Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Being in the Wrong Movie

Ghost Rider has never been one of my favorite Marvel characters; although, I do like him. He's just not one of my favorites. However, I did love the series that started up in 1990, and you have to admit that he just looks cool.
That was easily one of the best comic series on the market at that time and still stands out as one of the best runs ever. Well, at least for the first 25 issues or so. It turned out to be the series that almost caused Marvel Comics to cease to exist, but that's a story for another time.
Wait, wait! Here's another one:
Maybe it was really just about the amazing art of Mark Texeira. Okay, no, it wasn't, because I'm a story guy, but his art certainly didn't hurt anything and really set the mood of the comic.

It's not surprising that Marvel licensed the character out to be made into a movie. I thought the first movie was pretty good, despite what people say about it. They did a pretty decent job of melding the classic 70s Ghost Rider with the modern 90s Ghost Rider. It wasn't a great movie, but it was pretty decent.

I just saw the new one, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and, I have to say, I have no idea what that was. It acted like a sequel, but it twisted up enough of facts from the first movie to be unrelated to it. It sounds like they want it to be a reboot, too, so that's just messed up. Really, what the movie did was give Nic Cage a chance to act crazy. Which he's really good at, but it just didn't fit in this movie, because it's not the character he established in the first movie. The movie tries really hard, and it almost succeeds (it does have some pretty cool visuals (but the cackling/crackling whenever GR is around is dumb)), but, in the end, it just falls flat on its face. Like, at one point in the movie, GR is blown up with a grenade and Blaze ends up in the hospital because of it, but a little while later, he takes multiple blasts from missiles without slowing down.

It's disappointing, because I always want Marvel movies to succeed (because I'm still just a Marvel kid at heart). But Marvel isn't doing well with this whole Marvel Knights line of movies and is now 0 for 2 (the other being Punisher: War Zone (another sequel/reboot)).

The worst thing about the movie is that the movie was not about Ghost Rider. This is a problem. It seems that when they decided to do the second movie, they wanted to go with a story that fit "very much in the zeitgeist, like Da Vinci Code." So what they wrote was another story about the devil trying to have a half human kid that will be the anti-Christ. Because, you know, that's in the Bible. That the anti-Christ is the son of Satan. Except that it's not. But maybe people think it's a good balance since Christ is the Son of God? At any rate, they wrote this story about how the devil is trying to become the anti-Christ, the same cliche' story you've already seen in dozens of movies, and through Ghost Rider into it to stop him. But the story is never really about Johnny Blaze or about Ghost Rider, so it never feels right.

Have you ever had that experience?

My first real experience of this was with Tim Burton's Batman. I just want to say, right now, that I can't stand that movie. Not only did Mr. Burton know nothing about his subject (as Burton says, "I would never read a comic book."), he didn't even want to make a movie about Batman. He wanted to make a movie about the Joker, so the movie just never felt right to me. Sure, it had Batman in it, but it wasn't really Batman's story, and it just didn't work for me.

This is also why I don't read licensed books. I loved the Dragonlance Chronicles when that came out back in the 80s. I loved Dragonlance Legends, too, but that was still Hickman and Weis. Later, they started letting other people write books set in that world and stories with the characters from the books, and I just couldn't get into them. They never felt right. Like... like I want to tell this story, but I want to use those characters even though they don't really fit what I'm doing. So, even though I tried to read some of the other Dragonlance stuff that came out, I never liked any of it and just quit trying.

The same thing happened with Star Wars. I read a few of the first Star Wars novels that came out when I was a kid: Han Solo at Star's End and the rest of that trilogy, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and I liked them well enough, but books taking place in the expanded Star Wars universe didn't really hit it big until the 90s when Timothy Zahn wrote Heir to the Empire. What a great book. Zahn nailed it. Often, I would feel just like I was watching the movies while I read his books. However, when I went on to other Star Wars books, which exploded after Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, I was sorely disappointed. Most frequently, the characters just didn't fit the stories. The writers were doing things with the characters that just weren't in character for them in order to meet the needs of their story.

Which brings us to the point. Yeah, yeah, I know... that was a lot to go through to arrive at some point other than what it looked like I started with, but, really, it's all the same thing. See, I went to see this Ghost Rider movie and kept wondering why Ghost Rider was in the movie. He just didn't belong. The movie was about this kid, Danny, not about Ghost Rider. In that, they spoiled both things: they spoiled Ghost Rider, and they spoiled the movie about the kid. Why? Because they didn't know what to do with the character they had.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be the biggest issue that writers have. This issue of making a character do something that the character wouldn't do in order to further the story. More often than anything else, it's the thing that will ruin a book/movie/TV show/whatever for me. When I stop and think, "Why? Why did that character just do that? That's not what that character would do," the writer has failed. Like Alfred bringing Vicki Vale down into the Batcave or Batman taking off his mask in front of the Penguin. Or Ghost Rider being in eastern Europe with the flimsy reasoning "God has brought you here."

Writing is always about character vs plot, I suppose. I tend to be more plot driven myself, so I understand the temptation to bend your character to your will in order to meet a need in the plot, but you just can't do that. To give this a color metaphor, if you've painted your character red and blue, you can't have him do something green. If you need him to do something green, go back and repaint him red, blue, and green. It's probably better that way anyway. The more colors you use, the more depth the character has.

And now for some notes (LOOK! I actually remembered to put them IN the post!):

Note #1:
Last week, I won a copy of Rusty Webb's  "A Dead God's Wrath" playing in Briane Pagel's amazing Star Wars Blogathon. I already own a copy of this great little book, and you should own a copy, too. In fact, if you go over and sign up for the blogathon (just follow the link), mention that I sent you, I'll donate my copy to the first person that does. You'll also get 50 points just for signing up! It's a no lose scenario.

Note #2:
Speaking of Pagel's blogathon, a copy of my very own book, The House on the Corner, is this week's prize. The great thing? All you have to do is comment to be eligible to win. You don't have to be first, you don't have to be correct. Everyone that comments is entered into the weekly drawing. And you'll get 50 points if you mention my name! What a deal. And Briane believes that everyone should read my book, so go sign up for a chance to win your very own e-copy!

Note #3:
There's really no note #3... I want there to be one, but I'm all out. Have a great weekend!


  1. Disappointing about Ghost Rider. I'm a Marvel fan and they just seem to struggle keeping up with DC in the movie department. Would kill to see a JL film, but Marvel has already stated that will never happen.
    And yes, Zahn rocked the Star Wars novels. (And I was invited to be one of the listed authors at an event in July with Zahn as a headliner.)
    Purchased Rusty's book when it first came out, so I'm good to go!

  2. I think part of the problem with "Batman" besides Burton's inexperience with that genre is they got Jack Nicholson to be the Joker and so of course when you have a huge star like that you've got to devote a lot of time to him. I remember watching it on AMC and the original script writer (who really did a lot of work to make a Batman movie happen in the first place) was dismayed that basically Nicholson, Burton, and producer Peter Guber started rewriting a bunch of stuff, like the idea that the Joker killed Batman's parents. That's the kind of power games that can happen a lot of the time in the moviemaking process when you get all these egos involved.

    BTW, was there ever a lawsuit about Todd MacFarlane pretty much ripping off Ghost Rider for Spawn? I mean they both get their power from Hell they use chains for weapons, right? Or are there some subtle differences I'm not aware of?

  3. Oh yeah I didn't even comment on the Star Wars ones! I love the Zahn ones. Thrawn and iMara Jade are two of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe despite never being in the movies.

    But you're right when they turned it over to these other ass-clowns like Kevin J. Anderson and Dave Wolverton the whole thing went down the toilet. In part too because they started using comic books like "Dark Empire" as canon for the backstory which was pretty lame. Comics and novels should be separate in my opinion.

    Then came that whole "New Jedi Order" thing that started with Chewie being crushed by a moon (sorry Rusty!) and it just kept getting worse with no end in sight. I finally stopped reading them except for a couple of the later Zahn ones. Really I'd only read Zahn or maybe Stackpole of those. The rest are meh to terrible. If I'd bought "The Courtship of Princess Leia" instead of my brother I'd have thrown it against the wall, it sucked sooooo hard.

  4. The characters acting out of, um, character is a biggie. It pulls you right out of the story if its blatant enough. And as a writer I'm always watching movies with one eye on the story development, trying to figure out what's going to happen next -- not in a suspenseful way but in a logical, writerly way. Bums me out when writers take short cuts and expect me to believe it.

  5. I kinda sorta like the first Ghost Rider too. I asked my son if he wanted to go see it last weekend and said 'no thanks.'

    Rotten kid. When I was his age I would never turn down a movie, ever. I even went to go see Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan at the theater when I had a chance. I don't remember much about, except Tarzan apparently had a taste for bugs.

    I will try super hard to see John Carter this weekend. I really hope Junior wants to see this one. Something about hanging out with Dad just got real lame to him in the last year or so.

    I never loved the Tim Burton Batman movie either. It seemed like EVERYBODY was so in love with it that I would keep my mouth shut when it came up. I would nod when folks would talk about how awesome it was, and I didn't hate it or anything, it just didn't quite make me feel special.

    And someone is giving away A Dead God's Wrath? AND a copy of The House on the Corner? I'm going to rush over and check that out right now.

  6. I was going to watch the Ghost Rider sequel but my friend James saw it before me and sent me a text message saying "Dude, save your money. This movie is terrible." So I didn't go and see it. I called him later and he said it made no sense. He didn't elaborate. Just that it was so awful he wanted to forget it. I guess comic book movies have a ready-made fan base of people willing to go and pay money to see these things made into film adaptations.

    I would love to see a film adaptation of the Dragonlance movies. I wonder if a quality one will ever happen in my lifetime. awesome would that be?

  7. Alex: Actually, Marvel has been mopping DC up with the movies, lately. Other than Batman, DC hasn't had anything good since, well, ever.

    Grumpy: Mostly, I think actors shouldn't get involved in the writing. There are a few exceptions, but, mostly, that's just not what they should be doing.

    Oh, and I guess I didn't say this exactly, but, yeah, there are a lot of difference between the two characters.

    Specifically, it was Kevin Anderson that caused me to quit reading Star Wars novels. The Jedi Academy trilogy was SO bad that I just put them down for good. Every once in a while, I'll think about trying another one, but, then, I have flashbacks to how bad those were, and I can't bring myself to do it.

    L.G.: Yep, I agree entirely. Don't take short cuts!

    Rusty: I was the only one of my friends that walked out of Batman and said "I didn't like it." They all thought I was crazy. I was the same way with Pulp Fiction.

    I remember going to the theater to see Greystoke. By myself even.
    And you should actually tell your son thanks for not going to Ghost Rider with you. heh
    I want to go see John Carter, too, but this weekend coming up is another of those mega-busy ones, so I don't know if it will happen.

    Michael: Yeah, be glad you saved your money. It's probably not even worth renting. It's somewhere down around Green Lantern, and we all know how I felt about that one.

  8. I would point out, now that a bandwagon has been created and I feel free to jump on it.

    Kevin J Anderson has written only two books that I have read. Those are both competing with one another to be given the title of 'Worst Book I Have Ever Managed To Actually Read.'

    I like some authors more than others, and there is one other author that is insanely popular in genre writing that I think produces substandard stuff. But Kevin Anderson in particular frustrates me because he's everywhere. I tried him twice, instead of learning my lesson the first time, because he's so damned prevalent. I kept thinking, 'he can't be that bad, look at how many books he's written.'

    And then I try to read and I'm flabergasted. He seems like a nice guy, he seems to enjoy helping young writers. He is involved in other creative projects that are really cool (like working on a companion album for one of fictional universes), but I can't begin to describe my personal distaste for the words he puts on paper.

    So, I apologize to him, because he does serve as a judge at WOTF, which I submit to on occasion, and should he ever become a fan of your work, Andrew, then he might come here and see how much I hate his work.

    Of course, I will change my tune immediately should that happen.

  9. I've never even read the comics and had no desire to see Ghost Rider 2. The previews enough looked terrible, and Nick Cage has not been picking very good movies as of late to star in.

    It's funny to think that one day my novels might be movies... and those movies might also be completely bastardized versions that are terrible.

  10. I actually liked the first Ghost Rider....kind of. I read an article about how Nick Cage said he used real actual magic to play the role this time. I love how freaky he is! I just downloaded a copy of your blog friend Rusty's book. I look forward to reading it.

  11. Yeah I just had no desire to see "Ghost Rider." After your review, I think I probably won't even do NetFlix or DVD. Just . . . Nicholas Cage needs to stop. He just needs to stop.

    I forgot to sign up for the blogathon. Heading that way now . . .

  12. In keeping with the way most people read an entire post and pick out something minor about it and comment on it (We should call that "The Baby Teeth Phenomenon" in light of Rusty), I thought for sure your offhanded mention of Rusty's book and your book being prizes would be the subject of all these comments.

    But it wasn't.

    So we can pend that Rusty Giveawayathon, and you still get your choice of one of my books, I believe. Maurice won YOUR book, and I've let him know on his blog.

    I think I may have overestimated the appeal of a 100-day blogging marathon. Is that possible? That people wouldn't like that? But if you and Grumpy and Rusty stick it out, I'm sure it'll gain traction around day 87.

  13. Rusty: I can't say that I disagree with you about Anderson. He is, as I said, the reason I -quit- reading Star Wars books. Not just his Star Wars books, all Star Wars books. He's so bad, he ruined -all- of them for me.

    ABftS: I have to agree that Cage is not very discerning with the roles he chooses. Which is too bad, because I like him.

    And, yeah, I just try not to think about that.

    Jennifer: Wow! I didn't see that about him with GR2. That's... well, I just don't know what it is.

    Awesome! Let me know what you think!

    Bess: Unless you just really like Ghost Rider, there's no reason to see it. At all. Except for the twinkie bit. Just think, a twinkie is the only redeeming quality of the movie.

    And, yes! Go sign up!

    Briane: Maybe the idea of it being 100 days is just too daunting? I need to email you again.

  14. Just came upon this posting, and have to say I agree with most of what you say...about the movies...about Tex's artwork on the 90s series. Oh...and thanks.

    Howard Mackie

  15. Wow! Thanks for stopping by!
    My best to you, too.