Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Review
By Joe Lozito
Rumor has it "Ocean's Thirteen"
was to be playfully subtitled "The One We Should Have Made Last Time". "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" could wear a similar epithet. While I was one of the few who found 2005's "Fantastic Four"
to be cheesily enjoyable, the majority of the movie-going public - despite its grosses - met the film with disdain. This latest "Fantastic Four" vehicle may face a similar fate, but that don't make it so. I found "Rise of the Silver Surfer" to be an action-filled crowd-pleaser, with its tongue firmly in its cheek - the type of superhero movie that the "Superman" and "X-Men" series used to churn out before they got all serious.
After a credit sequence uncomfortably similar to "Superman Returns"
, we catch up with our cosmically-altered heroes, prepping for the wedding of stretchy Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards and Invisible Girl Sue Storm (Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba, united, it would seem, in a common blandness). Their vows are interrupted by the appearance of the titular flier, the herald to the mighty, planet-devouring Galactus.
While Marvel Comics' fantastic foursome may have a loyal fan following, the Silver Surfer has some rabid devotees. So, for the filmmakers, bringing the much-loved character to the screen puts more at stake than the plot of the entire first film. I'm happy to report, whatever they think of the first film, die-hard fans must be pleased with the realization of the Surfer - the film's one true achievement. Modeled after the movements of Doug Jones ("Pan's Labyrinth"
, "Hellboy"), voiced by Laurence Fishburne, and animated by those wizards (and yes, you have to call them "wizards") at WETA, the Surfer is nothing short of astounding. From his first appearance - diving through a Manhattan skyscraper - to his finale, the Surfer is a force to be reckoned with, and an instantly memorable addition to the franchise. After that amazing display of creativity, though, it's worth noting that the "plastic man" effect still looks pretty poor. For Galactus, the filmmakers forego the purple spandex and give the character the "Sauron" treatment, making him (like the "Lord of the Rings" villain) an abstract cloud of evil.
With such a wonderful villain, the film falls victim to a classic superhero story blunder: it sets up an adversary so powerful that it's hard to believe anyone could defeat him. Aside from a convenient plot device which allows our heroes to switch powers, "Fantastic Four" manages to avoid such trifles thanks to a script by Don Payne and Mark Frost which emphasizes the interplay between its characters. Once again, Michael Chiklis provides the film's heart as rock-solid Ben Grimm and Chris Evans effectively dials up his playboy charm as Johnny Storm.
The real let down of the franchise continues to be its lead couple. Jessica Alba remains little more than window-dressing as the Invisible Girl (oh, the irony!) and, try though they might, Ioan Gruffudd possesses little leading man charisma as de facto leader Reed Richards. Julian McMahon also returns as Victor Von Doom, the cut-rate Lex Luthor of the series but his subplot feels more obligatory than anything else.
Perhaps it was the glut of dark, cynical superhero films ("Batman Begins"
) that had me ready for the bright airy cheesiness of the 2005 original, but there's still something refreshing about the colorful playfulness of "Fantastic Four". Freed from the inherent pitfalls of the origin story, "Rise of the Silver Surfer" breezes along at a lean 90 minutes thanks to some nifty special effects and the sturdy direction of returning helmer Tim Story. As the Surfer rises, so too does this franchise. Still, potentially, ready for big things.