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Friday, June 15, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

2005's Fantastic Four movie was not a favorite amongst the comic book fans, but it apparently made enough money to warrant a sequel, because here I am reviewing Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I can hardly wait to see the massive Internet backlash that will ensue when the fans lay their eyes upon this movie. The original was no great shakes, but compared to the sequel, it looks like it belongs on the A.F.I. list. Wildly campy, woefully executed, and just plain wrong-headed in almost every frame of film, I have a strong hunch that this film will be spoken in the same sentence as past infamous comic book film bombs as Batman and Robin and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

As we rejoin our superheroes, team leaders Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) have been trying to tie the knot for the past few months, but every time they try, some world catastrophe or villain shows up, and they have to postpone. As for the other members of the Fantastic Four, Sue's brother Johnny (Chris Evans) is trying to capitalize on the fame of their heroic exploits, and is looking for merchandising deals and corporate sponsorships, while the kind-hearted brute made of stone Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis)...Well, he's pretty much a guy made out of rocks, since the screenplay doesn't give him much to do in the film. Reed and Sue's latest wedding is interrupted by the arrival of a strange alien creature made of a metal-like substance who flies around on a surfboard, and whom Reed dubs the Silver Surfer (performance by Doug Jones, voice by Laurence Fishburne). The Surfer brings with him a dire and ominous warning that a powerful destructive force known as Galactus is coming to destroy Earth. The Fantastic Four find themselves hired by the military so they can exploit Reed's scientific knowledge to track down and capture the Surfer. Meanwhile, the Four's arch nemesis, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) is back, and he even seems to be helping the military in tracking down the alien threat. Of course, Doom has other things in mind, as he wants to use the Surfer's powers for his own evil ends.

No matter how bad a movie is, I always try to find a silver lining. The best thing that I can say about Fantastic Four is that at a breezy 90 minutes, the movie comes and goes in a blink of an eye. I'm not trying to be sarcastic when I say this. In a day and age when summer blockbusters are pushing nearly three hours in length, it's somewhat refreshing to see a movie that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a good thing too, because if I had to sit through another hour and a half of this, I'd go mad. Returning director Tim Story obviously saw no need to fix the mistakes he made the first time around. He obviously only looked at the fact that the first film made money, so he figured he must be onto something. Too bad it's obvious he has no clue what he is doing. Such examples are the inconsistent special effects (Most of the film's special effects budget seems to have gone into making the Silver Surfer somewhat believable. All the other effects look like something you'd find in a video game.), to the horribly underdeveloped characters that don't show a single shred of personality or life, all the way down to the campy jokes and dialogue that sound like something out of the worst Saturday morning cartoon you remember watching when you were growing up. It certainly doesn't help that the screenplay by returning screenwriter Mark Frost and newcomer Don Payne (TV's The Simpsons, My Super Ex-Girlfriend) is switching gears so much that it becomes borderline schizophrenic. Some scenes are campy and cheesy to the point of overkill, while others are so melodramatic they become unintentionally laughable. It's almost like the writers were working against each other, fighting over control of the movie's tone, and just couldn't come to a compromise.

They obviously spent so much time arguing over the tone of the movie itself that they forgot to pay attention to the plot. Character motivation is pretty much all but non-existent here. There's a subplot about Reed and Sue considering disbanding the team so that they can lead normal lives after they finally get married, but this is dropped almost as soon as it's introduced, only to have it get resolved in a brief line of dialogue literally in the last minute or two of the movie. Johnny Storm gets his own subplot about his molecules being rearranged after an encounter with the Silver Surfer, so afterward, whenever he touches one of the other members of the team, he gains their power, and the person he touches gains his. Once again, absolutely nothing is done with this, as it exists mainly for cheap gags, and is once again resolved with a throw away line during the final moments of the film. Even the villain's plot doesn't really make much sense when you think about it. Victor Von Doom wants the Surfer's surfboard, because it gives the alien his power, and Doom wants the power for himself. However, the board itself is also apparently calling forth this Galactus creature that's going to destroy the world. Considering that the board will call forth someone who wants to kill him, I don't see the logic in Doom's decision to want it so badly. This issue is never addressed. Doom just wants it. Maybe he doesn't care what happens to him, but it sure does make him seem like a rather idiotic "evil genius" that he doesn't even realize that he won't even be able to enjoy the power the board contains if it's going to eventually lead to his own death. And you'd think the writers could come up with something for Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) to do other than just toss one liners. Actually, that's the key problem at the source of this movie. No one does anything most of the time. The powers of the Fantastic Four are mainly used as gags this time around, rather than actually helping or saving people. Other than a couple rare scenes, they're just special effects that serve very little purpose to the story itself.

Since the characters are treated so haphazardly, it's hard to care about them, or anything that's happening to them. We don't learn much about the Silver Surfer, other than a little bit about his background. Most of the time, he simply flies around and acts as an impressive special effect rather than a character contributing to the plot. Strange that he gets his name in the title, yet has so little to do in the actual movie itself. The fact that Laurence Fishburne delivers the Surfer's lines with such melodrama you'd think he was doing Shakespeare instead of a goofy comic book movie that's obviously aimed at kids doesn't help matters. The rest of the cast don't hold up much better. Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba have zero chemistry, and both have the personality of a hunk of wood, so we can't concern ourselves much with them. Chris Evans' cocky sarcasm quickly grows tiresome. And Michael Chiklis seems annoyed, as well he should be. He had to get back inside that "Thing" costume, and barely gets to do anything for his trouble. The worst performance, however, is given by Julian McMahon, who just is not menacing or interesting as Victor Von Doom. Like everyone else, he's mainly stuck doing nothing until a very anticlimactic final scene where he's defeated in about a minute and a half after he flies around on the alien surfboard for a while. Everyone who walks into this movie seems to either camp it up, or seem rather bored and irritated. I have to admit, I could relate to the actors in the second group.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer contains just about everything that can go wrong in a summer blockbuster. It's dull, it's corny, it's idiotic, and it often doesn't even make much sense. When you've got a superhero movie about people with amazing powers, and the best thing you can think of is to have the characters use their powers for cheap sight gags, something is very wrong and you have to look at things another way. It's a shame that nobody involved with this project ever thought of it. I can't see who this movie would appeal to, other than very young children, who are certain to find it funny and the Silver Surfer itself cool. Comic book movies have been fighting for a while now to be taken more seriously with audiences and critics. Fantastic Four takes all that effort, flushes it down the toilet, and sends everything back to the way it was before.



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