Ghost Rider in the comics (1967) was originally a Western hero riding a white horse and wearing a white outfit, both covered in a phosphorescent material to glow in the dark. Mephisto, short for Mephistopheles--who tangled with Silver Surfer, Thor, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four--bound the demon Zarathos to Johnny Blaze to create the Ghost Rider we know--the motorcycle rider with the flaming skull--in 1972. Blackheart, Mephistos' son, battled Daredevil, and is a baddie in the Ghost Rider movie. In 1975, Ghost Rider was part of a group called The Champions, which included Angel and Ice-Man from the X-Men, Hercules, and the Black Widow. After Johnny Storm's death, his motorcycle passed on the Ghost Rider mantle to a certain Danny Ketch. There was also a robot Ghost Rider, but that was in another dimension.
The movie opens with the instantly recognizable voice of Sam Elliot recounting the legend of the Ghost Rider--the Devil's Bounty Hunter. The last Ghost Rider, a hundred years ago, was Carter Slade, a Texas Ranger who was sent by the devil to the town of San Verganza to foreclose on a contract for a thousand evil souls. Slade realized that this contract was too powerful for the Devil to possess, so he did what no Ghost Rider had ever done--he out-rode the Devil and hid the contract.
We meet young hotshot Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) motorcycle jumping at a fair with his father (Brett Cullen) who is dying (He's a Marlboro Man). Young Roxanne Simpson (Raquel Alessi) is willing to elope with Johnny, but his father needs him. Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) offers him a deal: Johnny's soul for his father's cure. The next day his father is in perfect health, but before Johnny can run away with Roxanne, his father is killed on his motorcycle. But the deal was for a cure, not a long life, and a deal is a deal. Mephistopheles says, "I will come for you when I need you."
Johnny is older now (played by Nicholas Cage) and jumping busses recklessly. (Most of the stunts in the film, incidentally, are real ones by Evel Knievel) . He crashes often but lives. In fact, it appears he cannot die. Meanwhile, Mephistopheles' son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is on Earth, killing his way into and through a Hell's Angels biker bar, to use their souls as demon henchmen. He is looking for the Contract of San Vengaza to seize ultimate power on Earth. Mephistopheles fears this and threatens to send the Ghost Rider after him.
Johnny is set for a very dangerous 300-foot leap over helicopters. Roxanne (Eva Mendes) shows up as a reporter, but leaves to avoid seeing him die. He doesn't die and chases after her recklessly for a date. Unfortunately, he misses the date because Mephistopheles sends him after Blackheart. Johnny, with the blazing motorcycle and blazing skull-head, begins taking out Blackheart's henchmen one by one. On the way to his date, he stops to foreclose on a multiple murderer street-punk, and comes to the attention of the police.
Wounded himself, he finds the Caretaker (Sam Elliot) in a graveyard, who fills him in on the story of the Ghost Rider and the missing contract. When he gets home, Roxanne confronts him. He tells her the truth, but she does not believe him. He is arrested and put in a holding cell with many prisoners, though he warns the police not to leave him at night in the presence of evil. The Rider kills everyone but an innocent young gang-member, simply melts the bars, and escapes to continue his mission, despite being filled with bullets by the police. The showdown with Blackheart takes place in the ruins of the ghost-town San Verganza.
It's obvious that this whole movie was made because Nicholas Cage wanted to play Ghost Rider. He is a great comics fan, as witnessed by the name of his son: Kal-El. He is, of course, perfect for the role. Even as a regular human being, he dwells on the edge of madness. The movie is certainly not Citizen Kane, but it's just plain cool. There's nothing like Nick Cage, his head on fire, riding up the side of a skyscraper on a flaming Hell-cycle, laughing demonically to the music of Ghost Riders in the Sky.