Daredevil and Ghost Rider
I like superhero movies done well. I've been known to champion movies that fall under the radar, and warn people away from stuff that is poor. (For example, the infamous Corman Fantastic Four movie? I've blogged about it. Trust me, you don't want to see it. Honestly. You'll thank me later). My tastes are rather eclectic, but I always try to find the good in movies that others may not enjoy.
Cases in point: Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Both are movies taken from relatively lesser-known Marvel characters. Both feature heroes who have rather Satanic influences, and which feature formative relationships between the main characters and their fathers. Both were movies I had seen in uncomfortable circumstances (Daredevil at the Vic's Brew and View with an old girlfriend; Ghost Rider just before I moved back to Chicago last year). In fact, both were written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who (according to IMDB) has an extremely impressive professional resume.
So why is it that I find Ghost Rider to be an absolute hoot, but Daredevil a difficult movie to watch?
In trying to answer that question, I rented both from Netflix, and decided to watch both movies in the extended DVD versions. (It's only fair, after all - perhaps seeing both movies through fresh eyes, and with time, means I'm relying less on memory and more on immediate impressions).
One of the things that I noticed is that, in many ways, Daredevil visually resembles Sam Raimi's then-recent first Spider-Man movie. (Check the scene towards the end in the church, with Bullseye flinging pieces of stained glass, and compare to the fiery Green Goblin/Spider-Man confrontation at the end). There's also a slight mimicking of Tim Burton's Batman in terms of tone. Ghost Rider, on the other hand, seems a little bit more visually sure of itself - granted, there are some more "artistic" flourishes, but there's a greater flow to Ghost Rider. (Although, to be fair, much of the extended Daredevil - including the sequences illustrating the character's "radar sense" - makes it a little more watchable, and gives a little more weight to the story than on initial viewing. Well, that and I wasn't with an old girlfriend...but that's another story).
Both films also feature great adversaries - Michael Clarke Duncan absolutely owns the role of the Kingpin, giving him just the right mixture of elegance, calm, and cruelty. Towards the end of Daredevil - although I initially thought there was a cop-out, after watching it again, we see that there is a great moral battle which is won. And Peter Fonda in Ghost Rider...well, if you love classic American movies, his casting as the "big bad" is a meta in-joke on several levels. (And there's even, if you look, a reference to another classic Fonda movie based on a John Steinbeck novel). Comic book movies are only as good as their villains...and these are two movies with really strong antagonists.
In terms of "continuity"...well, Daredevil follows Frank Miller's groundbreaking run, and Ghost Rider kind of creates an internal mythology. Unfortunately, the former tends to be quite a bit more "in-jokey", with references back and forth to former (and current) Daredevil writers and artists. Ghost Rider, on the other hand, only makes one reference to a similarly-themed Western character (WARNING: clicking this link will spoil a key plot point), but does so in a very clever way. Although both films are dark in tone, Ghost Rider has a slightly greater sense of fun....
...which leads to the major reason why I think one movie works and the other doesn't: the approach of the lead actor.
I have no problem with either Ben Affleck or Nicholas Cage in either role - both men handle the roles with aplomb. However, it becomes apparent that Nicholas Cage is having a lot more fun in the role. Ben Affleck approaches the role of Matt Murdock with great seriousness, and does a good job - however, there's a palpable lack of joy in his performance. Without being campy, Cage takes the extremes of the Johnny Blaze character - guzzing jellybeans from a martini glass, listening to the Carpenters before a stunt - and really makes it fun to watch. The female leads suffer as well - Jennifer Garner does a great job as Elektra, but there's something about Eva Mendes as Roxanne that makes it simply sparkle. It's the difference between loving what you do...and doing what you love.
And I can't believe I just typed that out loud.
In short, Ghost Rider is a much more fun movie than Daredevil...which is probably why I enjoy it so much.
Ok, now that we have gotten that out of the way, do you have any recommendations for superhero movies? Disagree with anything I've said? Then check out the TV Party forums, and until next time...keep watching!
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