By Marco Chacon
Jun 19, 2007 09:40 AM EST

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Theatrical Review

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Theatrical Review
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The first in the series sold out one of the greatest villains in comic history by trying to make Dr. Doom into Lex Luthor. Maybe you can't blame them too harshly: they got the titular four down pretty well--wasting half the movie on a lack-luster adversary might not be the kiss of death since there's still many iconic stories to tell. One of the more iconic being the showdown between the FF and Galactus.

For those of you who don't know, Galactus is a ginormous dude with a funny helmet who eats planets. Like ours. Chomp.

Before he dines, however, he sends his herald, an incredibly powerful guy with a flying surfboard to come and, like, inform us ... or soften us up ... or something. This guy, who is all metallic-reflective and flies on said surf-board is called The Silver Surfer. Way back when, comics weren't all that creative, I guess (see: Super-man and Bat-Man, yeah?).

So anyway: this world-ending threat made a decent splash in the comics at the time and proved to be, actually, one of the more interesting stories in the canon. The Surfer wasn't exactly a bad guy ... and Galactus is more like a cosmic vacuum cleaner than a mustache-twirling villain. It was interesting--and it was "next up."

I was going with a True Believer--a fan who liked the first and, he told me, used to buy the comic. I wondered if he'd like the second as well.

Turns out he did. This, however, is not a good sign.

Bait And Switch
The movie goes wrong in many, many ways. The first and most glaring is that the villain of the piece--the power behind the scenes--looks like a 100 ft tall guy in a blue and purple outfit. Since they can't show him on screen, Galactus gets shoehorned into the last 10 minutes of the movie (kinda--as in you hear he's out there but there's no screen time at all) and instead we get ... Dr. Doom ... again.

And, of course, since we can't have a 'name' actor in a movie without showing his face? The mask comes off--and the armor--so he's the overly smarmy Julian McMahon. Worse is the American general who veers from simply unlikeable to topically evil when he tortures a captured character with the interrorgator declaring "I am forbidden to do certain things because of the human rights laws--fortunately, you are not human!" Well, it's good to see Bush is out of office in the FF's universe.

The Agony of Being Super
Successful supers-movies capture at least some of the joy of being a super hero. It looks like it's fun to be Batman in Begins. It seems like it'd be cool to go to the X-Academy. It sure doesn't look like Spiderman is having all that much fun--and The Hulk is a one-way ticket to a zoloft overdose. In Rise (which is, in my opinion, 'failed'), the central character, Mr. Fantastic (the stretchy guy) has to offset the natural ebullience of the Thing and Torch so he has his own ... 'drama.'

He's getting married and his bride (Invisible Woman) is pissed that they keep getting her big day delayed by threats to global security only they can handle. And that rat-bastard Mr. Fantastic keeps cheating on her with his save-the-world job. Sigh: why can't he just settle down?

When threats to global climate and giant bottomless pits start appearing around the planet and the military comes to him? She's certainly not going to have him help! And worse: she found him at a bachelor party. The horror!

This makes her come off as petty, shallow-minded, and absurd. Why we have the running theme of this through the story is beyond me: Reed even says, at one point, he's the preeminent mind on the planet and he's vital to saving the world: if Sue Storm, who wants to marry him, can't see that, she's blind as well as being able to turn invisible.

Yes: Mr. Fantastic is overly obsessed with science ... it could get a little annoying--but celebrities put up with fans and lack of a mundane public life--and they aren't saving the planet. I can only figure that this is done since "growing up" seems to be part of the super-hero story these days.

Not getting its own 'joke'
In the big scheme of things, a little pandering isn't bad: we all know it happens--when the Torch shows up with a prototype new uniform, so covered with logos, that looks like a racing outfit, it's funny. When Richards unveils the (iconic) Fantastic-Car with Dodge logos all over it, it turns out the movie is its own joke.

There is worse. And it's spoliery. So I'll be careful: Imagine that you were asked to do something horrible--but you did it because ... 'you had no choice.' Then, you decided that not only did you have a choice--but all that horrible stuff you were asked to do? You never needed to do any of it. In fact, by making a personal sacrifice you could not only save your loved ones ... but billions of others ... and you never cared to? Would that make you heroic? Or weak?

The movie doesn't get that--but that's what it sets up with the end sequence.

Finally, for the "moral message" of the movie (since apparently with-great-power-comes-great-responsibil

ity was taken ... as Sue and Reed decide to head off to middle America somewhere and lead normal lives) there is some boiler-plate about 1-man-show stuff (there's no 'I' in TEAM, right?). So the ending? One guy: saving the day. All the way. It's not even the guy you think it is.

The End?
Would I see any more FF movies? I suppose so--if my friend wanted to go. For all it's flaws, the FF themselves are likable enough and the Thing/Torch interaction continues to be strong. It's clear that Doom, in his damaged incarnation, is around to stay. That's unfortunate: like Roland and Emerich "improving" Godzilla, the film maker's take on Doom isn't just boring, it's cringe-inducing. Like The Smurfs, will we have to see the same formulaic bad-guy hounding the heroes at every turn?

Or will we, you know, get the Mole Man?

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MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 99 minutes
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

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