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    Wednesday
    Aug042010

    Marveling At The Past - Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007)

    "We will never have normal lives as long as we do what we do."

    Well no kidding Sue Richards. That is just the kind of penetrating exploration of superhero psychology that makes the Fantastic Four film series stand apart from all others.

    Sigh, I apologise for my sarcasm but I find the only way to tolerate this film is to attack it with sarcasm. Truth be told, I am more angry with myself for actually believing the sequel could be a better film than the first. I just reasoned that, logically, 'Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer' had everything in its favour. It was no easy to task to tell the outlandish origin story on film. The story they told was about the characters becoming the super team we know and love. The filmmakers had a limited budget to tell that story. This time out, the team were fully formed and the action could start right from frame one. There was a larger budget and the confidence of coming off a successful first film. They were adapting perhaps the definitive Fantastic Four storyline.

    They shouldn't have bothered. Because of its advantages and how it threw those opportunities away, 'Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer' will forever wear the cap that reads 'biggest underachiever'. It really is the laziest of the Marvel movies.

    For starters, the film makes the exact same mistake as the first film in assuming that the audience is aware of the F4's fame when it was never earned. A scene early on in the film sets the totally misguided tone for the entire piece. We hear several news reports of unexplained phenomena across the planet; the sea of Japan has frozen over, the pyramids of Giza are covered in snow, there is a 50 block power outage in New York. Rumours persist that the end of the world may be nigh........but far more importantly, Reed Richards and Sue Storm are getting married and the film makes it clear that this is all we should care about. Even more amazingly, this event is all that the principal characters themselves are written to care about. Richards, the only man on the planet with the know-how to build a sensor which can track the Silver Surfer, turns the job down so he doesn't have to reschedule his wedding again (even though he secretly decides to take the job two minutes later rendering the previous scene utterly pointless). Sue has at least five scenes where she complains about how the forces of evil have no consideration for her wishes of a happy homemaker lifestyle (just one more example of how so few writers are able to write decent female characters in comic book movies). The definitive shot of the piece is not the Silver Surfer soaring through the heavens, nor Galactus first descending upon the Earth to feed, but Sue on her knees weeping as she surveys the destruction of her wedding ceremony.

    There is also a scene early on in the film were Sue talks to Reed about a bill the F4 have received for wrecking two police cars during a high speed pursuit with some bank robbers which points out something else that has been completely absent from both movies. We have never seen the F4 fighting a single enemy besides Doctor Doom or stopping a single crime. Not just a Spider-man type crime fighting montage; not one friggin' scene. We complain about other comic book movies which lose focus on showing action and super powered people fighting to deal with relationships and romance instead, but at least they show some. This series is pretty much despised because it showed us nothing.

    Characters that were bearable in the first film become totally annoying in the second. Poor old Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm is predictably reduced to comic relief but with the added insult that his Thing make-up seems to have gone back five steps and looks far worse than it did in the first movie. Apparently, the make-up was changed so Chiklis had an easier time removing it every day. I'm sorry Michael but pain is temporary, film is forever and you will forever look like an amber turd in this movie. Chris Evans, the undoubted highlight of the first film, wears on us pretty quickly in this one and coming across with a performance akin to the annoying college roommate in a teen comedy. It is painfully apparent that Evans himself is bored to tears. Then we have the character of Doctor Doom, cut free of his ridiculous jealous boyfriend/millionaire industrialist roots in the first film and able to be unleashed as the real supervillain we remember from the comics. The problem is that he is still being played by the horribly miscast Julian McMahon who seems to come to the piece with an agenda to give an even worse portrayal of the character second time out. In the perfect example of how badly the filmmakers misunderstood the character, Reed pleads with Doom, his supposed intellectual equal, that he must surrender the Silver Surfer's board as it is bringing Galactus closer to Earth as long as it is in use. Doom's reply is basically equivalent to a ten year old child blowing a raspberry, immediately followed by the line "lets all go for a spin". Indeed!

    At least there is the smallest amount of momentum to the film at that point. The preceding 80 minutes flail around killing time, practically shouting out to the viewer that what we are watching only exists as a cash-in rush job. Despite its title, the Silver Surfer appears for about a quarter of the film's total ninety minute running time, apparently too cool a character to be allowed to make the entire movie visually interesting. When the surfer does appear, he trots around the globe making large potholes for Galactus to dip his cloud fingers into and our heroes put on a pathetic show of trying to stop him (not helped by idiotic military characters who disregard everything Reed Richards says, lock up the F4 after they help capture the Surfer and allow Doctor Doom to wander free and steal the power cosmic). A sub-plot regarding the possibility that Reed and Sue will disband the team in order to have a normal life is tacked onto the film is order to give the characters something to do. The only problem being that the audience needs to care about the characters in order for that idea to resonate. Yet how on Earth can we care whether the Fantastic Four stop fighting crime and what a loss that would be to the world when we never see them prevent a single one?

    Despite the potential of the story that is being adapted, the film has nothing to say about anything. The original tale of Galactus and the Silver Surfer is a classic fable of Gods and fallen angels. Galactus is a figure akin to the Gods of Greek mythology; a character of both immeasurable power and callous disregard for other life forms and anyone's needs other than his own. Yet he is also a slightly tragic figure, born with an insatiable hunger which forces him to destroy entire planets and galaxies in order to simply stay alive. His herald, the Surfer, is similarly tragic. A man who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his home world from Galactus and whose identity has been slowly chipped away by an eternity of servitude to the point that he has no conscious recognition of the amount of lives he has helped eradicate. His only consolation is the tremendous power he is afforded as the servant of Galactus. By fate or chance, the Surfer comes to Earth and through his experiences there regains the better part of himself, remembers why he sacrificed himself in the first place and does so again by defying Galactus in order to protect a planet worth saving. Ironically, the person who opens his eyes to the beauty of our planet is a blind girl; Alicia Masters.

    If I had my druthers, I would have liked to have seen that story. And rather than the Silver Surfer viewing our planet as nothing more than a chocolate treacle covered fantasy land full of laughing children and lovers in Central Park, he would also witness the worst parts of humanity as well. The surfer would discover this after Alicia has shown him the goodness to be found on Earth, making his descision to save us all the more profound. Meanwhile, to avoid the character completely hijacking a film with 'Fantastic Four' in the title, Reed Richards is given the opportunity to experience a little humility as he learns there are some problems even his magnificent mind cannot solve simply through science and technology.

    Most importantly, I would keep Doctor Doom out of the piece completely. Not only to avoid the 'two villain' comic book movie curse but because the finished film has enough problems just dealing with Galactus.

    Which, of course, brings us to 'the cloud'. Am I stating the obvious to say we were utterly dismayed and destroyed over this adaptation of the character? Does it make any storytelling sense to build up the appearance of a super being who is powerful enough to kill us all right up to the climax of the film only for it to be a cloud? Does it make any sense from a production standpoint that the design of Galactus had not even been finished up to April 2007 (with the film being released in mid June of that year)?

    I say nay! I do not deny that Galactus is a hard character to translate to film. I was never adverse to a redesign but you have to remain basically true to what the character is. If not a giant dressed in purple then change it to some other sort of huminoid. You cannot create a character, especially a villain, out of a cloud. You cannot create any sense of menace or foreboding with a cloud. You cannot tell a story, even one as outlandish as a Fantastic Four tale, with a cloud.

    But perhaps that is the point. These films have not been an accurate representation of the Fantastic Four. They have been limp and lifeless rush jobs designed for the smallest of children (or the smallest of minds). In the ultimate sign of defeat, Fox is not even attempting to make a third installment but rebooting the franchise, clearly recognising that the property has some potential and that they totally missed their shot the first time around. If 'Fantastic Four Reborn' turns out as bad as this one though, I will be quite content for the real Galactus to devour the Earth, cloud or otherwise.

    Reader Comments (5)

    Rise of the Silver Surfer was absolutely horrible, but John Ottman's Silver Surfer theme from the movie is freakin' amazing. It is by far the best Superhero theme to come out of any Superhero movie in years.

    08-4-2010 | Unregistered CommenterJimJimBinks

    Very well said, Phil!

    08-5-2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

    I admit to have repressed all memory of this film - seriously, up until I read this article I had no recollection of what the PLOT of the story was! Other than the fact that the four cast members from the first (still quite entertaining) film were involved and that Galactus was a Cloud and that Lawrence Fishburne was the voice of the Surfer - I'd even forgotten about Blind Alicia here. But more agonizingly, I had forgotten just what Doom did, despite remembering vaguely that he was in here some where. Bad storytelling is an understatement, bad film an under-er.

    But I did like how Galactus was not a humanoid - I will disagree with millions of fans and readers and filmgoers there - Galactus should have been like Sauron's eye from the LOTR series - omnipresent and seen in humanoid-form through flashbacks in an unearthly environment. Of course, that isn't to say I admire what they did with him here - he was a non-entity lacking both character and personification. That's a bad ground to tread.

    10-7-2010 | Unregistered CommenterNave Torment

    It’s a film called Hungry for You and it’s in pre-production now. I play the lead vampire. I didn’t want to be a vampire but was forced into it so I’m struggling with my vampire powers and not wanting to turn the girl I love into a vampire. The script is really great and has a wonderful storyline. It’s been fun. The creator, Linda Andersson, has a really cool comic strip of Hungry for You that she is going to release soon. It’s sort of a teaser and a way to start the marketing for the project in a bigger level.
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