Just because Nicolas Cage is still playing damned stuntman Johnny Blaze in the new Ghost Rider movie doesn't mean that we should expect the family-friendly character from the first film. We've seen a Ghost Rider who's more demon than superhero.
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were on hand at Comic-Con, and told us how eager they were to get their Crank-weathered hands on the much maligned Ghost Rider and move him from the superhero genre into horror.
"He's one of the most badass characters of all time," Taylor noted. "He's not really a superhero. He's more like a horror character. His superpower is that he sucks out your soul. That's horrifying."
Cage described the Ghost Rider from the first movie as something out of a Grimm's fairy tale, more something for kids. Cage actually provides the movement for the Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, something he did not do in the first film, and said he is happy to "embrace the nightmare aspect of the character."
Although the first image we got of this new Ghost Rider were the legs of his glittery black stuntman pants, Neveldine and Taylor have amped up the Rider's scary side. The Ghost Rider is now a charred skeleton, with flames constantly bursting from his body, his jacket bubbling with tar. Where the empty-eyed skull was sometimes campy in the first movie, here it is pretty nightmarish — even more so when the Rider spews fire from his mouth. There was, however, a moment of strange levity: a child character asks Johnny Blaze what happens when the Ghost Rider has to pee. Cue the Ghost Rider, his back to the camera, pissing flames.
Another change from the first film: instead of a dedicated Hellcycle, any vehicle the Ghost Rider rides becomes a demonic version of itself. We can expect Hellcycles, Helljeeps, and even Hell-mining equipment.
Neveldine and Taylor are clearly having a blast making the new Ghost Rider film, boasting that they've promised their stuntmen that any injuries they sustain on set will make it to the final cut. "Any broken bones you see in our movie will be real." We'll have to see how all that glee — and a more terrifying protagonist — ultimately translates onto the screen.
At the Spirit of Vengeance press conference, Nick Cage further explained that "weirdness" is one of the defining traits he could bring to the Ghost Rider films. Elaborated Cage:
The interesting story is when I was trying to think with Brian and Mark about how the Ghost Rider could move [...] I was thinking about kind of finding something really "weird" [...] I looked up in the dictionary that the word literally means "to turn." "Weird" literally means "to turn around." [...] It was like trying to design a body language from another dimension.
Cage noted that he studied the motion of cobras and insects in giving the Ghost Rider an appropriately twisted motion. When asked if the role was similar to his portrayal of John Milton in Drive Angry, Cage offered an epigram worthy of a kung-fu master:
In Drive Angry, I was playing a living dead man. This is a living man who turns into a demon, so it's a totally different kind of energy. A living dead man has to be a little bit more dead, whereas a living man who turns into a ghost is still [...] living.
Cage's changes to the character go further than Ghost Rider's tortuous strut. The directors were quick to point out that Ghost Rider is not a CG creation but rather the product of Nicolas Cage's craft. Indeed, Cage method-acted on set wearing nightmarish voodoo-like make-up (which Cage compared to "Baron Samedi") and "black glass eyes."
His appearance was accompanied by a stone silence that wigged out the rest of the cast and crew. The eyes were particularly effective — when Cage performed Ghost Rider's patented Penance Stare, the actor on the receiving end would have to stare into what appeared to be Nick Cage's hollowed-out skull.
Cage's supporting cast also had a chance to elaborate on their roles. Johnny Whitworth plays the villain Blackout — who is notoriously frumpy and 1990s goth in the comic — but Whitworth promised "they took a little liberty in making him cooler, in my opinion."
Idris Elba plays Ghost Rider's sidekick Moreau, a role the directors described as "a French drunk monk, the first French black alcoholic priest in [movie] history." Elba also conquered his fear of motorcycles simply to play such a bad-ass role: "When I was 19, I fell off a motorcycle and never wanted to get on to one again...until this movie."
Neveldine and Taylor explained that they really didn't take the first movie into account — and they didn't draw from Ghost Rider's more superheroic tales — but the directors did cite the darker tone of Garth Ennis' run as an inspiration. Cage also entertained questions about his comic-reading habits and implored fans not to buy their comics online:
Do go to the local boutique comic book shop and don't buy your comics online. Those guys are going to go extinct in a minute here and we want to be able to have those experiences with our kids.
Cage's favorite reads as of late have been straight from the longbox — he loved Planet Hulk and dug up the immortal Batman vs. Predator. This talk of titanic team-ups prompted your io9 correspondent to ask Idris Elba whether Stringer Bell from The Wire would win a fight with Ghost Rider. His response?
Ghost Rider, but I'm going to say that I don't know Ghost Rider firsthand.