Doom and Doomer: Ghost Rider

Welcome to the first installment of Doom and Doomer, where Doom DeLuise and I take a back-and-forth look at comic book movies. Up first is Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Peter Fonda, which opened at #1 this past weekend.

JIM DOOM: Well let me say that I have lost all sympathy for Mark Steven Johnson. I watched Daredevil, thought it was entertaining but bad, but then I watched the DD Director’s cut where he talked about all these lame stuff that the producers wanted to add in to make it more “Hollywood.”

DOOM DELUISE: Like a plot?

JD: So I thought, here’s a guy who loves comics, wants to make good comics movies (which I thought the DD: Director’s Cut was a pretty good stab at doing), but got messed up with producers.

No, they added the DD / Elektra love scene (he wanted that to never happen), they took out the whole Matt Murdock as lawyer subplot, really, you should watch the featurette on the brilliance behind those awful decisions.

So anyway, after seeing Ghost Rider – which he has said in interviews is much closer to his original vision than DD was – I realize, this guy’s just a hack.

The Spider-Man movies, and the Lord of the Rings movies and numerous other “genre” movies have proven that you can make a successful movie about anything, as long as you make a good movie.

Ghost Rider seemed so embarrassed to be a comic book movie that it tried to be everything to everyone and ended up being nothing to anyone.

It tried to be cute for little kids, scary for adults, ironic for teen-20 folks, but make little comic references for the comic fans. Meanwhlie the kids are going to be freaked out, the adults are going to be offended at the moronic level of humor, and the comic fans are going to be like “Jesus, I used to read this?”

DD: Yeah, but you can’t put all of the blame squarely on the shoulders of one guy, no matter how big a “hack” he may be.

JD: Well, you can put a lot of blame on him, because he got sole writing, screenplay and directing credit.

DD: Yeah, but maybe the fact of the matter is that no matter how hard anybody would try, Ghost Rider is just a stupid character.

Ooh, the Penance Stare! Gimme a breaksville.

JD: It was just cheap in every aspect. The humor was self-deprecatory. The horror consisted largely of special effects. None of the emotions came from a good story or well-constructed characters.

DD: What about the Magic 8-Ball? That wasn’t cheap.

JD: I don’t know how you’d do it, but I think that if you gave Ghost Rider to Sam Raimi or Bryan Singer, it’d be quite a bit better.

I can tell you the way you DON’T make a good Ghost Rider movie – don’t make Nicholas Cage the star, don’t fill it with one-liners, don’t have a completely arbitrary ghost cowboy, don’t make a joke out of it.

I know I’m one of the few, but I liked Daredevil. I thought it was kind of stupid in places and had its flaws, but I felt like it was at least true to the character and it was a fun movie. It was about as dumbed-down as a comic movie could get while making me still feel like I enjoyed a comic movie.

This was just lame. So anyway, I’ve got my opening statement out of the way.

DD: Well, I’ll agree with you, for the most part. It was a horrible, horrible movie. Never once did I feel like Blackheart or his worthless, throw-away, easily-beatable henchmen were any sort of threat, but, then again, never once did I feel like Ghost Rider, aka the Spirit of Vengeance, was in any way a sort of intimidating hero.

JD: Well, I did. But this segues to another problem with the movie.

The two most well-known Ghost Riders – the Johnny Blaze / Zarathos GR of the 70s and the Dan Ketch Ghost Rider of the 90s – were pretty different characters. Yet this movie combined the worst of both.

The Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider was this evil jerk who got a thrill out of tormenting people, with a personality completely separate of Blaze’s. The Dan Ketch Ghost Rider was more of a silent badass, more intimidating but also just full of brief, “vengeful” dialogue.

So they use Johnny Blaze as the human host, use the outfit and accessories and the cemetery setting of the Dan Ketch GR, but then we get a flaming demon that essentially has the Nic Cage Johnny Blaze personality playing the part of the Dan Ketch GR.

DD: So which one would be more likely to flip off the cops?

JD: Oh god, well, Zarathos would, but that was like the absolute one moment where GR resembled the 70s GR, and so it was therefore COMPLETELY out of character and just played for cheap, cheap laughs.
I mean can you imagine if the Spider Man in the movies was an arbitrary cross between Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099?

DD: That’d suck pretty bad.

My main beef with the movie was the way the story unfolded. I think that running everything through chronologically really hurt the overall feel of, well, everything.

We get one brief shot of young Johnny Blaze finding a crumpled up letter (by the way, since when do doctors send letters like that?) explaining that his dad’s dying of cancer. The very next scene, he sells his soul to the Devil.

We get one brief, corny scene of young Johnny in love, and we’re supposed to see some sort of sacrifice that he’s making to become Ghost Rider?

JD: yeah, he doesn’t even really seem to like his Dad very much. He’s willing to completely bail on him without a word, but he’ll sell his soul for him?

DD: It was as if they sat down, looked at the origin, and said, hey, well, we’ve gotta throw these three or four scenes in there, but, they’re really just filler to get us into the real meat and potatoes of this story, so let’s just throw them out there right away, real quick-like.

JD: Yeah, his dad was kind of a jerk, too.

I’m sure the producers and Avi Arad have a prepared response to everyone who thinks this movie was awful, and it’s probably along the lines of “We can’t make a comic book movie that you nerds like, or it won’t do well at the box office. We Hollywood geniuses know how to make gold.” When it’s like no, no no no no. A movie is good, whether the main character’s head is on fire or not, because characters act believably and do things that – while we may not do them ourselves – we can understand why they do them. And we relate accordingly to the drama that unfolds.

If the actions of the characters are inconsistent, then the characters are no longer believable, no longer likeable, and then we don’t care what happens to them.

DD: Exactly.

And, further, where do we ever see a moment where Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider decides to fight against the Devil? Sure, he flat-out says he’s going to at the end, but, why? Where did his mind change?

DD: And can’t the Devil just take away his powers or something?

And if the Devil can just pop up anywhere at anytime and do anything, how could he not chase down a guy on a horse and get his paper back?

That again is why I keep coming back to the Spider Man movies. Those things make tons of money because far more than comic book fans can relate to them.

DD: Spider-Man’s relatable for many reasons. One being that the idea of how he became Spider-Man is something that anybody could day-dream about happening to themselves. How many people can believe that the Devil will just show up in the middle of a TERRIBLE lightning storm to offer them the ability to ride on a fire-bike?

And why pick Johnny Blaze? The kid’s a wimpy little weiner.

JD: And what’s with the stupid “rule” about how they can’t go onto hallowed ground? The caretaker is safe because he’s on a cemetery, but they can go into churches with no problem?

Like the devil actually cares that he’s a good bike rider. Was that just all supposed to be cute inside jokes since it’s Peter Fonda?

DD: Haha

JD: Because inside jokes do not a good movie make.

DD: This is what I’m saying, though, about not putting all the blame on one guy. The Ghost Rider origin kind of sucks.

JD: It’s just that everything of dramatic consequence in this movie was so arbitrary.

DD: They shouldn’t have made an origin movie.

JD: No, that was not Ghost Rider’s origin.

DD: Oh?

JD: That was based on Ghost Rider’s origin, but it was screwed up to make it all stupid and Hollywood.

DD: I don’t know anything about Ghost Rider.

JD: Maybe I’m wrong, but in the comics, Johnny LIKES his dad, so he seeks out the Devil to make the deal. The Devil doesn’t seek out him.

DD: That sure would make a whole lot more sense.

JD: Sure would, wouldn’t it?

DD: Going into the movie, I didn’t really understand what Ghost Rider is. I didn’t understand his powers; I didn’t understand his origin; I didn’t understand his motivation or anything about him.
I still don’t.

All I know is that there’s not enough whiskey in Ireland to make me go see that movie again.

JD: I just didn’t even know where to start with that movie. and let me tell you, I can only think of one time in my life when I laughed out loud at unintentional humor in a movie. I laughed almost constantly throughout Ghost Rider.

DD: “I was thinking. Instead of jumping a car or a ring of fire…a helicopter!”
Weirdest flashback moment ever.

JD: “Mercy? I’m all out of mercy!”

That line was so lame my girlfriend posted it on my myspace page to mock my comic nerdness.

DD: That’s harsh.

JD: Well, it was in good fun.

DD: And you really should start saying “fiance.”

JD: Well I’m not sure how to spell it.

DD: I think that’s right.

JD: Ok. Well, my fiance enjoyed the movie, but from an “Oh my god, that was hilarious” perspective.

It just sucks, because there are characters out there that could be made into good movies, but instead they’re being whored out for a quick buck. Ghost Rider was #1 this weekend, but it’s totally ruined as a movie franchise.

DD: That might be the most disappointing thing about the movie. In Marvel’s eyes, this is a huge success.

JD: I don’t know why they can’t see the difference between the fruitful groundwork that has been laid with the Spider-Man franchise and the cheap throwaway crap they’ve got on their hands here.

DC’s relaunch of Batman shows that they understand “oh, we can do the campy crap and make a quick buck while compromising our characters, or we can do it right and protect our property.”

I don’t really know if I have any more to say about Ghost Rider other than it was awful, truly awful, and if there’s ever a Daredevil 2, I hope that Mark Steven Johnson is kept far, far away from it.

DD: Oh, what about that dramatic moment when Johnny’s girlfriend, y’know, that girl with the big knockers, makes her reappearance? “What about for an old friend?”

JD: Yeah, and she’s not even standing in the middle of all the reporters, but she’s angelically framed in the stadium tunnel.

DD: That was hilarious, and it had no intention of being so.

JD: And why does every superhero have to have an annoying comic relief buddy?

The comic relief buddy is there to lighten up a serious movie. When the whole movie is a joke, the comic relief buddy is a redundant annoyance.

DD: And he wasn’t even funny.

JD: We’ve got to stop talking about this. I’m just getting mad.

Closing thoughts?

DD: No matter how bad you’ve heard this movie is, it’s actually worse than that.

JD: I think Ghost Rider has the potential to be an interesting character, and while it would be difficult, it could be a good movie. This movie tapped into none of that potential, and instead relied on only the superficial, and it’s exactly what you would expect from the previews – a joke of a movie that relies on special effects and humor to maybe make itself a little less embarrassed to be about a comic book character.

DD: Yeah, what you said.

JD: I hate it.

DD: With the six dollars I dropped on a ticket, plus the three dollars and twenty-five cents I spent on a giant Cherry Coke, I could’ve bought a 12 pack of PBR and had enough money to buy some Pretzels to snack on.