Saturday, February 18, 2012


The century of comic book movies continues with the latest installment Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor and based on the Marvel Comics character. This is a pseudo sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider in that while Nic Cage reprises the title role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, the main elements and back story have been modified to convey the same basic story while omitting every unique (and many would say painful) aspect related to the first movie. This was done most recently with The Incredible Hulk starring Ed Norton, which picked up from where Ang Lee's Hulk left off, but  the brief recap altered the origin to more closely resemble that of the 1970s TV show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. 

The premise is that Johnny Blaze has fled overseas to get away from his curse, and ends up recruited in a holy quest by Moreau (Idris Elba)  to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) and his minions. What this movie does differently from the first is give Ghost Rider a more gritty visual feel than before, with black smoke billowing out, a darker skull, and his suit and bike taking on an almost melted appearance when transformed. The Rider's actions are given an almost horror-like quality which fits the character, and which is woefully underutilized in most representations of him as he is, basically, a creature out of someone's nightmares.
Scalp itch, the silent killer.
The visual effects, for the most part, were impressive, including expanding an ability given to Ghost Rider at the end of the first movie. One instance was one of the more exciting moments in the film. Missing, though, was the Rider's penance stare effects from the first film, replaced by invisible soul-sucking that, if not explained beforehand, audiences would have no clue what was going on. Also gone is the ease in which the Rider dispatched foes with his chain, although still seen briefly. However, this did lead to contrived means in which ordinary human foes gave the Rider a bit of a hard time. But, there were some unique fight scenes that made good use of the Rider's supernatural origins. And, speaking of his origins, the film made use of the continually changing and increasingly complex origin given to the character over the last decade of the comic book. Blackout's "blackout" effect left a little to be desired, as instead of being a fully-realized special effect it was done with a mere camera filtering trick that would surely leave casual movie-goers scratching their heads as to what was supposed to be happening.

Definitely not running on clean fuel.

The story itself, penned by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and veteran comic movie writer David S. Goyer, wasn't very deep, but effective, capitalizing on many elements of the devil we've seen in both comics and film over the years. Little nods to the previous movie persisted, such as Blaze needing massive amounts of water after a transformation, keeping some sense of continuity within the franchise. There were semi-animated cut scenes here and there to help illustrate moments of exposition when Blaze narrated the backgrounds of certain things. While nicely rendered, they didn't really match the overall tone of the movie. Yes, it's a comic book movie, but comic book elements beyond characters and story are often unwelcomed additions. There were also moments of comedy in the film, some intentional, some not. The infamous "pissing fire" scene seen in most of the trailers makes the final cut of the film, but it's not as serious or gratuitous as most might believe. The other moments either had no place in the film, or were just hilariously bad.

Ghost Rider demonstrates the consequences of unsafe sex. No glove, no love!

The devil specializes in albinos.
Ghost Rider's main foe is Blackout, named Ray Carrigan and played by Johnny Whitworth, continuing the tradition of blending Blaze's story with that of his successor, Danny Ketch. While decent, Whitowrth's portrayal of Blackout lacked a little something, the threat not really accurately conveyed despite how bad ass he attempted to appear. But, his fight with Ghost Rider was much more well done compared to his battle with Wes Bentley's Blackheart in the first movie. Moreau, however, was nicely played as the gun-toting, wine-swilling priest and adviser to Blaze, replacing the Caretaker character played by Sam Elliott. The female lead, Nadya played by Violante Placido, also made up for the wooden performance of Eva Mendez as Roxanne Simpson. Hinds' devil, replacing Mephistopheles played by Peter Fonda, was also the perfect blend of calm ruthlessness, presenting a salesman's warm facade that lets you believe he can charm anyone into signing over their soul for the mere pittance he gives in return. Unfortunately, as with most movies featuring the devil, his active involvement was brief. The boy, Danny, wasn't given much to do beyond be the victim of the film, but did give his minor role the right amount of detachment to help sell his character.

As for Nic Cage, he once again played Nic Cage playing another character. Cage reported added snake-like elements to his portrayal of the Rider this time. Why that was even necessary remains a mystery. Cage's shows that despite Blaze's promise to own the curse from the last film, the curse has won him over, leading to some random bursts of insanity from Blaze that only Cage can convey. Cage's performance is a double-edged sword, cutting both ways on the good and bad scale. At moments, his Cage-ness helps the character shine, while at others it holds the character back.
Insane in the membrane.
Overall, the film was a slightly better attempt at capturing and depicting the character. The dark, gritty, horrific elements were welcomed additions, while some good elements from the first movie were left on the wayside, such as the penance stare and the demonic voice manipulation. The one failing in having a powerful supernatural character fighting against ordinary humans is there's very little leeway in how easily said character can take them out and how seriously they can hold said character at bay to keep the story going. The film attempts to provide a rationale for that, but getting to that point meant some contrivances. 

This was a fun popcorn flick, nothing more, nothing less. It won't reinvent the wheel or even hold much of a candle to some of the major blockbusters past or coming, but it will keep you entertained for its run. If you were among the few that liked the first movie, you're bound to like this one. If you're one of the many that hated the first, this may offer some redemption for the character and franchise for you.

Ghost Rider then.
Ghost Rider now.

Friday, February 17, 2012


IDW and DC Comics have teamed up to produce the comic decades in the making: Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes by Chris Roberson and Jeffrey Moy. Given the time travel elements present in both the Legion and Star Trek universes, it's a wonder it took this long for this book to happen (especially since DC at one point had the Star Trek license).

The story so far is that while on respective missions, away teams of both groups wound up stranded in an alternate timeline that replaced both of theirs. They find themselves unlikely allies against a common threat, common in that both groups have a connection to the main villain of the tale. In the latest issue, #5, the villain shows our heroes that they're not the first time travelers to cross his path with a collection of their modes of transport. The result is a two-page spread chock full of Easter eggs for fans of Trek, DC and sci-fi in general. Take a gander:

Don't recognize them all? 4Chan helped you out there with this handy cheat sheet. Try to challenge yourself before you look!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Following the season premier of Walking Dead, AMC launched the first of their 6-episode series Comic Book Men, which features the employees of Kevin Smith's comic book store, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, as they go about their daily business and their usual podcast. 

So, what did we get? The entire hour was full of the guys ribbing on each other, and far-too-convenient moments of customers coming in to sell them high-end collectibles, including a Bob Kane original Batman sketch, a Jack Kirby Thor poster from the 60s, a "life-sized" Chucky doll, and movie production stills. Basically, the show played up to the speculator market that nearly killed the industry back in the 90s, while offering a very limited view of what actually goes on inside a comic shop. If you like Pawn Stars and Kevin Smith, this is the show for you. Otherwise, if you want to see what really goes on, head to your local comic book shop on Wednesday in the afternoons.

One fun thing to note is while watching the episode, when a guy came in trying to sell Tomb of Dracula #10 (the first appearance of Blade, of Wesley Snipes fame):

I happened to be handling Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #6:

Just a funny coincidence I thought I'd share.