We hesitate to write 2007, since Ghostrider’s CGI looked like it had been sourced directly from Halloween Pinball (Windows ’95). For many, the lack lustre CGI would be the main attraction, but here at Cage Wisdom we turn our loving critical eyes instead to the role of Nicolas Cage. Cage plays a fearless Evil Knievel type, who sells his soul to Old Nick in exchange for his dad’s life. The deal sours, and young Johnny Blaze (played as a young man by Matt Long) forgoes his sweetheart and with a backwards glance at their bluebell strewn hilltop turns his head to a future filled with showboating and regret.
Encased in a helmet, Blaze’s face transitions from Long’s to Cage’s despite the fact that there is no visual semblance between the two whatsoever. Cage is looking surprisingly young here, further adding to our confusion about when this film was made, already complicated by the mid-nineties standard CGI. Cage plays the older Blaze idiosyncratically. We posit here at Cage Wisdom that Cage approaches each of his film roles with two specific aims that he must work into the character. He develops these before reading the shooting script and they often bear no apparent logical relation to the character as written. For example, in The Wicker Man (2006), Cage wears a full-body bear suit and is tortured with a wicker mask funnelled full of bees (in the commentary for the film, director LaBute claims that Nic brought the bee mask onto set inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe.) It is pure chance that these character traits ended up implemented in The Wicker Man, rather than in Ghostrider. Instead, Johnny Blaze’s two distinctive “Cageisms” are a penchant for drinking jelly beans out of martini glasses, and an abiding love of The Carpenters. This is an aggressive, obsessive love. When a stage-hand enters Blaze’s dressing room mid-Carpenters revelry and tries to turn the music off, Cage responds severely, “You’re stepping on Karen!”. Later, Blaze’s affection for animal whimsy shows also becomes known. When watching an ape engaging in televised tomfoolery, while once again listening to the Carpenters, he chides a close friend “you touch the Carpenters or that chimp video again and you’ve got a scrap on your hands!”
The effect of all this is that despite Nicolas Cage’s perpetually furrowed brow, we’re shown a softer more wholesome side to the Ghostrider, who exchanges alcohol for candy and listens to peppy, parent-approved melodies instead of the heavy metal which might have been more appropriate for a man whose alter-ego is possessed of a flaming death’s head. In an interview in Empire, Cage explained his creative decision by virtue of the fact that someone who engages during the nighttime with demons, in the day would want to kick back with something a bit more saccharine. Although it seems likely that Cage just wanted to eat jelly beans on set.
Ghostrider is a surprisingly good-natured film. Despite working under the devil, Ghostrider himself only metes out justice to small-time crooks and saves a young goth girl from a knife carrying hoodlum. Ghostrider’s major crime is property damage, about which he sometimes makes a wiss-ass remark. These remarks are just one feature of Ghostrider (the flaming biker skeleton) that don’t seem to gel with Johnny Blaze (the Carpenters loving, blue-eyed stunt man). Although we see Cage’s face transformed into the skull, in sequences borrowing heaving from the Buffy series 2 DVD box-set menu, it is hard to reconcile the fleshy contours of Nicolas Cage with the hollow Halloween trinket that is Ghostrider’s phosphorescent face. While Cage displays great gurning throughout the film, in the fight scenes as Ghostrider there are no reaction shots by which to gauge the danger. Thus they feel inconsequential and somehow divorced from the rest of the film, like a bad video game cut-scene. The goth girl that Ghostrider rescues is given a line that seems designed to defend any apparent disparity between Cage’s and Ghostrider’s faces, saying in an interviewed news snippit vis-a-vis flaming skull head: “I know it sounds weird, but it looked okay on him”. Are we expected to fancy Nicolas Cage without his signature head?
The last shot we receive of Cage’s face in the film is a laconic and inscrutable one. Riding towards the camera, Cage raises one eyebrow as if casting a wry comment back upon the film, perhaps to say, “I know it’s trash, but you just watched it” and here at Cage Wisdom we consider it our duty to continue watching, through good and through bad.