I can't say I was particularly eager to see "Ghost Rider" after watching the trailers, which made the movie out to be a big chunk of cheese. After watching "Ghost Rider", I realized something: I wasn't that far off: "Ghost Rider" is exceptionally cheesy (and a little corny on top of it), but in a way that makes the picture work as mindless entertainment that doesn't take itself particularly seriously. I doubt fans of the comic are going to be thrilled with this adaptation, but, standing on its own, I found it had its moments.
Based on the Marvel Comics character, the movie starts with young Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage as an adult) making a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda!) to cure his father from cancer. Of course, Johnny shouldn't have trusted the devil, and his dad is taken out of the picture when his motorcycle crashes during a stunt the next day.
Years later, Johnny is still doing motorbike stunts, going for bigger and bigger stunts that include jumping the length of a football field over helicopters, a stunt his father came up with. However, when the devil's angry son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley of "American Beauty") comes to Earth looking to take things over. So, Johnny Blaze is called into action by the devil, becoming the "Ghost Rider", which results in Johnny's head turning into a flaming skull and his being able to ride at hundreds of miles an hour. So begins a battle between Johnny and Blackheart, while Johnny also must find time to romance his childhood sweetheart, Roxanne (Eva Mendes).
"Ghost Rider" is a big batch of silly (some of it seemingly intentionally, some of it I'm not quite sure), but at least the movie is aware of what it is. Cage's portrayal of the character brings a lot of the loopiness that Cage could only bring to the table. Cage is certainly a comic book fan (I'd imagine that anyone who names their kid Kal-El is), but while the material could be better (dialogue like, "He has my soul, but he doesn't have my spirit.") and the "Ghost Rider" effects are a bit funny (the other effects work in the film fares better), the actor at least tries to bring some of his own style.
Bentley, on the other hand, is terrible as the villain, seeming more like a spoiled teenager than a serious foe. Peter Fonda is hysterical as the devil, and while this truly is not going to go down as one of the actor's finer moments, at least he appears to be having fun. This is director Mark Steven Johnson's second superhero film after "Daredevil" and while it's a very different film, it's again just okay. The movie seems to understand that it's ridiculous even for a superhero movie and decides to give it a tone that never quite takes itself seriously, and while that's sort of entertaining in its own way, it also takes away any sort of tension or impact (this is a surprisingly rather lightweight movie for such a dark character), a problem that's made worse by a lackluster villain. I liked Cage's performance well enough and the movie manages to kick it into gear at times, but there's some considerable issues (the dialogue, the villain, thought the tone was off) that keep it from being a more memorable addition to the superhero genre.
I didn't see the film theatrically so I can't comment on the differences between the extended cut made available here and the theatrical release, but 123 minutes (the extended cut) does start to run overlong at times. Although I haven't seen it, the 114-minute theatrical cut sounds like a more appealing length to me, as I thought the film could use 10-15 minutes of trims to make it tighter.
VIDEO: "Ghost Rider" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation generally looked good, but fell just a bit short of great. Sharpness and detail are usually pretty solid, although some scenes appeared slightly softer in comparison. Some mild edge halos were the main concern, although a few traces of artifacting were also seen. On a positive note, the print used appeared crystal clear, with no specks, marks or other faults. Colors looked bold and bright, with no smearing or other faults. Black level also remained solid throughout the flick.
SOUND: "Ghost Rider" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 on this release. While not as much of a sonic assault as Johnson's previous film, "Ghost Rider" certainly still delivered a knockout sound mix, with the surrounds kicking in various effects during the film's many intense action scenes. Audio quality was fine, with deep, tight bass and crisp, clear dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Two commentaries: one from writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack and the other from producer Gary Foster. The first DVD also offers trailers for other titles from the studio, such as "Across the Universe", "Seinfeld: Season 8" and more.
"Spirit of Vengeance"/"Spirit of Adventure"/"Spirit of Execution" are the three parts of a nearly 90-minute "making of" documentary that is the main attraction on the second DVD. The documentary provides an exceptionally informative and in-depth look at the making of the movie, from the early days of the project to the casting of Cage to production and beyond. The first part of the documentary leads into the production, the middle part follows the production as it heads to Australia to start shooting and the final part of the documentary heads into post-production as the director reviews early effects work, editing work is done and the sound effects crew are hard at work.
The second DVD also includes a series of featurettes ("Sin and Salvation") that follow the "Ghost Rider" comic over the years. We also get animatics for the movie.
Final Thoughts: Cage offers a fine performance and the movie has some energetic action scenes, but the film is let down by tone that's sometimes goofy, a so-so script and a lackluster villain. The DVD offers satisfactory video quality, very good audio and a nice selection of bonus featre. A light rental recommendation.
The Film C+