Blaze and Mack end up back at Blaze's place. Mack's looking at all the freaky books on religion that Blaze has, and he's wondering what's up with his crazy buddy. That's when Blaze reveals that he wonders a lot about second chances for people who have done something bad.
The rest of Mack's screen time is short. Mack disappears for most of the film. He re-appears later in the film with Roxanne, back at Blake's place, after all the Ghost Rider chaos and the cop chase happened. Mack and Roxanne are then confronted by Blackheart, who is looking to draw out Blaze by using Roxanne as a hostage. Blackheart kills Mack, and he takes Roxanne off to hold until the final battle.
When Blaze returns, he finds Mack's corpse. I'm not kidding when I say that Blaze literally looks down at Mack, says something like "Mack," and then proceeds to barely blink an eye in favor of continuing along to the final battle. Some friend Blaze was.
There's a huge problem when the most sympathetic character in the film is Blackheart.
This is a son of Satan who merely wants to turn Earth into his own personal Hell. Dad has the big 'ol netherworld of punished souls to torture and enjoy. Blackheart wants to do that on Earth, and in his defense, is that so wrong? Obviously, dad really doesn't let his son do enough around the big old stomping grounds, it seems.
Blackheart has just one problem besides his dad's dictatorship, and that is the ability to become strong enough to rival his dad. Blackheart can do this by grabbing up those uncollected souls from San Venganza. Blackheart's complication is the danger of Ghost Rider permanently banishing him from Earth back to dad's place.
I mean, we could even have that desire to have Hell on Earth turn into the same failure it was in the film, but the third act could be about saving Blackheart's suddenly-vulnerable rear end from dad's wrath back at the old Hell pad.
Blackheart's a great anti-hero.
Where Ghost Rider failed magnificently was the premise of Blaze's want.
Blaze wanted a second chance. He wanted to turn an ultimate negative (losing a soul sold to Satan) into something positive. What this requires, for success or failure, is for the audience to care about Blaze.
Unfortunately, the first act didn't provide much for the audience to care about Blaze.
I think what did in my sympathy was reliance on an old plot twist used way too many times. Blaze was tricked by the devil into selling his soul . . . and becoming the Ghost Rider. This is part of the mythology adapted from the Marvel character, but the way the writer adapted it was like watching a dog chase his tail. What I mean is, you're only surprised if the dog catches his tail.
I grew up watching a number of deals with Satan gone wrong in old "Twilight Zone" episodes. Similar old-hat is the genie in a bottle problem. In all these deals with Satan or wishes with the genie, the person dealing always gets screwed. If a writer uses something like this to move along a story, then the delivery better damn well be creative . . . and in the case of Ghost Rider, that fell really flat for me.
Bad dialogue was often littered throughout the film, and much of it was weak explanation of what was going on at that point in the film. Obviously, if the writer had enough trouble figuring out the plot twists, it's not a surprise to know that instead of showing us more juicy scenes of action, we get reminder statements, explanations, and other weak one-liners.
My buddy and I kept thinking of ways that this film could be better, and many of them began at a simple re-structure of order of events in the film.
Why didn't we see Nicholas Cage from the start of the film? Couldn't the entire young Blaze era have been summed up in less than a minute of flashback highlights? Why is Blaze's first Ghost Rider confrontation an initial contact and battle with The Hidden and Blackheart, only to be followed by what would have been better as a lead-in by the reveal of Ghost Rider's penance stare power on some young punk? This is the kind of out-of-order feel I had throughout this film.
The overwhelming reason why this failed was poor writing.
Thanks, Hollywood, for a great lesson in what not to do. I shall take these eyes off this corpse of a film and hopefully see better in the future.
Ghost Rider (2007)
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