Somewhere deep inside me lurks the soul of a full on Comic Book Guy. I like comic books, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve been reading them for most of my life, and I’ve accumulated a fair amount of comics knowledge, though I try to keep from foisting it upon the uninterested. I have varying degrees of success with this, but I’m generally pretty good about reserving my in-depth explanations of comic book lore for situations that call for it. Because of this, I am the Go-To Geek whenever one of my friends or family members has questions about the four-color world and once in a great while they will solicit me for thoughts and opinions on Comic Movies, because it is where several of my interests intersect.
So it’s no wonder people keep coming up to on the street and asking me about Ghost Rider, which stars Nicholas “Almost Superman” Cage and opens this week. To say I’m less than excited about this movie would be like saying that Yogi Bear kind of likes Picnic Baskets. I will go see it, because I am philosophically obligated to see every comic book movie that comes, thus voting with my dollar to keep them coming. But I don’t think I’ll like it. I’m praying for mediocrity on this one, as I feel that is the most anyone can hope for. This fills me with rage, hot fiery rage.
I think the recent emergence of mainstream comic book movies has been a good thing, by and large. It brings well-loved characters into new media and introduces them to a whole new public. Comics are visual narratives and lend themselves well to the cinema (when done right). But for every Batman Begins, we get a Daredevil. For every Spider-Man we get a Catwoman. And for every X-Men, we get a Ghost Rider. In the rush to cash in on the comic movie trend, studios are mining deep, and what they shake out isn’t always cinematic gold. This is a shame because all they can do is tarnish the good name of some cool characters.
A crash course (Get it?) on the Ghost Rider: Originally published in the early 70s, the series told the story of Johnny Blaze, stunt motorcyclist who had sold his soul to the devil in order to cure his step-father’s cancer. The devil was true to his word and he cured the cancer, but Johnny’s dad soon died in a motorcycle accident. When the devil showed up to collect poor Johnny’s soul, he was devil cock-blocked by Johnny’s sweetheart. The pure love of his girlfriend kept the devil at bay, but in revenge he cursed Johnny to become the flaming-skulled demon at night. In effect, Johnny was possessed by a demon who began as an unspeaking cipher but showed more and more personality as the series progressed. The Ghost Rider did not have Johnny’s consciousness, but his thoughts and feelings influenced the otherworldly biker into doing (mostly) good although his unpredictable nature could cause serious harm to Johnny’s friends. He could somehow “burn people’s souls” with his hellfire, and was mean with a chain. There was also a 1990s reboot of the character, with a different young man becoming the Ghost Rider. It was pretty cool, and Dan Ketch served as my introduction to the character, but it is Johnny Blaze who will be the subject of the movie. He’s a stunt rider, an impulsive hothead who also has a heart of gold and must literally and figuratively overcome his demons to save the people he loves.
I think that’s a complex character, and a cool story. So why will the movie suck? It is doomed to fail. I don’t believe there was any possible way to translate Ghost Rider to the big screen. A giant skeleton with a flaming skull riding around on a demonic chopper looks mighty cool on the comics page, but no amount of CGI will save it on the movie screen. Had this been a cartoon maybe it might have stood a chance at coolness, but as it is Ghost Rider looks ridiculous. It is simply too much to ask people to suspend their disbelief that this guy’s head is constantly flickering with infernal fire. It just looks kind of dumb, and if there is one thing the Ghost Rider should never be it is goofy looking. He should be scary. Is this scary?
I’ve never gone on record with who my favorite heroes are, but the top three are probably Daredevil, Moon Knight and Ghost Rider. Now two out of three have been brought to the big screen in an aggressively mediocre way. Hopefully Moon Knight is safe. I’m willing to be surprised, but as I enter the theatre on Friday it will be with a sense of dread in my heart as I prepare to let the studio “Daredevil” me into submission.