Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Plague Of Comic Book Movies At Its Zenith: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Disappoints

The Good: Special effects, Stan Lee's cameo
The Bad: Everything else. Seriously.
The Basics: Another pointless superhero movie, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer tries to cover lack of character development, obvious plot and bad acting with special effects.

Sometimes I find myself forgetting how very much I have disliked a certain experience right before I repeat it. No, I haven't become a cutter or anything equally self destructive . . .at least, I don't think that watching bad movies is considered self destructive. A few years back, I watched the cinematic outing of The Fantastic Four (reviewed here!) and found myself completely disappointed. So, why - why?! - did I sit down and watch the DVD of Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer? Honestly, I think it must have been curiosity.

After all, I thought, it couldn't be as bad as the original, right? They wouldn't make a lousy comic book movie AND a crummy sequel to it, would they? And perhaps my curiosity truly was all about going to all of the Star Trek conventions I work. At one or two of them, there have been gaming demonstrations with the Heroclix toys featuring Marvel Comics characters. At some of those demonstrations, the gamers have had Galactus to fight against and while most of the game pieces are less than two inches tall, Galactus is over two feet tall. Knowing that the Silver Surfer was the herald of Galactus, I guess I picked up Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer to see how Galactus was rendered for the big screen.

Wow, was this a disappointment by those standards! That said, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer suffers most because it is exactly what it appears to be. This is a comic book movie. While some films based on comic books rise up quite well to become decent cinematic endeavors, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer seems obsessed and determined to stay in the rut, er, niche that birthed it. As a result, much of the movie attempts to wow viewers with special effects, expresses itself through ridiculous, over-the-top dialogue and gives the actors remarkably little to work with. The characters are mostly monolithic and the film is largely self-referential, making it an all-around disappointment to those looking for a decent movie, as opposed to sitting and reading a comic book.

Following the destruction of a series of planets, a man on a flying silver surfboard speeds over various parts of the world, radically altering the environment wherever he flies. Having done such things as freezing a fishing vessel into a lake and created massive craters in the Earth, this flying stranger gets the attention of Reed Richards. Reed Richards and Susan Storm, plagued by the paparazzi over their impending wedding, have been distracted. Johnny Storm seems to be taking his newfound celebrity quite well, including trying to get endorsements from companies and selling space on his outfit to advertisers.

But the plague of media attention is swept away when Richards is visited by General Hager, who is concerned about the Silver Surfer and what his presence might mean. Richards decides this is the time to have a spine, give in to Susan's demands that he pay attention to the wedding details, and he turns his back on Hager and the fate of the world (sort of). He is content to let the Earth get trashed by the Silver Surfer until Johnny encounters it and gets his butt kicked, incidentally interrupting the wedding of the century. He is also put on edge when Victor Von Doom resurfaces, healed by an encounter with the dangerous new stranger, who is on a mission to prepare the world for its end.

Sometimes, when faced with a movie that is unrelentingly bad, one becomes overwhelmed when it comes time to evaluate it. After all, it's like a kid in a candy shop; where to start with panning this endeavor?! I'll take the high road and start with the good (that way, if I crap out going through the laundry list of problems with this movie, I'll be covered). The special effects are frequently not bad. Outside Mr. Fantastic's ridiculous and comicy stretching effects, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer admittedly has decent special effects. The Silver Surfer looks cool and effects like the destruction of planets in the opening sequence are not quite like the exploding planets moviegoers have seen hundreds of times before. Even the Human Torch looks better in this outing than in the first one.

Stan Lee's cameo is humorous, even if it is problematic (don't people ever consider such things like: "If the Fantastic Four were real and not comic book characters - i.e. the Marvel Universe was reality - just what is it that Stan Lee would have done to become a celebrity?") and the tired and true lesson about sticking together as a team is always a good one. And hey, casting Jessica Alba for a movie when one needs a babe is pretty smart, too.

Now I'm stretching. Let's start with that. Special effects are used to enhance storylines and do what actors are unable to do in reality. Unless one is creating a virtual character, there is still the need to have actors who can act. There are moments - like in the ridiculous bachelor party dance scene where actor Ioan Gruffudd's acting is not covered up by the special effects. In other words, director Tim Story hopes that viewers will be watching the stretchy arms and the hot chicks Richards is dancing with and not Gruffudd's face . . .

And in a movie, comic book conceits do not always work. In my reviews of the Spider-man films I noted that the volume of webslinging material shot out of Peter Parker should have at least dehydrated the poor guy. In Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Reed Richards stretches around the Millennium Wheel . . . several times and the special effect cannot cover the baffling physics of it. Come to think of it, with matter being altered - like the river being turned solid - the lack of consequences becomes disturbing. I mean, if a section of river suddenly turned to stone, upstream there would be some pretty significant flooding . . .

Okay, so The Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is supposed to be escapist and not so sensible. There is still such a thing as decent escapism. This is not it. The characters are all types: Geek, whiny nag, arrogant Man, and Other Guy (Other Guy in other movies is usually Black Sidekick or Token Asian, in this case he just happens to be a a rock man). There is also Generic Villain (didn't Victor Von Doom learn anything from his near-death experience?!), Dumb Military Guy, and Conflicted Adversary. Yes, they are all here, along with Susan's non-team girl friend, imported to make the wedding realistic. And yes, in an otherwise all-white cast, Alicia adds some color.

To be fair, Dumb Military Guy - General Hager - is played by Andre Braugher. I've respected Braugher since I first saw him in Gideon's Crossing and he made much of Homicide: Life On The Street watchable, if not good. Why he chose to be a patsy in this movie baffles me. After all, one might expect an actor of Braugher's character to be able to read a script and say to the director, "Okay, why is my character - a man who has risen to the rank of General - trusting a guy named Doom?! How do we explain that an intelligent military guy falls for this guy's terribly unclever ruse?!" Perhaps he did raise those concerns and he was told that his character is shaken after recovering from a stroke and Braugher went along with it.

Sadly, the only remotely interesting performance comes from Julian McMahon, who plays Victor Von Doom. McMahon manages to be villainous in a way that takes his character a bit away from how he was in the original. He is a little more like his character in Nip/Tuck and that actually works well for this movie. But the truth is, even his performance is something of a stretch for a positive; his character is so monolithically bad and obvious that he can't do much with it.

Similarly, Chiklis is hampered by his make-up, Evans does nothing new, Grufford is bland when not being dull and Alba . . . Alba suffers from the writing. After all, she seems to be the butt of "Heh, Susan Storm is nekkid!" type humor. It's like there is an obsession with seeing Alba naked, so much of the chances for her to shine involves being embarrassed about being naked, covering herself up and running away.

Which leads me to my final gripe that I am actually going to gripe about. Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer assumes its audience is idiotic or under age fifteen too frequently for my liking. Just as the X-Men movies make sure everyone knows who Mystique is by flashing her yellow eyes, this movie makes sure the Invisible Woman is never quite invisible so when the plot becomes terribly obvious, it is at least made . . .well, clear. Too often, it insults the intelligence of the viewer.

It's bad enough we have the injury (Galactus!), we don't need to be insulted on top of it.

For other movies based upon the Marvel comic books, please check out my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk
Blade: Trinity


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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