Kristen from All Eyes on Screen posted an interesting Comic Book Debate about whether comic book films should be serious or not. My opinion (which you can read in a bit more detail in the comments section) boils down to whether the core character behind the whole film is a dark, serious character or a character that you can have a much lighter tone and the freedom to produce a less serious film. I would say that Spiderman, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four are all great examples of characters that have the freedom for lighter films. In fact, most of Marvel’s characters are much lighter, with two exceptions that come to mind.
The first example of a darker Marvel character would be Punisher. You can’t make a lighter, less serious Punisher film because the character is a revenge driven anti-hero whose goal is to kill those that have wronged him. A hint of comedy is fine but the tone has to be more adult and darker.
The next example (got there eventually) is Ghostrider. This is a character that works for the Devil and collects souls. He can look into your eyes and make you feel the pain of all the souls that you have wronged. His head is a skull and he has spikes protruding from his leather jacket… which is on fire! Light and comedic is not the tone to aim for!
The problem with Ghostrider is that it is light. It tries too hard to be a “comic book” movie, with light colours and silly moments. Johnny Blaze is supposed to be a cursed man who is forced to work for the Devil against his will. Not a joking, goofy Nicholas Cage who manages to wipe out a prison cell full of criminals with humourous results.
The film feels like it wants to be darker. The whole introduction of Johnny, the death of his father and the initial deal with the Devil are all steeped in dark tones but then we are introduced to older Johnny and the silly stunts, goofy sidekick and awkward conversations with Eva Mendes. It’s like they had a great character with a great origin but got scared to darken the themes because it was a comic book film. They should have darkened the film, made it much more serious and less goofy and really portrayed the “curse” and also the power that Ghostrider has.
Of course, they struggle with representing Ghostrider at all considering the CGI is awful. I know this is back in 2007 but that doesn’t feel like a good enough excuse. The character felt “wooden” and stiff. I couldn’t get past the fact that I was watching a computer generated character and considering that he fights a man made of water and another that controls wind, all represented in glorious CGI, they should have done better with their title character.
Ghostrider also falls into the same trap that most other origin films does too. It has too much to cram into two hours and doesn’t quite find the space for it all. The villain is under-developed and under-used. You never really discover why he hates the Devil and wants to control Earth and the huge finale, though it contains very cool ideas, feels as equally rushed. Whats even more laughable is the last exchange between the Devil and Johnny Blaze, which couldn’t feel more “bolted-on” if Cage had said the words “see you in Ghostrider 2.”
I can’t help feeling that this film could have been much cooler and different. Its right at the beginning of the Marvel and superhero film explosion so does fall into some of the same traps that other superhero films (Daredevil and Fantastic Four to name two) were falling into as well but I think the biggest problem is the tone. Ghostrider should be darker and I hope that the sequel, which has the benefit of hindsight, can rectify that major flaw.
Overall, this is one key example of why some superhero films should be darker and more serious and others lighter with a less serious edge. Ghostrider fits squarely into the former category and though it has dodgy CGI and poor development of characters, it’s the tone that lets it down most of all.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)