Even if, like me, you’re a comic book fan, the latest DVD releases of a pair Marvel Comics adaptations aren’t worth your time — either at their original theatrical running lengths or in the new DVD extended-edition versions.
Written and directed by Daredevil filmmaker (and comic-book fan) Mark Steven Johnson, Ghost Rider is the latest in a string of supernatural comic-book movies (other examples include Hellboy, Constantine and Spawn) that depict the powers of hell running amok on the earth while the powers of heaven seem distant and uninvolved. Johnson synthesizes elements from four decades’ worth of disparate source material into a single story about Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), a carny stunt cyclist who makes a deal with the devil for altruistic reasons.
Yet the film undercuts the very elements that were most interesting about the comic book, from the agony of Blaze’s Jekyll-and-Hyde curse to the Ghost Rider’s mission of vengeance against the wicked, whom he punishes with Dantean poetic justice, crushing their souls with the weight of their own sins.
The original theatrical version of Fantastic Four was lousy — dumb, trashy and bizarrely lacking in action. Naturally, it was positioned as a family film, though the relentlessly one-note portrayal of the Human Torch as a randy, insufferably egocentric tomcat and glory hound is hardly family viewing. The rest of the characters are just as boring (well, the Thing is okay). Dr. Doom, in the comics a villain of Vaderesque proportions, comes off as a dull Donald Trump with ill-defined super powers.
What does the extended edition offer? See the Torch heat up elevators to make young women take off clothing! See Reed and Sue enjoy some private time under boxes of old files in a storage room! See HERBIE, the annoyingly cute robot! Sometimes deleted scenes get cut for a reason.
This week’s best bet: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, released last Tuesday (the week after Memorial Day — go figure). Based on the 1943 account by Capt. Ted Lawson and shot a year later — only two years after the events it depicts, and while the Pacific War was still in full swing — Thirty Seconds tells the story of the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the first American attack on Japanese soil, carried out 131 days after Pearl Harbor.
An above-average World War II-era World War II film, Thirty Seconds provides a docudrama recreation of the training, execution and aftermath of the Doolittle Raid, combining actual footage of the raid with dramatic recreations, special effects and a human-interest plot focusing on Lawson (Van Johnson), his pregnant wife of six months (Phyllis Thaxter) and his crew. Spencer Tracy has a small role as Gen. Doolittle.
Ghost Rider: Stylized action-movie demonic imagery, including several gruesome supernatural killings, occasional obscene language and a couple of instances of profanity. Fantastic Four: Stylized violence; some sexually themed humor and innuendo; at least one instance of profanity. Teens and up. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo: Wartime violence and anti-Japanese rhetoric; some innuendo. Might be okay for older kids.