— by CAM SMITH —
I have seen the future, my friends, and can officially tell you in one simple word what will ultimately lead to the utter destruction of the superhero genre’s seemingly unstoppable reign of supremacy at the movie box-office. This word, uncomplicated in construct and meaning, has become a ravenous plague within the studio system, gnawing at the bones of creativity and effective story-telling, and promising little more than rehashed adventures and soulless, flashy spectacle-for-the-sake-of-spectacle. It’s indeed a disturbing six-letter atrocity, and it has once again reared its vile head.
That word is “Reboot.”
No, I’m not talking about the internet neutron bomb-like “Spider-Man” debacle — I’ll have plenty to say about that later on down the road, little dogies — I am, instead, talking about a franchise that had its chance. A franchise that lurched awkwardly and inelegantly into multiplexes almost three years ago, klutzily tripped over its inept feet in the process and blew its dang, silly brains out all over theatre screens across the world.
I’m referring, obviously, to ‘ol Matchstick; aka Skeletor’s combustible brother-from-another-mother; aka Mr. Meanie Melty-face; aka the one, the only “Ghost Rider.”
Now, Ghost Rider, or Johnny Blaze (if you prefer the whole secret identity parlance) rode into cinemas on Feb. 16, 2007, to almost universally damning reviews — including, pardon the shameless plug, my own vitriol-spewing write-up! — and, following a sizable first-week take, a pretty massive drop in ticket-sales. In its final tally, the Mark Steven Johnson-directed supernatural western groaner managed to tally up $115 million domestic and another $112 foreign. Not bad, but hardly an achievement considering the $110 million dollar price-tag (Not including marketing!) which went into birthing the unsightly abomination. Thus, by the time the flat-lining flick limped, skull hanging and helmet in hand, to DVD, where it was almost unanimously ridiculed by fans and irritably ranked as one of the worst superhero efforts of the modern renaissance, the chances for a “Ghost Rider” sequel felt about as strong as the likelihood of another Joel Schumacher “Bat”-film.
But never say never in Hollywood, a land rife with poor business decisions and foolish logic — “Catwoman” or “Punisher: Warzone” anyone? — where even the most spectacular failures can eventually claw, tooth and nail, back to the top of the heap.
Over the passing years, seemingly delusional blurbs began percolating in interviews and press packages. For example, star Nic Cage made his enthusiasm for a sequel clearly known and we all shared a collective giggle. But then a strange and frightening thing happened: actual progress began to occur.
Last January, Bloody Disgusting leaked info that Columbia Pictures was on the lookout for writers desperate enough to figuratively sell their souls in the service of resurrecting the flame-faced stunt-riding enthusiast. Even more surprising was that Nic Cage was attached to return as the tormented Mr. Blaze. (Surely he could do better, couldn’t he? Maybe “Bangkok Dangerous 2?”)
Then, everything was quiet for the next handful of months until this past September, when Variety, the reliable bastion of film industry news everywhere, ran a hot story mentioning that “Blade” writer, and “Batman Begins”/”Dark Knight” co-writer, David S. Goyer was in line to jump aboard the project and slightly revamp the R-rated 2001 “Ghost Rider” script he had cranked out prior to Mark Steven Johnson’s woeful association with the character.
This new storyline, as described by Goyer to MTV, would be set eight years after the 2007 film, and be “existential” and “more stripped down and darker,” than Johnson’s campy (anyone else remember Wes Bentley’s mincing, flamboyant emo version of Blackheart?) and low-energy version. Then, perhaps to lift readers’ insect-high expectations, he referred to it as a quasi-reboot along the lines of “Casino Royale.” Big words, sir. Big words.
(Apparently this script can easily be found on the interwebs, although I’ve been unable to find it. If anyone else can track it down, I’d love to peruse its contents.)
Now, flash-back to last week — Jan. 7 to be exact — and suddenly the details of “Ghost Rider 2” became a great deal clearer. In an extensive interview with Collider, producer Mike De Luca let the beans spill that this sorta-sequel – a “reset button” was the buzz-term – was currently operating under the title “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” and would carry a “hard” PG-13 rating (and “The Dark Knight” was mentioned as a reference point — a popular name-drop these days).
He also announced that the film would be set in Europe, feature “issues of theology and religion”, exclude Eva Mendes’ vapid Roxanne character from “GR1” and, due to the success of “Avatar,” be shot entirely in ultra-gimmicky 3D.
He also confirmed that Mark Steven Johnson wouldn’t be within spitting distance of the project (yay!) and that, if all went according to plan, the enterprise would be in front of cameras by the end of the year, possibly with Goyer in the director’s chair, depending on his busy schedule — which may have gotten a little lighter with the apparent death of “X-Men Origins: Magneto.”
So, the question now stands, after all the negativity I’ve liberally splashed about this article like a surly hell-hound marking its territory, do I think another “Ghost Rider” film is a good idea?
Yes and no. If done properly (ala “The Incredible Hulk”) a good “Ghost Rider” film could easily be made. He’s a visually sensational character, with an interesting backstory and a less obsessive fan-base that the more top-tier heroes — a huge benefit which would allow a dynamic helmer to run wild with the concept, free to introduce new elements without much fanboy outrage. Johnny Blaze works better in larger strokes, like “Iron Man,” with the considerable heaps of silly and ham-fisted continuity best left on the cutting-room floor. If nothing else, Johnson proved that the character works on a cinematic level and could indeed headline his own film, so a second chance may not be the worst idea in the universe.
However, David S. Goyer is hardly the man to take on this mission. His writing portfolio is spotty at best (while the aforementioned first two “Blade” films worked, along with “Dark City,” his actual input on Nolan’s “Batman” films is tenuous at best), and his directorial works have been, frankly, a nightmare. “Blade: Trinity” singlehandedly killed the Wesley Snipes franchise, while “The Unborn” made my Worst of 2009 list. Thus far, he has shown no real vision or capability behind the camera and the notion of him being solely responsible for restoring Ghost Rider’s good-name has “Catastrophe” written in big, bold, red letters all over it.
I’m also less than optimistic — though unsurprised — about the decision to film in 3D (inflated ticket prices = a faster budget recoup). “Avatar” didn’t grab audiences just because it was in 3D, it worked because James Cameron devised a film that required the technology to visually tell its story. “Ghost Rider 2” is unlikely to put one-tenth of the thought into the storytelling aspects of 3D and will, more likely than not, only be utilizing it because it’s the hip fad of the moment, similar to “The Final Destination” and “Piranha 3D.”
Make no mistake, this is not a passion project teaming with thoughtful care and artistry (hence the opportunistic nine-year-old script recycling job and lowered budget), but simply a studio-mandated series restart aimed at propping up a sagging, potentially lucrative franchise through gaudy eye candy and fiery fisticuffs.
But more than anything, I worry about the “reboot issue.” Although, “Ghost Rider 2” is technically not a 100 percent reboot — Nic Cage is, after all, still involved – its status as a “reset button,” which will bear few ties to the original, is another troubling instance of the popular studio tendency to re-start a superhero franchise at the drop of a hat. Back in the 1990s, the comic-book industry collapsed under the weight of publicity stunt cover variants and a market over-flooded with crappy content. How long before these endless reboots and prequels (which tend to be glorified reboots in disguise) lead to the same type of unfortunate occurrence in Hollywood? One can only cram the same reheated garbage down the publics’ throat for so long before they decide “enough is enough,” and move on to the next big thing.
Superhero movies have been riding high at the box office for a decade now, and one has to wonder whether these half-witted reboots — which, obvious exceptions aside, typically thrive on brand value, as opposed to genuine story-telling oomph — will, in time, manage to accomplish what Dr. Octopus and Ra’s Al Ghul never could: namely, kill the heroes.
Regardless, in the meantime, we can only speculate on what Ghosty’s uncertain cinematic future will entail, with answers unlikely to arrive before the year 2012. So, I turn the question over to those of you who’ve made it this far: Will “Ghost Rider 2” allow the franchise to flame on, or cause it to flame out? Even Mephisto is dying to know…
Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.