Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I was not a big fan of the first film in this series. I felt it was overly hokey, badly scripted, miscast and definitely had the wrong director at the helm. But it made a shitload of cash at the box office so a sequel was a no-brainer. All of the original cast and crew are back, so is a surprise that it's just as bad as its predecessor?

Ioan Gruffudd still doesn't seem to get his character of Reed Richards. He can't seem to find that middle ground between being a pathetic loser or a super genius. Jessica Alba is still the most miscast of the group, only this time she's wearing some horrendously bad blue contact lenses that make her look like an alien (and it doesn't help that she opens her eyes as wide as she can in her close-ups to emphasize them). Michael Chiklis was born for the role of Thing, but I'm sick of seeing him lose his powers. He must have it in his contract to get out of costume at least twice in each movie. Chris Evans is also a lot of fun as the Human Torch, only this time he's given some of the worst lines in the flick as well the silly romance angle (The Thing got it in the first film with the blind Alicia Masters). But why, oh why was Julian McMahon ever considered for the part of Doctor Doom? Just because he's on a hit TV show (Nip/Tuck) doesn't mean that he can pull of a dastardly villain such as Victor Von Doom. His voice is so non-menacing that I'm surprised that when he issues a threat to the heroes that they actually take it seriously.

Now we come to the film's only saving grace... Doug Jones as the Silver Surfer.
Where to begin? Well, it helps that he's one of the best "suit performers" working in films today (check him out as Abe Sapien in Hellboy as well as Pan and the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth), so when I say that he totally embodies the character of Silver Surfer, you better believe it. His mannerisms seem other-worldly, but the coolest thing is that when he's focused on something or someone he's completely still. I mean COMPLETELY STILL. Not so much as a muscle twitches. It's, dare I say, a fantastic performance both when performing the motion capture for the CGI version of the Surfer AND the "tarnished" version of the character which is actually Jones in a very convincing full body suit. It also helps that the scenes involving him are dead serious when opposed to the rest of the film.

Laurence Fishburne is the voice of the Surfer, and his focused dialogue seems to have been written by another screenwriter because it's smart and concise with no filler and zero hokey jokes. It's all business and it works. This character totally needs his own movie (and it looks like we're getting it).

So why is the Silver Surfer in this movie if it's about the Fantastic Four? Well, in the comic books the Surfer was first introduced in the F4 series then given his own spinoff series. I'm sure that was the same reasoning behind his appearance here; to see if the audience responds well to the character, and if so then he gets his own flick. I say DO IT!
The story is that there is a being called Galactus who devours worlds full of life to sustain his own. The Surfer is his herald; he travels to the world that Galactus has chosen to be his next meal and prepares it for his coming. The Surfer does this in order to spare his own world from the same fate. So when the Surfer comes to Earth and begins drilling holes in the surface so that his boss can easily drain it's energy the Fantastic 4 are given the task to find out why. It doesn't help that Reed and Sue are in the middle of their wedding when the Surfer interrupts, and after a brief encounter with the alien Johnny is given the ability to swap powers with his teammates. The Surfer's arrival also re-awakens Doctor Doom from his "statued" slumber. He encounters the Surfer as well and is made to look normal once again by his strange powers. But when Doom calls a truce with the F4 in order to join them in their search for the alien you just know he has an ulterior motive. Can they convince the Surfer that he's playing for the wrong team before Doom can get his way and/or Galactus shows up for dinner?

The plot is taken directly from the comic books, but when it's not focusing on the Surfer it falls flat on its face. Director Tim Story just isn't cut out for this type of material. He has no "vision" and absolutely no style. It's a generic looking movie with generic looking sets and generic looking costumes. I find it hard to believe that it cost $150m since it all looks so cheap. Most of the money appears to have gone to making the Surfer look as awesome as he does since the effects of the F4 seem to have taken a step backwards in terms of quality (Johnny's "Flame On!" is the only exception).

The movie also needed to be longer. It runs at 95 minutes, and while I'm sure that will help bring in the bucks with more show times at cineplexes it could have used a little more substance instead of racing along at breakneck pace to its very unsatisfying conclusion, both when it comes to resolving the Galactus plot and the Doctor Doom plot.

Now for the big question... What does Galactus look like? Well, those rumors about him being a huge storm cloud are true. But is it all bad? Does it work? For the most part, yes. It would have been beyond hokey for the comic book version of the character, in his blue and purple spandex, to be shown devouring the planets. It would look like a live action Unicron, which if handled right would be cool, but Tim Story directed this mess. The cloud is fine since it moves with a purpose, reminding me of the V'Ger cloud from Star Trek: The Motion Picture since you can tell that the cloud is covering something more sinister underneath, be it an immense living being or a machine of some type. What I found cool was that when we actually take a trip deep into the heart of the cloud you can just make out the design of Galactus' massive helmet in the patterns in the background. I thought that worked very well.
The music by John Ottman is a step up from the first film too. The Surfer gets a great theme that reminded me of the overture from Star Trek: First Contact. It’s actually kind of beautiful.

So in the end it's just as bad as the first film, but the Silver Surfer/Galactus storyline raises it up to a decent watch. But I warn you that when the SS isn't on screen you'd better have a high tolerance to camp cuz camp is all you're gonna get.

2 out of 5

p.s. This film has some of the most blatant product placements EVER! There should be a drinking game revolving around the amount of times the "Dodge" logo is thrown in your face whenever the FantastiCar is being used.

*written 6/15/07

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