I tell you. I tell you. “Ghost Rider” had potential, friends. “Ghost Rider” under the right set of creators, competent direction, and writers it could have been one hell of a violent horror thriller with Ghost Rider not only serving as a horrifying anti-hero, but also a potential villain if not careful. With someone like maybe Clive Barker, along with a hard R and zero camp, “Ghost Rider” would have been a horror fan’s wet dream, but alas, we’re left with this. One of the most brutal crimes from Johnson’s screenplay is that he shamelessly cribs from the “Spawn” film. And if you’ve ever seen it, you’ll know that it’s hardly the source material capable for a competent film to begin with.
One of the truly entertaining aspects about Johnson’s film is the surefire visual quality ensured. The technical quality is just utterly eye catching and many scenes were a blast to watch. The first Ghost Rider transformation is wicked as we’re given a surprisingly interesting horror element to Blaze’s first realization that he’s becoming a demon whether he likes it or not. Johnson constantly teases us by showing the seeds of a better movie that are sadly never revealed in the overall product and the Rider’s metamorphoses are handled very well. Ghost Rider looks fantastic on screen, I loved the way he looked in flames, in spite of what many have lambasted as sub-par. The constant changes of Mephisto and Black Heart is pulled off very well as they’re constantly shifting from human to monster form as they speak in low growls, and their whole dichotomy works, even in the minute instances Johnson provides us.
Hell, I dug Black Heart in the end, even when he was whiny petulant monster intent on absorbing the powers and taking over the world, and Peter Fonda is very good as the demon lord Mephisto who hearkens back to his old biker days for this particular role, and I rather liked this reference. The pun of having Fonda endorse a demonic biker is flat on arrival, but the performance he gives here is competent enough to make me believe he’s the deceitful Mephisto. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a reference to the original Ghost Rider that I rather enjoyed. At rare times, “Ghost Rider” shows the potential that Johnson seems hellbent on squandering. The Penance stare provides some powerful moments, the Ghost Rider ensuring suffering to the criminals is a wonderful plot device, and Black Heart’s soul sucking proved to be eerie on many occasions.
“Ghost Rider” is still a wonderful character, and still needs a proper adaptation. We have the hero making a deal with the devil becoming a demonic soldier, being mentored by a past bearded warrior who is basically Obi Wan with a Southern twang, and the inevitable chase by police that leads to a showdown atop a high monument, all proof that Johnson himself never knew what Ghost Rider was anyway; which all serves to prove how lazy Johnson was when it applied to story and characterization. We’re only able to learn what Johnson feels is necessary to learn about the characters around us. We know Johnny was motivated to save his father and is a bit of a nut, we know he has a goofy sidekick, is in love with a vapid news reporter, and… the devil and his son are a whiny dysfunctional family, yet again. After Johnny makes a deal with Mephisto, there’s simply nothing that focuses on the sheer impact of making a deal with this demonic lord.
After Johnny has it made clear to him that he’s forever the Devil’s whipping boy, there’s never any tension that the devil is looming over Johnny’s shoulder, no urgency that his life is under control by the prince of darkness, no dread of the underworld just waiting to break under his feet, and Johnny is never completely extrapolated as a three dimensional individual whose time is simply running out. Instead he’s a boring stunt biker who is apparently a demonic biker; if you’ve never read a comic book then that’s all this character will be to you. The set up for the entire mythos is so incredibly rushed (what’s the need for the black and white footage in the beginning?) that when we’re finally introduced to Ghost Rider, we only know so very little about him.
There’s also the horrible dialogue that will constantly inspire a cringe from any reason minded viewer; Johnson just drips his film in camp from minute one and includes horrible one-liners like “He may have my soul, but he doesn’t have my spirit” all the while padding the film with some of the most unnecessary sequences. What was the point of the robbery sequence in the alley? What was the point of Ghost Rider tussling with a helicopter? One of the most obvious forms of padding is Johnson adding Johnny as a suspect for a murder, which will leave the audience scratching their heads wondering: Why suspect him? Why would they suspect a celebrity with a motorcycle for killing a bunch of folks in a motorcycle bar? Is Johnny the only one with a motorcycle in the city? It made no sense and was inherently hackneyed and lazy.
As for the performances Donal Logue does what he’s signed up to; he’s there to be a comedic sidekick we couldn’t care less for, Mendes, an actress who is consistently overrated and over hyped, provides her usual mediocre performance with zero charisma or chemistry failing to ever convince me that she’s an actual news reporter. When all is said and done, she provides no purpose beyond the cliché romance angle ever hero film apparently must have. “Ghost Rider” could have been one hell of a horror epic, instead of this mediocre camp thriller Johnson chucks at us. Hell I didn’t mind it; sure at the end of the day it’s far from a masterpiece with irritating camp, mediocre performances, horrible dialogue, and cribbing from another terrible comic adaptation, but “Ghost Rider” is entertaining, has rousing action, and great special effects. Is this how I wanted this character to end up? No, but it has much more going for it than the last “X-Men” sequel, in the end.