Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver SurferReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/18/07 13:31:23
Despite a box office haul large enough to warrant a sequel, the 2005 comic book flick “Fantastic Four” was ridiculed by many for being a badly written, lazily directed, woefully miscast, generally stupid and dull effort in which the superheroes spent more time talking about doing things than actually doing them. To remedy this, the makers of the follow-up, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” go out of their way to ensure that this one is instead a badly written, lazily directed, woefully miscast, generally stupid and dull effort in which the superheroes spent more time talking about doing things than actually doing them. So there you go.The filmmakers are counting so much on its newest character to rescue their potential franchise that they even forget to include the words “Fantastic Four” in the title card. (Instead, we get a “4” logo and the subtitle.) Fans, meanwhile, have managed to see the arrival of their favorite Marvel Comics hero - a stoic hero made of silver who cruises the stars on a cosmic surfboard - as a reason to forget exactly why they hated the first movie. In other words, expectations on both ends were mysteriously, ridiculously high (or, at least, not as low as they otherwise would be for a sequel to a flick as poorly received as “Fantastic Four”).
But, as mentioned, “Surfer” is just as lousy on every level as its predecessor. Even its efforts to tone things down action-wise to make things more kid-friendly backfire: the first third of the film is depressingly action-free, and the kids in the audience (my daughter, a “FF” fan, among them) spent their time squirming, wondering why the movie was so outright boring.
(Side note: The film earns a PG rating solely on the merits of its more jocular tone and not on the basis of any actual content. The less-violent first movie earned a PG-13. We’re once again reminded of the uselessness of the MPAA.)
We spend thirty full minutes watching the build-up to the wedding of Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue “The Invisible Woman” Storm (Jessica Alba). Limp jokes are made about how every time they plan a wedding, something goes wrong and they have to cancel. Meanwhile, a strange cosmic blur has been streaking across the planet, causing all sorts of surprisingly uninteresting occurrences - rivers are turned to stone, there’s snow in the desert - and the U.S. military wants Reed to help investigate. With the fate of the world at stake, Reed declines, as he has a wedding to plan! (Apparently, when you’re getting engaged, you’re not allowed to do anything for weeks other than pick out china patterns.) So instead of anything adventurous or suspenseful, we instead get stuck watching Reed attend his bachelor party, which includes - what else? - a disastrously unfunny dance sequence in which Reed does a little disco. Oh, the humanity.
There’s also a subplot about how the team is still a little financially strapped, leading Johnny to deck out his superhero suit with corporate logos, NASCAR-style. He is admonished for this by the team, who find his stunt distasteful. And yet the film itself is peppered with product placement: Reed’s PDA-like portable computer is a Nokia; the “FantastiCar” - one of the most iconic images of the comic series - now showcases a Dodge logo. I’m surprised the Silver Surfer didn’t pause to say a few words about his good friends at Ron Jon Surf Shop.
Anyway. After the longest thirty minutes in comic book movie history, the big day finally arrives, and even those who haven’t seen the trailer know that it’ll get interrupted. The strange cosmic blur is the Silver Surfer, and he’s headed for the Big Apple. Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm (Chris Evans) spends a quick few minutes chasing him around town, thus finally providing an anxious audience with a healthy dose of Something Actually Happening.
It’s short lived, of course, and, aside from a clumsily-added subplot involving archvillain Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) being accidentally revived by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, we spend the next half hour watching as the team - which also includes Ben “The Thing” Grimm (Michael Chiklis) - hang out in their headquarters as they study Johnny, who, after touching the Surfer, now has the cosmic ability to swap his superpowers with anyone he touches. This leads to a series of cheap comedy moments where we get to watch Johnny turn into the Thing, or Sue become the Human Torch, etc. It’s the sort of novelty gimmick usually saved for later on in a franchise, when the producers are becoming increasingly desperate for ways to keep the series fresh; that they’d haul this trick out now, in the second film, suggests they have no clue how to manage a potential Part Three.
The final third of the film eventually picks up steam with a par-for-the-franchise dull-as-dirt action sequence in London, a set piece involving a ferris wheel that makes you long for the absurdities of a similar scene in “Catwoman.” It’s pointless, but at least it’s loud, and that’ll wake everyone up. A few more aggravating pauses in the action later, the Army captures the Surfer, which leads Dr. Doom to steal the surfboard, thus giving the bad guy all the Surfer’s powers. Ah, finally, something’s happening! Alas, as with the first movie, there’s no weight to any of these action set pieces. We’re tossed a showdown between Doom and Johnny, all while a gigantic space cloud named Galactus (a far cry from the actual humanoid villain from the comics, but I understand the change here, as the killer cloud is more cinematically dynamic) prepares to destroy Earth. Again, director Tim Story (who also helmed the first movie) confuses loud with exciting, and so the finale becomes yet another uninteresting, too-late-to-count mishmash of superhero action.
It’s not just the uneventful screenplay (from Don Payne and Mark Frost) that makes “Surfer” a crummy movie. Story’s direction is as lifeless and insipid as it was in the first “Four,” and his efforts to push broad comedy over genuinely interesting goings-on turns the movie into an embarrassment. (Even the obligatory cameo from “FF” creator Stan Lee is clumsily handled and cringe-worthy.) His cast, then, offers nothing to rescue the project, especially Alba, who again turns her super-scientist character into a bubblehead who’s easily distracted by shiny objects, and McMahon, who again turns his ultimate villain character into a whiny, unthreatening weasel who across less like Darth Vader and more like Owen Wilson.
The filmmakers top all of this by casting Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the Surfer. (The CGI body - and it looks CGI, with the mouth never really matching the voice - was created by Doug Jones working as a body stand-in.) The Surfer is presented as this otherworldly, mysteriously cosmic being, and his voice should have an ethereal quality to it. And while the actor tries to restrain his tone (and gets points for a solid effort), Fishburne’s booming bass is all wrong for the character.
But would we expect a “FF” movie to get anything right? Of course not. The idea behind the Surfer character - after saving his own planet from destruction from Galactus, he must now travel the universe looking for planets for it to devour; he ultimately rejects his master after being inspired by the humanity of Earth - is filled with enough grand wonder to make for a terrific sci-fi epic. But in the hands of the “FF” team, it’s reduced to sloppy nothingness. The entire Surfer backstory is reduced to a couple lines of rushed dialogue, implying a greater emotional weight without ever actually having to handle it. The revelation that the Surfer is not a villain is equally hurried and mishandled; perhaps the writers figured fans already know he’s a good guy, so why bother with the rouse any longer than they need to? The Surfer’s redemption, then, seems more like the mechanics of a desperate plot than the result of any character development. Even the title gets it wrong: the Surfer never “rises” but merely just kinda shows up. Tim Story once again lacks the ability to fill us with any sense of wonder at the grand events in play.Sadly, throughout all of this, “Surfer” doesn’t even have the courtesy to be eye-rollingly awful, like its predecessor. Instead, this sequel is only bland and boring. We can’t even be bothered to laugh at it. “Surfer” is a “Fantastic Four” movie that thinks it’s smarter and more adventurous, when it’s really just one major drag.
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