Based on a comic book, Ghost Rider follows the story of a stunt motorcyclist named Johnny Blaze (Matt Long, Nicholas Cage) who, along with his dad Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen), jumps bikes through rings of fire. It's dangerous work, but not nearly as deadly as the packs of cigarettes the father has smoked during his life. Now Barton has lung cancer and death is imminent.
That is until a mysterious man called Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) arrives and makes the grieving son an incredible offer. In exchange for Johnny's soul, the old man with a rumbling voice declares he can cure the fatal illness. While apprehensively eyeing the parchment contract, an accidental drop of blood from the boy's finger immediately signs the agreement. But in Hell, a deal is only as good as the fine print, so although the cancer is cured the unscrupulous representative of the devil finds another way to take Barton's life.
All the same, the counterfeit promise leaves Johnny with a lifetime commitment of being a "ghost rider." The conscripted job becomes the man's alter ego, in which he morphs into a flaming skeleton and rides the nights away looking for spirits who have escaped the confines of Hell. Specifically he is seeking the eviler-than-evil Blackheart (Wes Bentley). This son of Satan has plans to overthrow his father and create a Hell on Earth -- if he can get hold of a special contract that will bring legions of souls to help him do his wicked work.
Obviously audiences who have any concerns about depictions of satanic characters in movies will want to think twice before paying the ransom to see this film. The special effects (where characters turn deathly blue and withering away under the touch of a malevolent finger) are truly amazing, and certainly add to the dark themes. The frequent fantasy violence also includes depictions of immortal characters being shot, beaten and burned, with many gruesome outcomes.
Within this mayhem, actor Nicholas Cage turns what could have been a laughable script into a remarkable performance. Essentially playing a superhero, Cage's Johnny Blaze doesn't take himself too seriously, bringing much-needed comic relief into the film. This human quality adds to the sense of empathy we are solicited to feel for his character who, at a young age, unwittingly became involved with the dark citizens of the afterlife. We are also expected to buy into the notion that Johnny is protecting the status quo; meaning things would become even worse if Blackheart were to become the new Devil.
Adding further justification to Johnny's potential redemption is a reminder provided to him by yet another mysterious individual (Sam Elliot). "Any man who has the guts to sell his soul for love has the power to change the world. That puts God on your side," says the empathetic man who is a caretaker of an aging cemetery. His message is a lovely platitude, yet considering the vengeful motives growing inside the Ghost Rider, this supposed mediator between Earth and Hell is not likely to instill godly attributes in young audiences who hop on this flaming ride.