Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
2007Director: Tim Story
Cast: Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Ioan Gruffudd
econd entries in superhero movie franchises tend to suck. When the first movie spends all its time demonstrating the freakiness and awesomeness of having superpowers, creators think the sequel needs to provide something different, so they try to make it meaningful, which pleases many grown-ups. Me, I go to supermovies to get away from subtext. I go to see trucks thrown around; to see a man fly.
The good news about Rise of the Silver Surfer is that, like the first Fantastic Four flick, there's no subtext. The 2005 flick was a pretty good B-movie, where “B-movie” implies a mere hundred million dollar budget. It intensified everything that was good about the comic book at its peak—the Thing's brutish romanticism, the weirdness of having a rubber body—while capturing nothing that was great—Doctor Doom's twisted sense of honor, Jack Kirby's dynamic composition. The bad news about Rise of the Silver Surfer is that it's basically the same movie as its predecessor, with stretchy Reed (Ioan Gruffudd), invisible Sue (Jessica Alba), flaming Johnny (Chris Evans) and golem Ben (Michael Chiklis) all reprising their previous character development, and diminishing returns means it only captures half, say, of what was good about the comic book, meaning that reading reprints of the ‘60s issues would be a much better use of your time.
Even at a wisely slim hour and a half, Rise of the Silver Surfer feels padded. The main problem is the attempt to create tension between Reed and Sue by, gasp, delaying their wedding. If you recall, Sue is supposed to be a brilliant scientist in her own right, but she frets like a Barbie manipulated by an elementary school girl over whether her future hubby will make it to the ceremony. For his part, Reed's indifference to Jessica Freaking Alba is bewildering. If either of them showed any kind of emotional maturity, the plot would crumble.
Meanwhile, greatness, which some may have hoped for with this storyline, is nowhere in sight. The consensus of superhero connoisseurs is that the 1966 arc introducing the Silver Surfer is Marvel's Silver Age peak. In the planet-eater Galactus, it introduced a scale of threat beyond what had been seen before. If the survival of the Earth was never in doubt, the question of how you beat a guy like that fascinated. Well, the conclusion (Reed produces a superweapon) was the worst kind of copout, pretty much nullifying whatever dramatic quality the story possessed. What was special was that the participants were portrayed as really believing that this could be it. Since this has been done in every comic since, it's no longer as effective.
It's thus for the best that the movie isn't slavishly faithful to the comic. What's bothered fanboys the most is that Galactus is not portrayed as a giant guy in a purple helmet. Fanboys need to get a grip. The solution to the Galactus problem in the movie shows no originality, but is still moderately satisfying. Still, there's no desperation, no sense that the Four might actually lose something—until a cheap twist at the end, which could've be meaningful if the cast were up to it.
The burden of acting falls primarily to Gruffudd, whose cluelessness managed to be charming in the first movie because he's fortunate enough to be rather handsome. This time around, the task of actually emoting is too much for him. The script also forces Alba to roll back the last decade of Sue's education. She was more convincing, not to mention sexier, as a geneticist than as a dullard. Chiklis and Evans enjoy needling each other, but don't have anywhere new to take their characters. Julian McMahon plays Doctor Doom as a handsome brat; he should never play a character of any potential depth. Come on guys, it's not a hard role to recast.
Tim Story's direction sacrifices clarity to make the cast look as attractive as possible. And sexiest of all is the Silver Surfer. He's voiced by Laurence Fishburne, but embodied by go-to double-jointed mime Doug Jones, last seen playing the titular faun in Pan's Labyrinth. Muscular yet sleek (especially in the nether regions), the CGI makes the Surfer luminous. And Jones makes a guy flying through space on a cosmic surfboard seem like the most natural thing in the world. That's the spirit of comics.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is currently playing in wide release.
By: Brad Luen
Published on: 2007-06-21