Saturday, February 25, 2012

Marvel Movie Ranking Project: #25 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

We are not condoned by these people.
Electric Frankfurter's Official Marvel Movie List

There was a time when the Superman movies of the 1970's were all anyone could ever want from a super-hero movie.  And they were pretty good, for their time.  Then came 1989 and Tim Burton showed the world that super-hero movies could be so much more.  Burton's Batman ushered in a new era of super-hero movie that went beyond the cliches and silliness that gave us Bat Anti-Shark repellant. Sadly, as the era was born, so would it die.  All of the good work done by Burton was quickly undone by Joel Schumacher and his cornball train wreck that was Batman and Robin, which harkened back to that techno-color time of yore in all its goofiness.  All was not lost, however, because even as Rome was burning, a new generation of "comic book" movie was rising from the ashes.

One year after Batman and Robin put comic books back in the kiddie pool, Marvel decided to throw their hat into the ring with a risky venture based on a third tier character:  Blade.  While Blade didn't make quite the splash Batman did nearly a decade before, it did set the tone for a new age of super-hero film that would redefine the genre and prove that the subject matter transcended the spandex and beach ball breasts that had come to misrepresent it.  The following years would see movies featuring the best of the Marvel super-heroes including Spider-man, the X-men, and various Avengers as well as intelligently crafted non-Marvel films such as the much anticipated Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and a re-invented Batman franchise.  However, this period was most definitely the Marvel era of movies.

Being huge comic book nerds, myself perhaps more than Aimee, we have relished in the days of great movies based on some of our favorite super-heroes and as part of that relishment (my word, you are free to use it) there have resulted some very intense and sometimes heated debates about the hierarchy of how certain movies stack up against one another.  Eventually, those debates sparked a project and the fruit of that project you are about to be subjected to..I mean "read."

Over the course of the next 25 weeks the wife and I are going to tell you exactly how the Marvel movies of the past 14 years rank.  Over that period of time Marvel has released 25 major motion pictures based on characters from their comic books.  Many of them have been very good; many of them have been not so good, and some of them have been down right terrible.  We will begin our journey this week with the absolute worst of the worst and we will work our way to the very top sometime in August.

So if you love comic books and/or super-heroes and the movies that feature them, and if you really enjoy our snarky take on things, then you are in for a treat.  Each week Aimee and I will give our individual takes on the movies as we rank them and will also provide insight as to how we arrived at our rankings.  There have been a few spirited conversations over the course of our viewings as we have hashed out these rankings and those will most definitely reveal themselves as we make our way through the list.  We both have pretty strong opinions and we'd love to hear some of yours as well.  We'll also be offering you some of our insights into how we view the genre and where we see it going as we leave this era and head into a new future of comic book movies.

Join us will you as Electric Frankfurter brings you the Official Rankings of the Marvel Era of Movies.

#25 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Obviously this movie is bad, it's on the bottom of the list.  The only tragedy is that there are not more movies on this list so that Ghost Rider 2 could be ranked lower than 25.  It is that bad.  We won't even talk about the obvious mis-casting of Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze, we can save that for the original Ghost Rider and I promise you won't have to wait long for that discussion.  We won't have to talk about that because the movie is so bad you almost believe that Cage might have to save the film from the depths of boredom.  I'll spoil it for you: he doesn't.
You could almost make a case for this movie being watchable excepting for two very important flaws: one, the movie has no likable characters whatsoever, none, and two, the movie is dull.  One reviewer said that for a movie about a man who is regularly on fire you would expect it to be less boring.  I agree.  Ghost Rider himself shows up maybe 4 times in the entire film and for at least two of those appearances pretty much all he does is stand there and wait for the editor to edit him into action (I am not kidding).  Everything that does not include the Special Effect (because let's face it, that's all he is) is dry white toast.  Paper thin characters, uninspired villains, a meager plot that is barely explained along the way, and insufferable scripting all add up to 95 minutes of very arid film.  And this is a super hero action movie, people!!!  I'll give you the plot right now and spare you the time:  The devil is after his son so that he can transfer his essence into him that he may remain in the mortal world to work his ambiguous evil.  Ghost Rider is charged with protecting the boy (the son of the Devil).  The end.  Snore.  What is the end game?  What happens if GR succeeds?  What happens if he fails?  Who cares?  If he fails, then nothing changes and the Devil goes on walking amongst people, status quo.  If he succeeds then we have the son of the Devil walking around being the son of the Devil with no real purpose in life and always plagued by the fact that he is the son of the Devil.  Now, you tell me which conclusion I am looking for.  That's right, neither.

But hey, plot isn't everything, sometimes a great actor or character can help carry a film along (wait until we get to X-men Origins: Wolverine).  Maybe Ghost Rider2's redemption will come in the form of very interesting performances of very interesting characters.  That crunch is the sound of a saltine, because we are coming up dry again, kids.  The only character that I even wanted to see on screen, apart from the Special Effect, was the boy's (son of Devil's) mother, but only because she was kind of hot in that trashy goth way.  That alone is not enough to carry a movie my friend, not by a long shot.  I could scope out that kind of action in the lobby of the theater.

Everything else in the film is just a lesson in poor film-making. The editing is atrocious.  The directing is spastic and erratic at best, and not in an artsy way.  I was not kidding when I said Ghost Rider was literally edited into action in some of the sequences.  It feels like the director has no idea how to shoot a movie or what makes a good shot, sequence, or narrative.  The treatment of the character is a joke at best and shows that no one in the development of this film understands the source material.  Ghost Rider is the earthy incarnation of Zarathos, the Spirit of Vengeance.  His sole mission on earth is to resist his master's bidding and protect the innocent from harm.  Despite that, GR does very little protecting of innocents (we can go all day on whether the son of the Devil is inherently innocent, but this film does not deserve to be the launch point for what would be an intelligent debate) in this movie and for the most part just lusts after the souls of everyone he meets.  Where in the hell does that part come from?  What's worse, despite making it clear in the film that Ghost Rider = Zarathos, a demon, hence possession, Johnny Blaze is able to rid himself of his "powers" as Ghost Rider by spending the night in a cave (think Empire Strikes Back, Luke in Dagobah, only very, very stupid and uncool) and the Devil is able to give his "powers" back to him by breathing fire into his face. I could buy this if there was an explanation of how Zarathos' power was subdued by something in the cave and brought back by the fire breath.  I could also buy Zarathos being forced out via exorcism and then re-possessing Blaze by his wishing for it.  Instead, I think we are supposed to believe that sleeping in a cave and confessing your greatest fault somehow causes time to reverse and the contract you signed with the Devil to be unsigned.  Yeah, ok.

Look, you and I have already given this movie far more time than it should ever deserve.  Neither Aimee nor I had any problem whatsoever walking out of the theater and declaring this one of the worst movies we had ever seen, much less the worst Marvel movie of the Modern Era.  This movie is a real stinker and if you ever see it you only have yourself to blame.  In the hopes that I can convince you to spare yourself, I am going to close this critique with the only two things in Ghost Rider 2 worth looking at so you can just get it out of your system:

Aimee's Take: 
Ok, look. I like movies that are bad. Sometimes, it's nice to just take your mind off the hook and forget all your troubles. I like to ridicule movies. I am a child of the MST3K era. I can see the value in a movie that is so laughable you just have to enjoy it.

This is not that movie. This movie is so bad, it's like being punched in the face over and over again while your attacker says "Quit punching yourself!" Because, by purchasing a ticket to this mess, I am, indeed, punching myself.

We can save a lot of my basic problems about this characterization of Ghost Rider and the part being miscast by 45 years or so until we get to the franchise's earlier installment, because the problems haven't changed here. Instead, I will say that this movie, in 2d, made me dizzy and gave me a headache. It is all "shaky cam" and spinning and odd prismatic blue-screen cut-ins that make no sense at all. The plot is non-existent, the dialogue is beyond terrible (by comparison, George Lucas is a master of understanding human interaction and emotion), and the characters are unlikeable. By the end of the film, I realized I did not care one way or the other who won this meaningless fight. The devil seemed like he might be ok. On the other hand, I had already seen that Nic Cage was insane. 

This movie provided itself with two excuses to show Johnny Blaze's bare ass (thankfully, ONLY in comic illustration form) and two excuses to show Ghost Rider peeing fire. By the end, I had folded down three theater seats to lay down in, and for the first time in my entire life, I considered whipping out my cell phone to entertain myself. I really doubt the other four people in the theater would have minded. 

In the end, this film was boring, had very little to do with Ghost Rider at all, and felt like some kind of bizarre monument to bad film-making. As in, "Oh yeah? I'll show you--I'll go make the worst movie you've ever even conceived of. It will be so bad, it will make your children cry in shame and all who see it shall be scarred for ever, left to cling to the wreckage of their sad lives as they come to grips with the fact that they spent $14 to be here and the only thing salvageable about the entire experience is the fact that the concession stand allows you to butter your own popcorn." 

That's it.  Join us next week when I'll explain to you why you only need 5 minutes to make a good movie out of a trash pile.

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