We enjoy the anti-heroes because they’re not the straight-arrow types we’re used to seeing. There’s also a certain satisfaction in watching the hero actually kill the evildoers rather than send them to jail so they can escape moments later.
Thanks to the comedic skills of Ryan Reynolds and the insight that there was a market for R-rated comic book movies, Deadpool has pretty much become to defacto anti-hero of superhero cinema. But there was a moment not so long ago that it looked like another Marvel character might claim that crown.
Ghost Rider was first published by Magazine Enterprises in 1949, with the Ghost Rider as a western anti-hero created by Dick Ayers and Ray Krank.
Marvel Comics eventually picked up the trademark and published its first iteration of Ghost Rider in 1967. This time, Ghost Rider was a 19th-century teacher named Carter Slade and a costumed vigilante.
This version proved unpopular, so, in 1972, creators Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog released a revamped Ghost Rider as the flaming-skulled, motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing Johnny Blaze. This was about as edge-lord as things got back in the early '70s.
Before 2007, Ghost Rider made very few appearances in the broader Marvel Universe, except in video games and guest roles on a few of the '90s animated cartoons, most notably The Incredible Hulk.
So, Marvel fans were excited to see a Ghost Rider movie starring Nicholas Cage premiere in 2007. It looked like it was going to be an epic story full of action, fire, motorcycles, and flaming skeletons. We couldn’t wait. Then we saw the movie and couldn’t believe we waited all this time to have our hopes dashed.
What went wrong? Let's take a closer look.
The movie opens with a voiceover from Sam Elliott (!) unloading all the exposition about Ghost Rider Carter Slade, a Texas Ranger who sold his soul to the Devil out of greed. When the Devil ordered Slade to retrieve a contract for control of a thousand corrupt souls that would unleash hell on earth, Slade hid the contract and was never seen again.
After that information dump, we cut to teenage Johnny Blaze, a stunt rider with his father. Johnny has a girlfriend named Roxanne who is moving away, so the two decide to run away together.
Except, there’s one hiccup. Johnny’s father has been diagnosed with cancer.
As fate would have it, Peter Fonda shows up with some strategic shadows and lightening and offers to cure Johnny’s father. Johnny just needs to sign over his immortal soul.
Kids, if Peter Fonda shows up to make a deal with you in exchange for your soul, just say no. Because there’s always a catch.
Johnny signs over his soul, and sure enough, his father has been restored to full health. Half an hour later, Johnny’s father dies breaking his neck during a stunt show.
There’s that loophole. Damn you, Peter Fonda!
Fonda reveals himself as the Devil, because, duh, who else is going to ask you to hand over your soul?
Johnny is officially stuck in a contract with the Devil who plans to call him up at a later date. As for Roxanne, she diligently waits for Johnny, and he just stares and slowly drives right past her.
Years later, Johnny Blaze is a famous stunt rider known for performing dangerous feats without injury, even when he eats dirt.
After crashing his bike without a scratch, Johnny spends an evening decompressing before a big stunt show. And he does this by... eating jellybeans out of a martini glass while watching a chimpanzee do karate?
What the hell am I looking at right now?
Okay, I don’t think this is a Johnny Blaze thing. I think Nicholas Cage decided to chow down on jellybeans and watch monkey martial arts in the middle of the take and the crew just went with it.
Meanwhile, Edward Cullen’s emo cousin rolls into town and kills a bunch of people in a bar. Then he asks the Weird Sisters to form a goth band with him to help him find the contract of a thousand souls so he can take over the world.
On the day of his big show, who should Johnny Blaze run into, but his old girlfriend, Roxanne?
Roxanne has moved on and is now a TV reporter. Johnny wants to reconnect with her, though she’s still justifiably pissed off at him. He gets Roxanne to talk to him by swerving directly in front of her van, forcing her colleague to halt the car.
Roxanne reluctantly agrees to have dinner with him that night. I think Johnny’s been taking tips from Noah Calhoun’s Book of Romance.
But the date is not to be. Johnny is waylaid by the Devil who is ready to cash in. Johnny is turned into the Ghost Rider and Nicholas Cage’s transformation is just as Nicholas Cage-y as you would expect.
The Devil tells Johnny he needs to find and destroy his son, Blackheart. In return, he’ll give Johnny back his soul and lift the Ghost Rider curse.
Wait, wait. This movie is telling me that Count Dracula’s inbred nephew is named...Blackheart?
As if this guy isn’t silly enough looking, he has the most cartoony villain name ever. No, I will not and cannot take a guy who I’m pretty sure is named after a Care Bears villain seriously.
Johnny goes full Ghost Rider, and I have to admit, he looks awesome.
His design is great, and it’s even more awesome when he starts incinerating evil people’s souls.
This is the Ghost Rider that I signed up for. I only wish these scenes could have lasted longer because they are disappointingly short. I wish we could have more time with the actual Ghost Rider and less with Johnny Blaze/Nicholas Cage.
It’s not long before Ghost Rider changes back and meets Sam Elliott.
Elliott plays the caretaker of the local cemetery who knows all about the Ghost Rider’s history, and Carter Slade, who hid the contract of a thousand souls. Gee, I wonder if this will lead to an unexpected twist?
Meanwhile, Blackheart kidnaps Roxanne and threatens to kill her if Johnny doesn’t bring him the contract, so Johnny goes to Sam Elliott for help. And go figure, Sam Elliott is actually Carter Slade. Wow, did anyone not see that coming?
Johnny asks Slade to give him the contract, and we are treated to this bizarre exchange:
Johnny Blaze: He [the Devil] may have my soul, but he doesn’t have my spirit.
Carter Slade: Any man that’s got the guts to sell his soul for love has got the power to change the world.
We’ve got a villain named Blackheart and a speech about the power of love. Holy Crap, this movie really does have too much in common with Care Bears.
Carter Slade gives Johnny the contract, and this actually leads to the coolest scene in the movie. Slade and Johnny Blaze both morph into their Ghost Rider forms and the two of them ride across the desert together. It’s absolutely epic.
Well, it’s awesome for all of three minutes. After that incredible image of two Ghost Riders riding together to face an ancient evil, Slade up and leaves. Yep, he peaces out and leaves Johnny to fight Blackheart alone. Seriously, what was that build up for? They literally run across the desert just for Slade to say, “I’m out, dude. Good luck.”
I feel so let down.
Johnny does defeat Blackheart and the Devil returns his soul, but Johnny decides to keep the power of the Ghost Rider to protect innocents. After he and Roxanne reaffirm their love for each other, Johnny drives off into the distance, leaving Roxanne behind, abandoning her yet again.
And we get this final close up of Cage with possibly the douchiest expression:
This movie had a lot of promise. I really enjoy Ghost Rider as an anti-hero and I had high hopes for this movie that weren’t met. Despite featuring an awesome comic book character, the plot was surprisingly uninteresting. You didn’t get the feeling that stakes were running high.
The villain is also just too cartoonishly ridiculous to be taken as seriously as the movie wants you to. From his name to his performance, Blackheart is a villain that you can’t help but snicker whenever he’s on-screen. Or any time someone says the name “Blackheart” with complete sincerity.
I admit, whenever the actual Ghost Rider was actually on the screen and in action, he’s completely awesome. His scenes are easily the best in the movie. It’s just that we didn’t see enough of him. And unfortunately, the storyline wasn’t compelling enough to match such a cool character.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten heroes we love.