Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
By Shane Jenkins
June 19, 2007
Someone at Fox deserves a raise. Not the filmmakers behind this terrible movie, of course; they deserve to make Daddy Day Care sequels for the rest of eternity. No, the brilliant minds at work here are the studio marketing department. By focusing their advertising on the rad Silver Surfer, they managed to make this kids movie seem like it might have some adult crossover appeal. Make no mistake, though - Rise of the Silver Surfer is strictly for the young 'uns.
RotSS cost a reported $125 million, but it resembles nothing so much as one of those failed '80s "epics" like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Captain America . It's so cheesy and bad, that I think today's kids will have a soft spot for it when they are older, the way people my age do for 1980s Flash Gordon. Everything that doesn't involve the Silver Surfer feels like an elaborate, expensive joke. The cast all seem to realize they're in a bad movie, and act accordingly (except Jessica Alba, who's probably trying her best, bless her little heart). Ioan Gruffudd actually turned in a good performance earlier this year in Amazing Grace, so he's at least capable of acting. But director Tim Story has a magic latter-day-Lucas ability to coax the worst possible performances out of otherwise fine actors.
The writing isn't doing anybody any favors here, either. This is another one of those stories where the world could conceivably come to an end at any moment, but the heroes can't stop bickering amongst themselves about some triviality or other. In this case, it's the wedding of Gruffudd's stretchy Reed Richards and Alba's occasionally invisible Sue Storm. The fate of mankind and their marriage ceremony are given about equal weight in this story, and Sue pouts and kicks pebbles every time Reed works on saving the planet instead of, you know, like, working on his vows, or something. She comes off as whiny, annoying, and unreasonable as Mary Jane in the latest Spider-Man movie, and that's no small feat.
Speaking of Spider-Man 3, RotSS has the summer's second stunningly incongruous dance sequence. Johnny Storm, the narcissistic party boy of the bunch, convinces the normally introverted Reed to have a bachelor party at a the city's hottest PG-rated nightclub. Reed's a little uptight, but soon he's spinning girls around, his Stretch Armstrong limbs shooting across the dance floor. In possibly the most embarrassing shot I have ever seen, he twists upwards, grinning to the camera like a psychotic figure skater. The audience bursts out laughing, and, like with so much of this movie, you're not completely sure if the filmmakers are in on the joke.
Chris Evans as Johnny is definitely in on the joke, though. He has a knack for winking to the audience that recalls Owen Wilson's early work in The Haunting and Anaconda. They both manage to convince you that they're cooler than the movie that they're stuck in, and hey!, why don't we all just try to get through this thing together? Most of his role involves friendly quarreling with Michael Chiklis's Ben Grimm, aka The Thing. Johnny acquires the ability to swap powers with whomever he touches, and this leads to some antics where the gang get to walk a mile in each other shoes. Evans's other notable role is as the male sex symbol of the movie. He does the Ryan Reynolds clown-with-killer-abs thing, and has one scene where the camera basically leers at his wet, naked torso for two minutes. Tim Story? Is that a pseudonym for Victor Salva? Jeepers!
When the Silver Surfer actually shows up, it's such a relief from all this mindless "comedy," that we're willing to forgive the fact that he's not in the movie very much. He's an imposing figure - sort of like the T-1000 on a mercury surfboard. He's voiced by Laurence Fishburne, who seems to have turned into Morpheus over the years. I'm not sure Fishburne was the right choice here, because his line readings and vocal inflections are so indentifiable that they distract from the character. The Surfer's physical form belongs to Doug Jones, from Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy. Jones, like Andy Serkis, has the ability to infuse his characters with personality, regardless of the special effects that get piled on top of him. It's a great physical performance, and deserving of a better movie.
The ads try to tiptoe around the fact that the Surfer might not be the villain he seems, though the first time you hear his ennobled Aslan voice, it should be obvious. Andre Braugher, doing that thing he does, is a general who reluctantly teams up with the Four to try stopping the Surfer. This includes some tasteful, off-camera torture, thankfully not endorsed by our heroes. Braugher also enlists the help of Victor Von Doom, the baddie from the first movie. I'll leave it for you to discover if someone with the last name "Von Doom" has less than noble intentions, but I will say that the actor who portrays him, Julian McMahon, gives the worst performance I have seen in recent memory. His sneering doctor is something straight out of an early CD-ROM Choose Your Own Adventure game.
Picking on a Fantastic Four sequel, though, is kind of like complaining that the bright blue gum you just bought isn't very good. How good was that bright blue gum capable of being? Secretly, didn't you buy it expecting it to be the worst gum you've ever chewed, and thereby giving you a story to tell your friends. It's a big piece of awful blue gum. Sure, you'll spit it out. But the flavor lasts and lasts.