Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Like many pre-teens in my youth I collected comic books. I had them all and now as an adult I find many of my favorites are being made into live action films. Without a doubt my favorite all time comic characters were the Fantastic Four. What made them so appealing were not just their super powers, they were flawed human beings that any one could identify with. A side bonus was they did not work out of some fictional city; they were based in my home town, New York City. A couple of years ago the Fantastic Four moved from animation to real people in a major motion picture. While the flick had its flaws as a life long fan I could over look most of them. Added to this the first film was an origins story and carried the additional burden of having to introduce the characters, their relationships and how they got their powers. Since the second film, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, did not have these constraints I expected something a lot better. Even as a fan I’ll be among the first to say that the film fell short of its potential and the expectations many of us had. The elements for success were all there but they just didn’t mess right. The flick has action; humor is basically true to the comic books but without a better story line for the character’s emotional motivation. While targeting the current pre-teen set the producers of this film forget those of us who wax nostalgically for these characters. When you look at a film like ‘Spider-Man 2’ you see how this type of film can be made to successfully appeal to a broader age range. I would like to see further installments to this franchise but only if the production team can look at other, better made comic book flicks and make some serious adjustments for a broader appeal. The tip off should be the rating. Most franchises go up in the ratings; here the original PG-13 was lowered to a PG in this film. It shows that the film was intended for a younger audience and this fact needs to be considered.
Picking up some two years after the first flick it looks as if the Invisible Woman, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her fiancé Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), better known as Mister Fantastic, are about to finally get married. Any bride has to face some problems and distractions for Sue having super powers and being expected to constantly save the world is a bit too much to take. Reed is distracted from recent reports of a meteoroid wrecking havoc around the world. This silvery object is causing power black outs in major cities, something that heightens the curiosity of Reed. He secretly makes a sensor to warn him of the approaching object instead of focusing on the upcoming big day. The couple’s wedding finally arrives and much to Sue’s chagrin the alarm goes off just as the wedding starts. Sue’s brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), the Human Torch, ignites to follow the object while Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the hulking rocky Thing, helps to protect the people below.
As Johnny approaches the object he sees that it is humanoid, a silver man atop a surf board. The Silver Surfer (body - Doug Jones / voice - Laurence Fishburne) drags Johnny high into the atmosphere where his flame goes out. The Torch is able to flame on just before he hits the ground. Reed traces the path the Surfer took to earth and discovers that one week after the Surfer appears on a planet it is destroyed. The Surfer is the minion of a powerful inter-galactic entity called Galactus who needs to feed on life sustaining planets to survive. While circling the globe the Surfer did more than cause the usual mayhem. His cosmic energy has freed Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) from his statue like state in the Baltic state of Latveria. Doom offers an alliance to the Surfer but is turned down. Victor Von Doom has a little problem with rejection and some anger management issues and attacks the Surfer. The resulting blast of cosmic energy has the side effect of healing Doom’s disfiguring injuries.
The Fantastic Four also find that there are some internal problems to overcome. When Johnny encountered the Surfer the cosmic radiation affected him. He now switches powers with any of his team mates that he touches. This results in the flaming visible woman, a lumpy orange Johnny and several other variations on a theme. A lot of the film has the Surfer going to several world cities and laying them to waste. It used to be for London we would always get to see Big Ben Smashed but this is the twenty first century so this time out the London Eye is the focus of destruction. There is a little more modern theme when the Army manages to capture the Surfer and try to torture him. I guess they considered him the ultimate illegal alien.
There are some movies that appeal to the eight year old child in us. They help us remember the more carefree times of our youth. This flick requires you to actually be an eight year old. It may seem like a small difference but it is why this flick fails to reach its potential. Now that is not a bad thing it is just the film could have been made for a broader age range. There is ample evidence that a film based on a comic book can be made to work on multiple levels. This one is fun if you are ready to not think an awful lot. On the up side this flick delivers what a kid wants to see, action. The special effects are very good especially the numerous battle sequences. Watching the Human Torch fly about is just as I imagined when I was ready the comics so many years ago. The CGI for the Silver Surfer are only a notch above what was new and amazing in Terminator 2. The dialogue is not really up to contemporary standards. When it doesn’t drag it’s down right forced.
The biggest negative in this film is the misuse of a fine cast. Too bad Ioan Gruffudd was not afforded the chance to stretch is acting abilities as much as his character can stretch his body. He is relegated to the geeky scientist who can’t put his work aside to marry the woman he loves. Jessica Alba is trying to break away from being typecast as the beautiful girl in the bikini. In her latest film she takes on comedy and I’m looking forward to that. Here she is given some of the more dramatic moments but it is too little too late. Chris Evans does do a very good job in playing Johnny. He is someone full of self confidence who wants to use his powers to promote himself. Michael Chiklis is one of the best actors around. He can play comedy as he did in the ‘Commish’ as easily as the shady cop on the ‘Shield’. His scenes with Ben’s girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington) are some of the better ones in the flick. As a villain Julian McMahon does well. He plays Doom over the top which fits in this case.
Even with a film that fails to reach its potential like this one Fox still gives it their all for the DVD release. The have three versions available, the regular DVD, a DVD special edition called ‘The Power Cosmic Edition’ and a Blu-ray release. If you are going to get this film go for the specials edition. The video is mastered in 2.35:1 anamorphic. The colors are brilliant and the contrast flawless. The Dolby 5.1 audio is loud, far too loud to consider watching as a midnight flick. The channel separation is excellent as is the balance between the front and rear speakers. There are two audio commentary tracks. Unfortunately neither features the cast. The first has director Tim Story while the second has producer Ari Avid, script writer Don Payne and film editors Peter Elliot and William Hoy. There are several featurettes provided. The first is ‘Family Bonds’ that looks at the relationships of the main characters. There is another about the construction of the ‘Fantis-car’ and another on the origins of the Silver Surfer. Additional featurettes detail the work on the special effects and musical score. Rounding things out are some deleted scenes and bloopers. It can make a good popcorn flick for the family but the shame is it could have been a lot more.