Ghost Rider is coming to ABC on Tuesday, September 20, with Gabriel Luna portraying the Spirit of Vengeance on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He's playing the Robbie Reyes version of the character, not Johnny Blaze, but it's still an opportune time to look back at previous attempts to bring Ghost Rider to the silver screen. Specifically, 2007's Ghost Rider and 2012's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Both were box office and critical bombs, but being an optimist, I try to find the good in things. Let's take a look at what the first movie — directed by Mark Steven Johnson — got wrong and right, and then reassess the second.
'Ghost Rider' (2007): What It Got Wrong
This is easily the most flawed of the two films, in my opinion. It won Worst Movie of the Year and Biggest Disappointment of the Year at the Golden Schmoes Awards. Is it THAT bad?
Well, I'd say "no," because 2007 had plenty of even worse movies such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man 3, Epic Movie and Alvin and the Chipmunks. There were things to enjoy in this one, but first, let's get the bad out of the way.
— The Story
The main plot itself was good enough for a 45-minute pilot of a TV show. However, they decided to make this a movie, so how did they get an almost two-hour running time? By padding the movie out with some of the most uninteresting filler you could ever imagine: a romance subplot and, well, nothing else worth mentioning.
I can practically hear you all yawning already and that is the movie's biggest flaw: it is so boring. How do you make a movie about a guy who transforms into a fiery skeleton and rides on a demonic motorcycle boring? Well, they managed to do it, because for a movie that is only an hour and 54 minutes long, it felt like four hours.
— The Villain
While Peter Fonda's Mephistopheles (a.k.a. the devil) is enjoyable enough to sit through, the main villain Blackheart is just painful. Remember Deacon Frost from Blade? Imagine him but done 10 times worse, add a misused Wes Bentley, mix them in a blender, and you have yourself a gross concoction of terrible villain. When you make Malekith from Thor: The Dark World seem threatening in comparison, then we have a serious problem.
Blackheart does have a promising introduction but after that, it's all downhill. Okay, there are a few times when he hams things up even more than you'd expect of Nicolas Cage, which comes off as a bit enjoyable, but the best scene featuring Blackheart is the climax (which is another thing ripped straight out of Blade, by the way) where the character goes so over the top that it becomes hilarious.
— The CGI
This is a movie about Ghost Rider, correct? Okay, then may I ask, how did you make Ghost Rider look like garbage on a $110 million budget? Seriously, even for 2007 the CGI for Ghost Rider was awful — and what's even stranger is that the CGI for everything else looked great: the Hellcycle, the demons, the ride up the building, etc., but whenever they cut to Ghost Rider close up, he looked like something out of a video game.
One would think that the filmmakers would put the most effort into the CGI of the titular superhero character (who is made completely out of CGI) but hey, maybe that's why I'm not in the filmmaking business.
— The Damsel In Distress
Eva Mendes played Roxanne Simpson, a character who served no purpose to the plot other than being a romantic interest for the main character and a damsel in distress. The character had as much of a personality as a wooden plank, so you could have replaced Eva Mendes with some random model nobody's ever heard of and you'd end up with the same result.
— The Tone
While normally I'm one of the few individuals who prefers a more serious tone with his superhero movies, Ghost Rider is one of the times where the movie took itself WAY too seriously for me. Whenever it focuses on the Johnny Blaze part of the character, which is about 75% of the movie, it drags quite a bit. Though there is a genuinely funny scene with Rebel Wilson in one of her first roles as "Girl In Alley." Oh, how things have changed for her.
'Ghost Rider' (2007): What It Got Right
While the CGI on Ghost Rider is a bit lacking, every single time he finally shows up, he is by far the best thing about the movie: the awesome leathery spiked outfits, the one-liners, the Penance Stare, the Hellcycle... everything about him just screams the word: badass. The best example I can give is Johnny Blaze's first transformation into Ghost Rider and his battle with the demon Gressil.
— The Demons
Now, I'm not saying these villains are anywhere near the levels of Kylo Ren or General Zod, but I'll sure as hell (no pun intended) take them over Blackheart any day. Other than their fights with Ghost Rider being way too short, I got some enjoyment out of them, which is definitely a plus.
And like I said, the aforementioned Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles is pretty enjoyable to watch.
— The Action Scenes
As a fan of the comics, I'm not going to deny that seeing Ghost Rider going up and down the side of a skryscraper, fighting the demons and using the Penance Stare all had me grinning; it all felt straight off the panels of a comic book. However, are they worth the price of admission? Nope. I'd say they are worth a simple typing on YouTube.
— Nicolas Cage...Sorta
Okay, I know so many are going to crucify me for this, but I don't think Nic Cage was all that bad for the role, and he tried as hard as he could to work with what he had. Is he to Ghost Rider what Ben Affleck is to Batman? No, but he at least tried, and I do admire that they cast somebody who was a fan of the source material.
He also did not deserve a Razzie for his performance whatsoever. If anything, Wes Bentley should have earned that award. Nicolas Cage is one of my favorite actors of all time and I know that he can give a good performance; I bet if he had been given a better script, then he might have pulled off a great Johnny Blaze.
So do the positive things I mentioned save the Ghost Rider movie? No, unfortunately, the movie is definitely a bad one and I wouldn't recommend it — but if you're bored and it's there on Netflix, put it on for some background noise while you do something else.
After the movie's failure, you'd think they'd never bring Nicolas Cage back for the role, right? Well, cut to five years later...
'Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance' (2012): What It Got Wrong
This sequel/reboot/soft reboot/something (seriously, there is zero connection to the first film other than a quick recap of how he became the Ghost Rider) is what the first movie should have been: a fun, dumb, crazy popcorn action flick that you just watch for an hour and a half with your brain turned off while having a blast.
Is this a good movie? Well, no, not really, but is it enjoyably dumb? Yes! Remember Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger? It was a dumb action flick, but you love it anyway? That's kind of how I feel about Spirit of Vengeance. After all, you can't really expect Oscar-worthy material when you're dealing with the guys who brought you the Crank movies. Nevertheless, it wasn't perfect either...
— The Camera Work
Like I said, this movie was made by the same nutball directors who gave us the Crank movies and yes, they still bring in their idiotic high-framerate camera work. Someone like Guy Ritchie or Matthew Vaughn may know how to make high-framerate shaky cam work, but Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine are the exact opposite. However, I will give them credit: they toned down their camera work for the chase scenes; it's still high-framerate but at least I'm not getting a headache from it.
— Danny and Nadya
They were almost worse than Eva Mendes in the first movie in terms of personality, but they both acted fine and gave a couple of amusing parts, so in a way they were a little better. They still dragged the movie down whenever they were involved. Unlike Roxanne Simpson, however, these two are the main plot devices so we see much more of them.
— Christopher Lambert
Seriously, Lambert? You were the God of Thunder and Connor McLeod! What were you doing here? Oh yeah, getting a good paycheck. Still! The character was there for what? Five minutes? You could have given that to anyone! Though his fight scene with Blackout was kinda sorta maybe cool? Yeah, he was just a waste of space. You deserve better Christopher!
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'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' (2012): What It Got Right
Once again, the best thing about the movie is Ghost Rider himself, and he's done even better. How? Well, look at him! For one thing, they definitely fixed the CGI on him. I adore the burnt skull and melted leather jacket look — he honestly looks scary — and they even portrayed the Rider better this time around by making it a separate entity from Johnny Blaze. A demon who loves to feed on the souls of evil men.
— The Movie Knows How Dumb It Is
Like I said, the first movie took itself too seriously, whereas Spirit of Vengeance fixed this by embracing the fact it's stupid; it knows it's just a dumb action flick and embraces that, which I find refreshing.
For example, there is a scene where Johnny Blaze interrogates a man for information and it is utterly hilarious due to Nicolas Cage's craziness that we all know and love. Or a scene where we see Ghost Rider pee. Not joking.
This movie also has some of my favorite one-liners, such as the one he uses after fighting Blackout and one he says to the main villain before sending him to hell.
— Amazing Fight Scenes
Remember when I said that the fight scenes weren't worth the price of admission for the first film? COMPLETE opposite for Spirit of Vengeance because they amped up the action quite a bit this time around. Especially with a scene where he transforms a mining machine into his own little toy, which nearly made my jaw drop in theaters. For a movie with such a small budget, I was shocked to see how good the CGI looked.
— The Villains Were Enjoyable
Again, not great villains, but they at least entertained me and that's good enough for me. The main villain, despite being a cliche "devil in human skin," was portrayed well by Ciarán Hinds and he got a few pretty good lines in there. Blackout, played by Johnny Whitworth, had some cool action scenes (despite a bizarre black filter they put over his them for some reason) and he had a genuinely funny scene where he keeps trying to eat food and his powers make everything rot, but nothing happens when he touches a Twinkie. I'll admit, that got me to chuckle a bit.
— Idris Elba
It's Idris Elba, he's awesome in everything he does. He tried his hardest with the material he had to work with, and even pulled it off with a few funny lines at times.
— Nicolas Cage...Sorta...Again
Okay yes, I am aware Cage's acting is just straight-up bonkers in this movie due to it being written not so well, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy how opposite of a performance this is from the first movie. The first movie actually had a much more toned down Nicolas Cage, which was both a pro and con, but in Spirit of Vengeance, he goes all-out insane, which is again both a pro and con. Whenever he was Ghost Rider (since he did the motion capture for it), he nailed it, in my opinion.
Let me say it again, I don't think this is a technically a good movie, but if you're looking for something fun to watch with your friends while eating some popcorn, then stick in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and have yourself some dumb fun.
With both previous movies being bad, I can definitely say that I am intrigued to see what the Marvel Cinematic Universe can bring to the table with Ghost Rider. Maybe bring him, Punisher, Moon Knight and Blade together for a Netflix Marvel Knights series? A guy can dream.
Now you're probably wondering what I think of Robbie Reyes's Ghost Rider so far. Well, the fire looks pretty good, but the skull? It looks worse than the CGI of the first Ghost Rider movie, which is definitely not a good sign considering it's been almost 10 years since that movie.
So learn from Spirit of Vengeance, MCU: fix the CGI, add great villains and action, keep it fun instead of over-serious, and you'll have yourself a Ghost Rider ready to ride.