The first Fantastic Four was a bit clunky, and a bit awkward but still managed to be a lot of fun. Rise of The Silver Surfer – free from all that ponderous origin exposition – whips through its ninety-two minutes with action, effects and some genuine family character moments…
Reed Richards [Ioan Gruffudd] and Susan Storm [Jessica Alba] are really going to get married this time. They might be oh-for-four to this point, but Reed has promised that nothing will get in their way, this time. Of course, he probably wasn’t including the end of the world in that blanket statement, but one can never be sure…
The wedding plans are getting in Reed’s way – he still has scientific stuff he’s working on, but Susan puts a [temporary] stop to that by making his PDA invisible. Meanwhile, Johnny Storm, The Human Torch [Chris Evans] and Benjamin Grimm, the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing [Michael Chiklis] are carrying on as always – razzing each other and bugging Reed about the wedding plans – including the bachelor party.
Meanwhile, the ill-tempered General Hager [Andre Braugher] is apprised of some major nastiness and interrupts the family’s plans to get Reed to build a sensor to track something that has caused severe weather fluctuations around the world [turned water solid in Japan; caused snow in Egypt – that sort of thing]. He’s acting, in typical movie military fashion, in the interests of national security – not realizing that worldwide problems just might be indicative of something a wee bit more important.
Somehow, Reed gets the gizmo together, completes the wedding plans and manages to let loose [in true Mr. Fantastic style] before the actual wedding is interrupted by a flyby by the silver guy on the interstellar surfboard. The Fantastic Four roar into action, but things seem to get out of hand, so Hager enlists Victor Von Doom [Julian McMahon] [whose presence is presaged by a Surfer fight over Latveria] to work with Reed – despite Reed’s earnest protestations.
The vast majority of critics [though not I] panned Fantastic Four, mostly, it seems, because it did not take itself seriously. The sequel will likely be roundly panned again, though this would be a shame. The screenplay, by Don Payne and Mark Frost, faithfully translates the essence of the comic and Tim Story’s direction is sleek and beautiful.
The relationships of the four come across precisely as in the comic and the team of Payne and Frost know enough about the comics to slip in references to pivotal moments in FF history – one of the best being Johnny’s first encounter with the Surfer putting his molecules "in a state of flux." Translated, that means when he touches one of the other three, they exchange powers. At a key point, he exchanges powers with all three of his teammates – in such a way that he manages to retain his flaming powers – and becomes the human equivalent of the Super Skrull [comics fans will get that – and it might presage a future film if the series continues to bring in the bucks].
The biggest effect, of course, is the Surfer, himself. Doug Jones does a terrific job of capturing the movements and poses of the character and really gives him both the majesty and pathos of the Lee/Kirby character. It’s a shame he didn’t get to do the voice, but Laurence Fishburne sells the character’s heart as well as anyone could.
Since most of the film’s audience won’t necessarily know some key information about the Surfer, that revelation is handled with just the right amount of impact – as is the treachery of Von Doom. Both revelations lead to some cool action sequences and, of course, the single biggest CG set piece in the film.
Kudos must be given to the CG animators and the creators of The Thing’s costume. Both are exceptionally good. The action choreography is excellent and the actors, stunt people and effects really work well.
On the human side, the characters of the four are both consistent with the comics and real enough to hold an audience’s attention [even though Ms Alba really isn’t a terribly good actor]. McMahon doesn’t get to do as much in Rise of the surfer as he did in the original, but he does have a suitably evil presence that nicely balances out the goodness of the four and the nobility of the Surfer.
Overall, the film is smart enough to get up on stage, tell its story and get outta town. At a lean, mean ninety-two minutes [as noted above], Payne, Frost and Story manage to be true to the spirit of the comics and include believable human characters in amongst the superheroics.
The films real flaws are that the events of the film feel slightly compressed and Alba’s wig and blue eyes don’t feel real – the latter not being helped by her wooden acting. Also, Gruffudd may make Reed a bit too dull when he isn’t busy saving the world – That may be true to the comics, but is not something that works especially well in a movie.
Evans and Chiklis make the most of the peculiar, younger brother/older brother type of relationship. They get the best bits of business and most of the good lines – and they know how to work both. The introduction of a woman who isn’t immediately won over by Johnny’s efforts [Frankie Raye, played by Beau Garrett] is another nice nod to the comics – though she seems to come around to his charm a little to easily by film’s end.
Overall, this Fantastic Four film is a bit more than goofy summer fun – it’s just plain fun.
Final Grade: B+