Friday, June 15, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I love the Silver Surfer, I mean I LOVE him! He is, by far, my favorite Marvel Comics hero (though not my favorite Marvel character). When news broke that the team that created the suckfest known, at least by me, as Craptastic Four was getting a chance to ruin this character as well I started stocking up on ammunition. The film is far from the total desaster I imagined, and in truth the makers have made some great strides from the first film (this one is actually watchable without raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels). I guess I could give it a pass just on improvement and effort, but although it’s not craptastic, like its predecessor, it’s far from fantastic.

Things pick up some months (years?) after the last movie. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are preparing to marry, Johnny (Chris Evans) is still a media-whore, and Ben (Michael Chiklis) is still made of what appears to be orange spray-painted foam. To be fair, the look of the Thing is an improvement from the last film (they must have spent at least $50 on his costume this time), but what is up with Jessica Alba’s eyes? Is she a scientist who can turn invisible or some weird alien creature?

Anyway, things are good for the group until an unusual visitor who likes creating huge holes in the planet’s crust, and whose cosmic radiation starts disrupting the powers of our heroes, shows up. General Hager (Andre Braugher) enlists the help of the group and their arch-nemesis Victor von Doom (Julian McMahan), because all US military are stupidly gullible, to stop the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne) who has foretold the destruction of the planet in eight days time.

The look of the film is much better than the first one. To begin with we get a good credit sequence and some cool exploding planets. Not only did they spend some money this time around, but they spent it in the right places. Aside from the improved look of the Thing, the Baxter Building gets a much-needed make-over and the Fantasticar is pretty darn cool.

As for the Surfer, his look is impressive if not quite right. He’s not the T-1000! And though the look of him melting his way through solid objects looks cool it is never explained, nor does it make much sense. Why does he bother when he could just fly around or blast his way through much more easily? The whole concept is pretty dumb, as is the simplistic plan to render him powerless. The movie can never quite decide just how powerful to make the character, as the script calls for him to be near indestructible at times and downright puny at others.

And the character gets so few lines you wonder why they bothered having Fishburne come in to add his voice. This is a mixed blessing. Though it limits the amount of damage Tim Story and his group can do to the character it also leaves the Surfer, and Galactus (don’t even get me started there!!), as largely unanswered mysteries. By keeping him silent you loose many of the best aspects of his character including his compassion and intellect. The simplistic version of the Sue Storm/Surfer relationship, necessary given the time constraints of this 91 minute film, also leaves something to be desired.

There are a few other problems as well. Most of these can be attributed to the sequel being stuck with the same bad casting from the previous film, though at least the actors seem a bit more comfortable in their roles this time. Still, this is very limiting. When you build a house on such a shaky foundation, you are bound to have problems.

Although I still don’t get the title, what exactly is the “rise” of the Silver Surfer? Is he picking up the franchise, or trying to get a rise out of critics? I just don’t know. Still, it’s an improvement over the first film, and since they don’t totally ruin the character I guess I can call off those hitmen now (kidding!). In creating a not-to-bad film that manages to entertain as much as it screws-up, it suceeds in a very limited way. I think this is as far as this group can go, and if any high-quality work is to come from these characters serious changes, both in front and behind the camera, need to be made. Although I can’t actually go far enough to recommend the film I won’t warn you off as I did the original. For a mindless summer flick with some good action sequences the film delivers on a basic level, and is just good enough for me to stop referring to this franchise as craptastic. At least that’s something.

No comments: