In case you missed it, there's a new Ghost Rider movie rolling into theaters on February 17th and while the vengeance demon from hell still looks just like Nicolas Cage, not much else from the 2007 Ghost Rider by Mark Steven Johnson survives in this reboot of the Marvel character on film. To be honest, the fact that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is an actual thing is a head scratcher for the majority of moviegoers and critics that watched the original and walked away more than a little disappointed. Ghost Rider made an enviable $228 million worldwide and with the subsequent string of Marvel films, this was a property that just needed a boot to the creative ass.
Enter the creative duo with the manic creative vision and steel-toes itching for change – directing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Together they made some serious cult noise with their over-the-top Crank films and they pitched Sony their clear vision of how to make Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider the scary, flames-of-hell-spewing bad-ass they wanted to see, with Nic Cage still riding tall as the tortured human/demon. They got the gig and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is absolutely a whole new take on the comic book character. Neveldine and Taylor sat down with FEARnet to talk about working with Cage, going main stream and their hell on earth.
You describe your take on Ghost Rider as the punk rock version of the character sans the cheesy ‘80s leather look of the first film.
Brian Taylor: Although, we love ‘80s metal which is strange. [Laughs]
What specifically did you know you had to change for your take on the character?
Mark Neveldine: First we wanted to make it look real. If you took a skull and lit it on fire a million times it would be black and charred. Aesthetically, we wanted to make it darker but with [Johnny's] motorcycle, we wanted to rip out that 50-year-old man, mid-life crisis motorcycle and put him on a hot [Yamaha] VMAX. Because why? The thing goes 180 mph, it's got quad-air intake, it looks fucking cool and I ride motorcycles and that's what I want to drive, until I'm 60-years-old and I want a Gold Wing. [Laughs]
Taylor: We brought that to the table, literally, with Sony from day one. We said you're hiring us to do this movie, we're excited but the Rider's got to look different and feel different and here are the things we think need changing. From day one, we brought in the new ideas of how he was going to look, how he was going to dress, what the bike was going to be and a lot of different things about the character. They loved it and we never got any resistance on any of that stuff from Sony.
We knew we had a hit with Sony in terms of the design of the character but we were a little nervous that Marvel might shoot it down. But we actually got an incredibly enthusiastic response from Marvel. I think they feel like the first Ghost Rider, although it was very successful, didn't feel like a Marvel movie. It felt more like a Disney movie. They were real excited about the prospect of bringing Ghost Rider into the new Marvel universe and have it feel more like one of their movies.
You guys have only made R rated movies yet this movie is PG-13. Was it a hard pill to swallow to temper your own style and pull back on the extremes you're known for creatively?
Neveldine: It was a good challenge. It made us be a little smarter. Listen, we want to be more main stream. We have a great cult following. We love all our fans but we'd like to be a little broader and this is the way to do it. We tried to push the limits as much as we could. We said let's not think about it being PG-13 or R, let's just think about who our target audience is and aim for these guys.
Taylor: We found out in a PG-13 to get the rating, if you want to kill a lot of people, you can burn them!
Neveldine: You just can't show blood!
BT: You can burn people by the hundreds. For instance in a movie like Jonah Hex, his weapon is bullets and that's a bloody weapon, especially bullets in those days, they will just knock your arm off. There really isn't a way to sugar coat that. We were really fortunate with the character of the Ghost Rider the way that he kills you is A) he burns you to a charcoal briquette or B) he sucks your soul out and what does that look like? These are the kind of things that he can be super intimidating, scary, nasty and purely evil without getting you into too much trouble with the ratings. We found we could push the Ghost Rider really far as being a character that gives kids nightmares, hopefully, without cutting off half our audience.
Neveldine: And apparently, you are allowed to say fuck and shit and we do in the movie.
Taylor: Another thing we found out that we never really realized until we had to actually make a PG-13 movie is that rated R can be a little bit of a crutch because when you run into a problem creatively and you don't really know what to do, you can always drop like a thousand f-bombs on it or shoot out a hookers tits. There's always something you can do for entertainment value in a rated R movie and when they take that weapon away from you, then you have to think of different ways of doing things and I think it made us better.
What did Nic Cage bring to this new version of Blaze/Rider that you loved?
Neveldine: The boiling, explosive emotion inside of him that creeped out in all the different scenes. It made the hospital scene just weird and awesome, and made the transformation scene in the club like the greatest thing ever [does a mock Cage voice] "Scraping at the door!" He was just always boiling. Nic loves this character and thought about this for years. When we got on-board he was studying praying mantises and African tribal dances [for movement] and really took Johnny Blaze and the Ghost Rider and developed both of those characters. He thought about the way that he moves, he thought about Blaze's hand that he signed the deal with [the Devil] in his blood and how that affected him as a character and that sort of shit just grounds it. I don't know if everyone is going to see those subtle details but certainly that's how the tone started, from his passion, and we just built it out.
Taylor: Nic's been in this business awhile. He's got an Oscar. He's made a lot of movies; some people say maybe he's made too many movies. We've probably never worked with anybody who this was less than just a job for them. Not at all! This was a passion project for him and he approached every single day with so much passion and intensity that it brought our game up.
Is that intimidating?
Taylor: He's so intimidating! It's crazy how intimidating he is but at the same time as a director you can't be intimidated.
Neveldine: He's easy to bond with. From the first time when we met him in New Orleans and we're drinking café brulee and lighting fireworks and then drunk breaking into cemeteries. The three of us are kind of mad so that was a really nice blend. But then when you are on set and cameras are rolling you're like, "This is actually Nic Cage!" It always put us back to "Wow!"
Taylor: It's fair because a lot of people tell us that we're intimidating as directors especially because there are two of us and we can triangulate you.
Tell us about the animated comic book-esque sequences that help open up the movie. They look incredible but aren't cookie cutter comic book style. How did that come about?
Neveldine: It was about knocking out some exposition in the movie and tidying it up and keeping it fresh and cool. We didn't really know. You start on the process and I remembering thinking, "I don't know if we use this animation if people are going to call bullshit on us." But the more the process happened and we saw the material that they were giving us back and we were pushing for them to do, it was fresh and didn't feel like some fake comic book thing that we are doing for the hell of it.
Taylor: Yeah, the origin of this movie was a David Goyer script that was written before the first Ghost Rider. It's been around a long time and over the time it picked up other story elements. When we got to it the thing was really, really complex. There was a lot of plot, a lot of characters and a lot of story on top of the origin of the Rider and a new mythology for what the Rider was that we brought to it. We didn't really understand the whole mythology of the Ghost Rider at all. So that's a lot of things to have characters stand around and say, so we saw [the animation] as a way to make those a fun part of the movie where we could get in and be creative with to do some funky stuff.
Who created it?
Taylor: That's our boy, Doobie [White] at Therapy Studios [http://www.youneedtherapy.tv]. He's done sequences for us for Crank 2 and Gamer. He was the first guy that we went to and said we have a whole lot of things we need to explain. We don't want it to be boring. We want it to be fun so we just started bashing and brainstorming the coolest way to do it.
Ghost Rider goes up against the character of Blackout, who isn't based much on the comic books. He's got the power to turn anything into dust which actually makes sense as a balanced power against the flaming bowels of hell?
Taylor: Yeah, the Spirit of Decay was a Goyer concept from the original script, which again is like 10-years old. In that original version, it wasn't Blackout. It was a different character but over the different versions of the script it started moving more toward what Blackout is in the comic books but we loved that original concept of the Spirit of Decay versus the Spirit of Vengeance. It's these two primal entities that the one guy could almost be the equal of the other guy. Since Blackout isn't as well-known a character as say Doctor Octopus, we had a lot of license to mold that character.
Neveldine: And Blackout kind of looked like the twins from The Matrix so we wanted to move away from that a little bit. [Laughs]
Taylor: Again Blackout's look in the comic book is pretty much like ‘80s Guns and Roses. We were able to shape him into the character we needed. A lot of it was inspired by Johnny Whitworth's performance.
Neveldine: He's a tortured soul, Johnny, really as a person. He's great and he wasn't over the top.
Nic told us that if he were to do another film in the franchise, he'd like to see the Rider chase after the Devil in Hell but he said it would be too expensive to ever make. Your thoughts?
Taylor: That depends what hell looks like!
Neveldine: That's pretty awesome and would be really exciting for us, especially if we could slowly move the franchise into the R rated realm. Hell on earth would be pretty awesome.
Taylor: If you're thinking of hell as it's traditionally depicted, yeah that could be really expensive. But if you've ever been to Albuquerque, I think you have a pretty good idea of what hell looks like, no offense to our fans in the west. [Laughs]
Neveldine: Is it ok if we answer this after the opening weekend and see how good the box office is because that will answer a lot of questions. [Laughs]
Taylor: Right now we're in talks for the new Matthew McConaghy rom-com.
Neveldine: It's called The Push-up Man. [Laughs]