18 June 2007

Movie review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Directed by Tim Story. Starring Ioan Gruffud, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Doug Jones, Julian McMahon.

I didn’t like 2005’s Fantastic Four at all. It outwardly made the correct decisions in portraying one of comicdom’s legendary and influential titles, aiming at a more child-friendly and bright daylight sort of science-fiction adventure to counter the darker comic movies. Nothing wrong with that: not all comic book films should aim for the gravity of Batman Begins, and the comic book The Fantastic Four is much more a combination of a dysfunctional family sitcom with big epic world-saving adventure. The problem with the film was simply that it was poorly directed, executed, scripted, and lacked much in the way of real action or excitement. It was sadly inconsequential—something that should never have occurred to such a cornerstone of the comic book universe.

The sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, makes for a significant improvement. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than this year’s overloaded Spider-Man 3, and it feels refreshing in the midst of a flood of overblown and tired sequels parading past us this Summer of ‘07. It aims for a younger crowd, and there’s nothing wrong with a few comic book movies for the kids, I say. The dialogue leans toward the silly, but this adds to the retro-1960s charm of it. The introduction of another great franchise character, Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer, is a huge plus. The action is far more plentiful, and with the characters already established the script can leap right into the thrills. The Human Torch pursuing the Surfer across the globe makes for some exciting viewing, and there’s an excellent rescue at the Millennium Wheel in London. The four actors playing the Fantastic Four feel more comfortable in their roles, and even though Jessica Alba is still too young to play Susan Storm, she has improved since the first go-round.

As for Doug Jones, who plays the Surfer, all I can say it… this fellow rules the “Suit Actor” world. His performance in Pan’s Labyrinth as the Faun was remarkable, and he again shows how physically adept an actor he is. (Laurence Fishburne voices the Surfer, but it is Doug Jones and Weta Digital who are mostly responsible for his effectiveness.)

But… Rise of the Silver Surfer contains plenty of flaws. Principally, I've got two big complaints:
  1. Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom. Or not as Dr. Doom, since once again he makes no impression whatsoever. The power-mad egomaniacal dictator, perhaps the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe? He’s nowhere to be seen; instead we have the same one-note bland scientist with ethics problems. I can’t for the life of me understand why director Tim Story didn’t fire McMahon and recast the part. McMahon's non-performance is infuriating.

  2. Where the hell is Galactus? One of the iconic “villains” in Marvel Comics, the cosmic entity known as Galactus appears here as nothing more than a space tornado. Maybe a bit like V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Where in Mephisto’s Hells is my two hundred-foot dude in purple armor, spouting his cosmic philosophy of destruction? There's no need to make Galactus more “realistic.” This isn't Batman Begins; we can tolerate an armored space-giant who must destroy worlds to live. Galactus was one of artist Jack Kirby’s best creations, and it’s lame that his unmistakable form here is reduced to a few shadows in a storm—as if hints of Galactus’s famous horned helmet inside a twister is supposed to make me happy. Well, they don’t and I’m not.
Yes, this last point comes from the comic-geek view. For many of you, it won’t matter at all. But I think the movie would have improved if they had adhered closer to Kirby’s version of Galactus. It would have made for A more impressive ending.

Take the kids to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. They’ll love it, and it won’t totally tick you off—unless you care about Galactus as much as I do.