The dark avenging demon of the roads, Ghost Rider enjoyed a cult hit status in the 1970’s. When stunt rider Johnny Blaze made a deal with the devil to save his adoptive father, he soon discovered that the demonic one is not known for his good bargains and became the prison for a rebellious soul, Zarathos. When Blaze was near an act of evil, he transformed into the Ghost Rider, a flaming skeletal being on a flame-addled bike. Combining black magic, stunt motorcycling and horror, it remains a touchstone of the comic book ‘bronze age.’ only to be revived in the 1990’s when a new vessel for the demonic spirit of vengeance was found in Danny Ketch.
In 2007, a feature film version of Ghost Rider was released, directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil). It’s a mixed bag that takes liberties with some details while remaining dedicated to the source material in other places. A disjointed film, it is actually held together by Nic Cage’s larger than life mutant love-child of an Elvis impersonator and Evel Knievel. While Ghost Rider as a character is dull, the CGi effects are actually quite good, but the plot could have been stronger. Even so it’s worth a viewing with a few friends, cheap beer and pricey pizza.
Shortly after the first film hit the shelves on DVD, Cage was already talking about a sequel. The theme of denying the demon, refraining from alcohol and trying to be a noble hero would be replaced with a raucous and wild Johnny Blaze guzzling Jim Beam and embracing his alter ego.
The more details that leaked out, the more it sounded like the Jason Aaron run on the monthly comic, a wild and hyper-violent series with gun-toting nuns and a war in heaven. Sadly, it seems that Cage is more influenced by the Garth Ennis mini-series that preceded Aaron’s work. A thinly veiled continuation of themes borrowed from his work on Preacher, the less said about Ennis’ Ghost Rider the better.
At the San Diego Comic Con, a lack of heavy hitters such as Batman and Superman meant that lesser known superhero flicks could fill in the void, such as Ghost Rider.
Just because Nicholas Cage is still playing damned stuntman Johnny Blaze in the new Ghost Rider movie doesn’t mean that we should expect the family-friendly character from the first film. We’ve seen a Ghost Rider who’s more demon than superhero.
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were on hand at Comic-Con, and told us how eager they were to get their Crank-weathered hands on the much maligned Ghost Rider and move him from the superhero genre into horror.
“He’s one of the most badass characters of all time,” Taylor noted. “He’s not really a superhero. He’s more like a horror character. His superpower is that he sucks out your soul. That’s horrifying.”
Cage described the Ghost Rider from the first movie as something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale, more something for kids. Cage actually provides the movement for the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, something he did not do in the first film, and said he is happy to “embrace the nightmare aspect of the character.”
Although the first image we got of this new Ghost Rider were the legs of his glittery black stuntman pants, Neveldine and Taylor have amped up the Rider’s scary side. The Ghost Rider is now a charred skeleton, with flames constantly bursting from his body, his jacket bubbling with tar. Where the empty-eyed skull was sometimes campy in the first movie, here it is pretty nightmarish — even more so when the Rider spews fire from his mouth. There was, however, a moment of strange levity: a child character asks Johnny Blaze what happens when the Ghost Rider has to pee. Cue the Ghost Rider, his back to the camera, pissing flames.
At the Spirit of Vengeance press conference, Nick Cage further explained that “weirdness” is one of the defining traits he could bring to the Ghost Rider films. Elaborated Cage:
“The interesting story is when I was trying to think with Brian and Mark about how the Ghost Rider could move […] I was thinking about kind of finding something really “weird” […] I looked up in the dictionary that the word literally means “to turn.” “Weird” literally means “to turn around.” […] It was like trying to design a body language from another dimension.”
Idris Elba plays Ghost Rider’s sidekick Moreau, a role the directors described as “a French drunk monk, the first French black alcoholic priest in [movie] history.” Elba also conquered his fear of motorcycles simply to play such a bad-ass role: “When I was 19, I fell off a motorcycle and never wanted to get on to one again…until this movie.”
Neveldine and Taylor explained that they really didn’t take the first movie into account — and they didn’t draw from Ghost Rider’s more superheroic tales — but the directors did cite the darker tone of Garth Ennis’ run as an inspiration.
Straight from the pages of Empire comes the first three photos introducing us to the new Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, directed by Crank’s Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor. Yes, Nicolas Cage is back as Johnny Blaze, but even more importantly, he’s back as Ghost Rider, the badass demon from hell. If you didn’t hear, the Comic-Con footage impressed all of us, but don’t worry, this will kick ass. “We didn’t really consider the first movie, at all, in making this. We just wanted to make a great movie, on its own terms.”
Idris Elba also stars in this along with Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds as the Devil, and Johnny Whitworth as the villain Blackout (not pictured). Now you know what I’m talking about regarding Ghost Rider having a flaming head almost the entire movie, not just a few scenes like in the first. “This version, we wanted to give people what we think comic book fans really want to see with Ghost Rider. It is darker and more intense. He is from a nightmare. He will scare the hell out of you,” Taylor told Collider. Sony/Columbia is releasing Spirit of Vengeance in theaters February 17th, 2012 next year.