Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer / ** (PG)

Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic: Ioan Gruffudd
Sue Storm/Invisible Woman: Jessica Alba
Johnny Storm/Human Torch: Chris Evans
Ben Grimm/The Thing: Michael Chiklis
Victor Von Doom: Julian McMahon
Alicia Masters: Kerry Washington
Gen. Hager: Andre Braugher
The Silver Surfer: Doug Jones
Voice of The Silver Surfer: Lawrence Fishburne

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Tim Story. Written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, based on comic book characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Running time: 92 min. Rated PG (for sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo).

Once upon a time, super-scientist Reed Richards was supposed to marry his sweetheart Sue Storm. Many people were invited to their wedding, including Sue’s brother Johnny, Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm and his blind girlfriend Alicia, and several helicopters to bring the Manhattan rooftop ceremony to the rest of the world. You see, Richards, the Storm siblings and Mr. Grimm, better know as the Fantastic Four, are superhero celebrities.

What make these four so fantastic are their individual super powers, which they gained from cosmic rays while running experiments in space. Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, FX’s “The Shield”) is the rock-like abomination known as The Thing. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, “Cellular”) sometimes bursts into flame and flies, calling himself The Human Torch. Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, “Into the Blue”) can create powerful force fields and can turn herself invisible, explaining why she’s referred to as Invisible Woman. And although Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, “Amazing Grace”) can stretch his body like a giant rubber band, I have no idea how he earned the name Mr. Fantastic.

Unfortunately, the wedding plans are put on hold when the party is crashed by the mysterious cosmic being known only as The Silver Surfer. U.S. Army General Hager (Andre Braugher, “Poseidon”) wants the Fantastic Four to shut the Surfer down, because he seems to be destroying the entire planet. (I think old Silver Heels is just misunderstood.) And on top of it all, it appears that the super group’s arch nemesis and former colleague, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, “Premonition”), is not as dead as the world once suspected. Could he be up to some dirty deeds, or has he reformed his evil ways?

The first “Fantastic Four” film was strictly amateur hour at the multiplex. It was cursed with bad writing and direction and acting that could not rise above the juvenile nature of the characters and their superpowers. This sequel shows some growth, but not much. There’s still a lot to learn before school is out for this superhero franchise. But it does have The Silver Surfer, a character that seems infinitely more mature than anyone else in this film and more than a little out of place.

I have to admit, I came in to this film with a heavy bias toward the Silver Surfer character. I was a big fan of his comic book adventures as a teenager. I also was never much of a fan of the Fantastic Four. I always felt their powers were a little goofy and much more of a gift to them, as opposed to other costumed heroes whose superpowers were as much a burden as a boon. The writers of this adventure, Don Payne (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend”) and Mark Frost (“The Greatest Game Ever Played”), do try to throw a bit of that burdensome angst into this story with the group’s exaggerated celebrity, but it never rings true.

In all honesty, after the grilling critics gave the first film, I had no intention of ever tuning in to any of this franchise’s episodes. But when I learned that The Silver Surfer would be introduced this time, I decided I should go back and check out the first film. I discovered that the critics were on target in citing that film’s failure, and I despaired that the Surfer’s treatment lay in the hands of the same filmmakers. But while little has been fixed on the Fantastic Four’s side of the business, the Surfer himself is harmed only by association, much like the way he is misunderstood as the herald of Galactus, The Devourer of Worlds.

The Surfer, with motion capture work by Doug Jones (“Hellboy”) and voice by Lawrence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), is only part of a larger picture. But the filmmakers do a capable job in conveying his scope and power. At one point, Johnny accuses the Surfer of being a “show off,” and director Tim Story (“Barbershop”) is right to show off what they have done with the Surfer here. The digital effects are perfectly designed to represent the Surfer in the alien and cosmic form he must in habit. Were the rest of the film handled with just a little more maturity, if not skill, he could have carried the whole thing.

But this is not “The Silver Surfer” (although rumor has it a solo film is in the works). It is the Fantastic Four that this film is all about. And within this group, we find an all too typical storyline of in-fighting and growing pains spurred on by a problem Johnny develops after his first encounter with the Surfer. It seems the Surfer has altered the stability of Johnny’s flaming ability and whenever he touches one of his teammates, they swap powers. The film squeezes every sight gag and awkward situation it can out of this predicament, and somehow never once elevates it above something resembling a junior high school prank. There are far too many attempts at laughs with these heroes and not nearly enough heroics.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on this group of minor league heroes because of the inclusion of The Silver Surfer. But the filmmakers seem to be reaching for some sort of legitimacy with his storyline that the rest of the film just doesn’t seem interested in. I don’t doubt that this movie will work just perfectly in the minds of twelve-year olds, but the target age the filmmakers seem to be shooting for is skewed just a little bit too young for my tastes.

Buy it: Fantastic Four DVDs

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe instead of Lawrence Fishburn, they should have got Erin Nevill to voice over the Silver Surfer. I think that would have done better with their target audience.