Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ghost Rider

Sio ah! SIAM!

Mark Steven Johnson, I hate to break it to you. 3 strikes and you're out. I understand your earnestness in trying to write-direct Marvel superhero movies by trying to stay close to the source material, but somehow they all turn out to be mediocre efforts. Although you didn't direct Elecktra, you produced and wrote it, and wrote-directed Daredevil and now Ghost Rider. I enjoyed Daredevil even though most others did not, and that unfortunately was your best effort.

Marvel superheroes have their fair share of material being translated to the big screen, the largest cash cow being Spiderman, which opened the doors for efforts like The Hulk and Fantastic Four, creations of Stan Lee, and others, which I deem on the lower echelons, like Daredevil, Punisher, and Ghost Rider. The floodgates have not closed, as Spiderman and Fantastic Four will spawn their sequels this year, with Iron Man coming our way as well. Naturally not all the movies are hits, and too bad, I had hopes for Ghost Rider to join the hit list, even though I've not faithfully followed the comic books nor am a fan.

I'm not quick to dismiss that comic book material can't be turned into powerful motion pictures. Batman Begins and the Spiderman movies have earned their mark of respect for having that emotional oomph to engage the audience, coupled with effects and stunts to wow. I guess we're spoilt from the excellent efforts of Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi, as they've raised the bar and their movies are now the de facto benchmarks for comic book adaptations to reach.

The first sign that things aren't going all that well, was that this movie was postponed, if I recall correctly, for almost one year, on the pretext of jazzing up the special effects. True, the flames on the skull were as realistic as can be, but that's about it. Every other effect seemed quite ordinary, and nothing to make the jaw drop. In fact, some CGI shots became so repetitive, that you start to wonder if the same clip was being recycled to save time.

In essence, much like the origins of Daredevil, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) unwittingly signs a pact with the devil Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda), and indirectly caused the death of his father. Blaming himself, and because of the sale of his soul to the devil, he abandons all hope in life, and his true love Roxanne (Eva Mendes), and leads a dangerous life as a stunt biker who throws caution to the wind, knowing that he can't perish because of his secret "guardian angel", and awaits the day when he can be free from fear and blame.

Fast forward to the quick introduction of the main villain Blackheart (Wes Bentley), son of the devil, who recruits the Elementals (Earth, Wind and Water spirits of sorts) in his cause to bring hell on earth. Yes, it's Constantine all over again. The plot was too vanilla plain, lacking much conflicts to challenge our anti-hero, besides his love interest. The villains, especially the Elementals, were a joke, and were so easily dispatched, that you'll scream for your money back.

Given that it's an origin story of sorts, you'll get to see how Johnny becomes the rider who can walk on both worlds, and slowly get introduced to how he got his tools of the trade, including his jacket, gloves, chain, bike and shotgun. Unfortunately, one of the Rider's powers, the Penance Stare, is overused, making him look like a one-trick pony, and to cinematic audiences, we've probably seen a similar version in Alex Proyas' directed The Crow starring the late Brandon Lee. While there are some remotely funny moments, most of the time the humour seemed contrived, and you'll probably cringe at some of the cheesy Western reference, no thanks too to one of the tracks performed by Spiderbait.

If you're on the lookout for Stan Lee, who frequently pops into the Marvel films, don't. I think by steering clear, it's another indication that well, perhaps it's not as good a job as it should be. The narrative sagged in the middle, and contained some illogical, lazy plot moments, like a public transformation, and a busy jail house with no cops (yeah right).

Nicolas Cage could have been Superman with a hairpiece, but I thought he looked good as Johnny Blaze with a hairpiece. To his fans, you would've already seen the acting range he showed here, especially from John Woo's Face Off. That crazed look with the eyeballs almost popping out is repeated here, and at times, his Castor Troy scene comes to mind. Eva Mendes was largely wasted as the buxomy Roxanne who cockteases Johnny, and you actually wonder what Wes Bentley is doing in a movie like this. Sam Elliot shows up as the Caretaker, and is actually involved in a pretty cool scene which you might have seen revealed in the trailer.

All in all, I would still say an enjoyable movie if you don't compare to, or have seen some of the other movies which I've mentioned above. It should do well at the box office in the initial week, before word of mouth gets to it. Fans of Ghost Rider, I sure would like to hear your views if you've liked it, or not, because after all, the fans are the ones who hold their hero dear.

Anyway, to those who think they can be Ghost Rider and ride his cool bike while executing some daredevil stunts, you might want to check out the game at the official website by clicking on this link. Enjoy!

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