Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ghost Rider Comment for the Action Flick Chick

So, I tried to leave this as a comment on the Action Flick Chick's blog/website/thingy, but it wouldn't let me, kept asking for a password. But it was a lot of writing, so I'm putting it here because...well, because. I don't know. Here it is, what I wrote on the upcoming Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance -

Ghost Rider is the personification of the problem inherent in the desire to be a super hero, to be granted that power. All the colorful tights and rules and noble principles are dressing on the fact that it is the desire to right wrongs by beating the crap out of someone or something. It's that urge of the powerless to be powerful and then to use that power on those who would have otherwise had their way.

It is a desire, essentially, for vengeance. What Ghost Rider does, in a uniquely Silver Age Stan Lee kind of way (by taking what would otherwise be a ridiculous character, a flaming motorcyclist) does is confront that desire by granting it to Johnny Blaze. With Blaze and Ghost Rider more than most you have the villain and the hero as one, so much so that his heroic acts are equally villainous.

The real key to that character is what makes the best Faustian bargains, that the devil doesn't trick Blaze as much as Blaze tricks himself. He wants to save his foster father from cancer, so he dies in a stunt. He wants revenge, he becomes vengeance. While he starts out thinking that he can control the Ghost Rider, the reality is that the more he gives way to vengeance the more he loses control to it. And the thing is, he knows this and yet still finds excuses to succumb to the Rider, willing giving himself over piece by piece to vengeance and the demon within him.

But when they went to adapt the comic in the first film, Cage (who says he's a fan) describe the character as taking 'this curse from the devil and turning it on him.' And of course that's how it ends, with Blaze as Ghost Rider saying that to the Devil in his awkward Elvis pose.

But that's not Ghost Rider, that's Spawn.

Ghost Rider does not have what would normally be considered necessary for a good comic book franchise, a quality rogues gallery of villains. (you could argue that it's not Batman that makes Batman interesting, but the villains he's amassed) Ghost Rider's rivals are d-listers like The Orb, sort of the catch when your hero does not imprison or turn over to the authorities of his rivals but instead places their souls in a state of perpetual torture (again, keeping with the theme, the Penance Stare causes you to torture yourself by bringing to the surface the consequences of your unfettered desires realized). The drama in a Ghost Rider story is rarely against his foes, who for the most part he doesn't just best, but terrorizes, but in the continual struggle between Blaze and the demon within. In that respect, it is a comic book where the hero loses every issue, and every issue that defeat gets a little worse.

So I would say, absolutely a major part of Ghost Rider is the menacing and sometimes comically horrifying ways in which he destroys the people he deems are due his wrath. But the key, the thing that saves Ghost Rider from being a cheesy 70s comic book character capitalizing on the popularity of chopper motorcycles and Eveil Kaneviel, is that internal struggle.

I am encouraged that the monologue in the trailer seems to hint at that, it seems to indicate also that the answer to that is to use the demon against the devil (and in fact, he seems to be fighting the devil once again).

I'm not a purist (and good lord, how horrible would a Ghost Rider movie be fighting The Orb...), but I do think when you translate a character or story through a medium, you have to distil the element of that character and find a way for the medium to explore it. This is essentially what makes Nolan's Batman movies work. They are far from canonical but it takes a core element of Batman, that his own demons are reflected in the villains that he faces, and explores that with the tools of a new medium. I fear that in the case of Ghost Rider they have taken the exact element that works against Ghost Rider, that he's a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle, as the element that they needed to translate into the new medium.

All of this hemming and hawing would matter more if I wasn't going to see it, but I am. But instead of a philosophical conflict between the desire to do the right thing and vengeance and how to tell the difference I'll get fire pee.

1 comment: