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Thursday, January 13, 2022

‘Ghost Rider’ at 50: Revisiting the Nicolas Cage Movie and Exploring the Character’s Future in the MCU

While the MCU might want to sell you the idea that Sam Rami’s upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is their big jump into horror – keep in mind that we’ve already been gifted with a couple awesome horror gems in the form of Marvel movies. While 1998’s Blade is one of my all-time favorite Marvel flicks, there’s another work of Marvel action-horror I want to talk about, and one celebrating an anniversary next month – Ghost Rider.

It has been 15 years since this movie was released, and in all that time, it still holds up to me as an absolute blast. To be fair, I’m somewhat bias when it comes to Ghost Rider, given that he is my favorite Marvel character alongside Daredevil and Venom. If you aren’t aware of the character, Ghost Rider’s origin dates back to 1972 (which hey, 2022 marks the character’s 50th anniversary!). He is a skeletal being whose body is engulfed in flames and is imbued with demonic powers, allowing him a plethora of violent tactics to lay waste to his enemies. While there are several iterations of the Spirit of Vengeance, the 2007 movie follows that of Johnny Blaze.

After Johnny makes a deal with a demon to save his father from cancer, a horrible accident takes place, driving Johnny away from the life he knew. Years pass and Johnny is now living the life of a famous motorcyclist – though he is still haunted by his past. Just as things seem like they’ll be taking a more positive upswing though, the demon returns and tells him it is his time to pay him back. Johnny is given the task of taking down several other demons, transforming into the Ghost Rider in order to vanquish them.

Starring the iconic Nicolas Cage as Johnny, 2007’s Ghost Rider is among the Marvel movies that came out pre-Iron Man and MCU blow up. This was a time when comic book movies – for good and bad, though I lean towards good more – had an individuality and artistic voice to them. Ghost Rider is a ridiculous movie with a lot of fun to offer, infusing its action with horror appeal. Whereas Blade is much more of an overtly horror movie in terms of aesthetics, Ghost Rider makes for a relatively gentler approach (given its PG-13 label), but utilizing what creepy imagery it has to excite and get the viewer wanting more.

Though the film offers a romantic component that is decently emotional, it makes for more of a small accompanying piece to the greater action and motorcycle mayhem. While each version of the Ghost Rider has their own vehicle, the most popular form of vehicle has been motorcycles. Even if you’re lukewarm on the fight scenes in the 2007 movie, it’s tough to deny the bad ass appeal of Ghost Rider taking off on his bike. In the wake of his travels, he leaves behind ruined earth and flames; to see him tear through city streets, to see him speed up giant skyscrapers – I live for it and want it all in my eyeballs.

Again, Ghost Rider is a PG-13 take on action-horror within the MCU, and while I don’t think the new Doctor Strange is going to go as violent as that of any of the Blade movies, I believe there is an incredible future in particular for Ghost Rider in the MCU (and to further push the films into horror). For one, there are already some promising big actors alluding to their interest in the role – such as the awesome zombie slaying Norman Reedus and the living perfect human being Keanu Reeves.

The reason why I specifically bring up Ghost Rider of the horror-centric Marvel characters is because he touches upon the one component of “MCU superpower” to not be explored as much yet – the realm of spirituality.

As of right now, the Marvel movies have touched upon the mythological, magical, technological, and cosmic in terms of superpowers, which leaves the spiritual. One could argue that Dr. Strange is proof of spiritual powers, and that is valid, though I feel there is greater room to expand on the power archetype.

Ghost Rider’s supernatural abilities are that of the spiritual, given that his origin is very much tied to demonic forces in Hell. This creates a new dimension for Marvel to work with in terms of more demonic enemies, as well as possible moral complexity in their stories. What does Ghost Rider mean to the rest of the MCU cast? What implications does he bring to the table? One of the character’s most iconic powers is that of the Penance Stare; this ability allows Ghost Rider to inflict serious pain, if not kill someone, depending on their level of sin. What would this mean for some of our beloved Marvel characters who may be hiding a few skeletons in their closet? Given that Ghost Rider is driven to seek those who have done wrong, could Ghost Rider make his entrance into the MCU as a possible antagonist at first? With these concepts alone, Marvel has the means to introduce a whole new layer of world building, while also revamping one of its most iconic, creepy characters.

Since the 2007 film and its 2011 sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, there has been very little screen time for Ghost Rider. His most noticeable appearance in recent years has been his time on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. With the new Doctor Strange movie on the horizon this year, Marvel finds itself in a great place to further expand into horror. And with the new Blade movie coming out sometime in the future – it’s a great time to be a horror-loving Marvel fan. Which is why it would be amazing to see Ghost Rider return and tear his way through the MCU, stirring up mayhem wherever he rides. For now though, I totally encourage folks to revisit 2007’s Ghost Rider (or to check it out if you haven’t seen it yet, cause it is a hell of a time).


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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