Things the Ghost Rider Movies Got Right
If you’ve been keeping up with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. then you know that the latest season has featured Ghost Rider, but he might not be the Ghost Rider that most are familiar with. For Agents, Marvel went with the Robbie Reyes version of the character who has only been around in the pages of the comics for a couple of years and prefers a muscle car instead of the classic motorcycle.
That’s all well and good, but I think that when a lot of Ghost Rider and comic book fans think of Ghost Rider being brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that they might have been hoping for something bigger than just a featured guest role on a prime time network series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That sort of introduction might suit a relatively new character like Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, but I for one would rather see a feature film, or perhaps even better, a dark and gritty Netflix original series such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage.
But what about those two Ghost Rider movies with Nicolas Cage that weren’t a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Weren’t they terrible? Don’t be so sure. I’m not saying that they were even close to excellent, but I do think those movies did get a few things right that should definitely be taken into consideration if Marvel Studios ever decides to pursue a bigger project for the Ghost Rider at some point in the future.
THEY USED THE JOHNNY BLAZE VERSION
No, Nicolas Cage wouldn’t have been my first choice to play the classic Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze, but of the comic book characters who have worn the name of Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze would be my first choice for a movie or series. The two Ghost Rider movies thought the same thing.
Why Johnny Blaze? Well, Blaze is the character most associated with the Spirit of Vengeance. His background as a stunt cyclist is the reason that Ghost Rider and motorcycles are forever synonymous. Johnny Blaze and his motorcycle go hand in hand with the freedom and exhilaration of the open road, the existentialist search for truth, and the independent spirit of America as explored in movies like 1969’s Easy Rider. Johnny Blaze himself made his first comic book appearance a mere 3 years after that movie’s debut. It’s not surprising that Easy Rider star Peter Fonda was sought out to play a key role (the Devil himself) in the 2007 Ghost Rider movie.
Johnny Blaze’s Ghost Rider has become an icon of biker culture and the spirit of freedom and independence that is often associated with it. Just Google “Ghost Rider biker tattoos” sometime to see what I mean. The tragic irony is that Johnny Blaze is not free and independent at all. He is a man cursed. His soul is not his own. His body isn’t even his own as he must share it with a demon of vengeance by the name of Zarathos, but Blaze made that decision of his own free will. He foolishly made a deal with the Devil. Like in most of these Faustian bargains, Blaze should have read the fine print. There’s always a price, but the silver lining is that Blaze made the deal not for himself or out of some sense of selfishness. He made it to save the life of another. As a result, when Blaze transforms, it is still Blaze who is mostly in control. He has to battle the demon within, but it is Blaze’s personality that dominates.
There are so many nuances and facets to the character and story of Johnny Blaze that I can’t imagine a feature film or series not being headlined by the Johnny Blaze version of Ghost Rider.
Did I mention that this guy has expressed interest in playing Ghost Rider? Frankly, Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead fame as Johnny Blaze just sounds like a mountain of cash waiting to happen.
THEY INCLUDED THE OLD WEST GHOST RIDER INTO THE MYTHOLOGY
Fun fact: Johnny Blaze wasn’t the first Marvel Comics character to be called “Ghost Rider.” That honor goes to Carter Slade, a character from Marvel’s line of Western comics whose name was quickly changed to Phantom Rider when Johnny Blaze came onto the comic book scene in 1972. The two characters were largely unconnected until the 2007 movie folded the Carter Slade version into the larger Ghost Rider mythology with Johnny Blaze.
The moves established that Johnny Blaze was the latest in a long line of Ghost Riders with Carter Slade being the previous one. Oh, and remember who played Carter Slade? Sam Elliot! I mean come on! How great was he? What a brilliant idea to tie these two characters together and give the whole movie a kind of Old West vibe.
There were times when I just wanted to check out of the movie I was watching and just watch a movie about Sam Elliot’s Ghost Rider. The moment when he transformed into the Ghost Rider (horse and all!) one last time may have been the highlight of the entire first Ghost Rider movie.
THEY INCORPORATED ELEMENTS OF DANNY KETCH’S GHOST RIDER
The first image that may pop into your mind when you think of Ghost Rider may not come from Johnny Blaze at all, especially if you grew up reading comics in the ’90s. Sure, Blaze gave us the motorcycle, flaming skull, and leather, but it was the Danny Ketch version of Ghost Rider that put hellfire wheels on the motorcycle and added spikes and chains to the leather. Blaze didn’t have any of that stuff during his original run in the comics although it was added later and the movies certainly incorporated them into their design for Ghost Rider.
One of Ghost Rider’s greatest powers is his ability to turn all of the evil that a person has done to others upon themselves. It’s called the Penance Stare. This also originated with the Danny Ketch version. The movies just added it to Johnny Blaze’s power set. Even a couple of villains associated with Danny (Blackheart and Blackout) were used in the movies to battle Blaze.
So, why didn’t they just use Danny Ketch in the movies then? Well, if you remember, I discussed earlier why Johnny Blaze just works better if you ask me. The Danny Ketch character had a lot of great ideas, and they used them, but beyond the things mentioned here Danny was lacking. When Danny transformed, the human being disappeared entirely and the Spirit of Vengeance took over completely. Danny also lacked the tragic and emotional origin story. Danny just stumbles across a motorcycle in a junkyard that transforms him. That’s pretty much it. The comics later tried to tie it all together by having Danny be revealed as Johnny Blaze’s long lost little brother that he knew nothing about. No matter how you spin it though, Blaze just would work better in a movie or series although there are plenty of great ideas worth borrowing from Danny Ketch.
I could continue on with things that I feel that the two films, Ghost Rider (2007) and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011), got right. I enjoyed a number of the special effects, especially in Spirit of Vengeance. I thought it was great how they updated and modernized Blaze’s stunt cyclist profession and augmented his personality with little quirks like the kinds of television shows he watched while eating jelly beans out of a martini glass. The movies also established the idea of whatever the Ghost Rider rides, be it motorcycle, horse, or an industrial crane, it will be infused with his power. That explains the new guy Robbie Reyes and his Dodge Charger. Suffice it to say that while these movies could have been much better, they still had some good ideas. I hope at least some of them gets incorporated into a new Ghost Rider movie or Netflix series because I think the Spirit of Vengeance deserves a bigger spotlight than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, although I don’t plan on signing any strange contracts in blood in order to make it happen.