Cage is Hell's Angel

Any man that's got the guts to sell his soul for love has got the power to change the world - Caretaker

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider

Way back in 2006 I was privileged to see a first cut trailer for a movie which featured one of my favourite actors, Nicolas Cage, as a bike riding spirit who turned into a blazing skeleton as he went about his business. The movie was "Ghost Rider" and to say it wet my appetite for a visual effects laden extravaganza of entertainment and action would be an understatement. Now having seen the movie, I have to admit that sadly it didn't quite live up to my high expectations but was still a hugely entertaining movie which sort of grows on you every time you see it.

As a young man, stunt biker Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage - Lord of War) sold his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda - The Cannonball Run) to save his sick father. But now years later and with the arrival on earth of the demon Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the devil calls in the contract on Johnny and forces him into becoming the Ghost Rider in order to stop Blackheart.

Nicolas Cage and Sam Elliott in Ghost Rider

Prior to watching "Ghost Rider" I was unaware that this was yet another big screen adaptation of a Marvel comic character and maybe that is why I found the movie more entertaining than those who already knew the character. It gave me the advantage of not knowing the history to Johnny Blaze or Ghost Rider or what he looked like in the comics, so I would not be as disappointed by any differences.

Sadly though the movie did disappoint in several ways and first of which is the plot line which I felt was a bit flat. It starts of quite promisingly, giving us the history to how Johnny Blaze became a stunt rider, his relationships with other key characters as well as being in the employment of Mephistopheles. But then when it jumps to the present day the movie lacks any real direction, and sort of meanders along touching on a romantic sub plot whilst focussing on the main plot which is the battle between Johnny, in the form of the Ghost Rider, and the demon Blackheart. For me the main plot lacks any real power or drama and I have to admit that the first time I watched "Ghost Rider" I rapidly lost interest in what was going on.

It doesn't help that the climax is equally as lack lustre and having already lost your attention there is nothing to grab it back. I suppose I was expecting a more exciting story between good versus evil, but it never gets out of the starting blocks.

Then again I have a slight feeling that "Ghost Rider" was never going to be about a decent plot but more about the much heralded special effects and action. Well I have to say the hype over the special effects was justified and "Ghost Rider" is quite a visually impressive movie. For me the transformation from Johnny Cage into the flaming skeleton which is Ghost Rider, is very impressive and in all honesty is the best part of the movie. But then the movie is seriously let down by the action sequences, which lack the punch or vitality which keeps your attention. Even though there are quite a few action sequences dispersed through out the movie none of them seem to get the adrenalin flowing, even the ending which could have been so much better lacks the killer blow.

Now here is the huge disappointment, Nicolas Cage. I like Cage, I think he is at times an amazing actor, but for me he was completely wrong for the lead role, despite his publicized love for the character. Firstly he just looks to old, and to be honest malnourished, despite having put on a lot of muscle. It also doesn't help that he is wearing one of the worst wigs in cinematic history, which has the knock on effect of making his appearance quite laughable. Once you have gotten over the rather strange look, his performance is a surprising disappointment, it's as if he doesn't feel at ease in the role and is uncharacteristically wooden.

The same can be said for his co-stars with the gorgeous Eva Mendes looking more out of place than Cage and Peter Fonda being seriously under used in the role of Mephistopheles. For me the only star who leaves this movie unscathed is the wonderful Sam Elliott as the caretaker. Although not one of the main focal points of the movie, Elliott does breathe life into his character, and his wonderful voice is used in the opening narration which is one of the highlights of "Ghost Rider". None of the actors are helped by dialogue which has so little meaning or emphasis that the delivery of the lines is at times laughable.

I am sure that all of the flaws with "Ghost Rider" would have not been so bad if the movie had been given to a director with a proven track record, but for some reason "Ghost Rider" was directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Maybe not a name that triggers alarm bells for many people but for me it did, as prior to "Ghost Rider" he had helmed two more comic character adaptations "Daredevil" and "Elektra" both of which were less than great and both were also criticized for lazy direction. For me it felt like Johnson was unsure which way to take "Ghost Rider", was it going to be a dark, gritty movie or more comic like in the sense of "Spiderman". What happened was we got a movie which didn't know what it wanted to be and seriously suffered for it.

What this all boils down to is that I was less than impressed with "Ghost Rider" and it certainly didn't live up to my expectations. But here is the strange thing, once you have seen it once and get past the initial disappointment and Cage's terrible wig, subsequent viewings are actually better, purely because you know it's not a great movie and take it for what it is, a bit of meaningless entertainment to while away the hours.

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