I suppose there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching FANTASTIC FOUR 2: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. But I suppose there are better ones, too. Learning how to make bread. Model painting. Shredding personal documents. Watching the Thunderbirds.
FF2 is a pleasantly brainless kiddie movie, and tots will probably like the broad humor, semi-interesting powers and the idea of a noble silver guy riding around on a surfboard. Adults will enjoy any scene where Jessica Alba wears a tight outfit, which is most of the movie. The script is relentlessly dumb, the story is painted with signposts as big as barn doors, and characters are as complex as those in a laundry detergent commercial. If you’re looking for a nice place to rest your brain, this is the spot.
Unfortunately since most of my brain was unengaged while watching the film, I was able to ponder other, more pertinent matters, like just what makes an Avi Arad movie. Producer Arad left Marvel last year, so he probably didn’t have his thumbprint on this as much as some of Marvel’s other movies, but the pattern is pretty clear. Since all of Marvel’s movies are based on corny 60s comics, these elements of corn have to be removed, lest they seem “unrealistic”; unfortunately they are replaced with 21st century corn. The result is just as silly as the old stuff but usually far less interesting.
The Spider-Man films are the most Autuer-istic superhero films out there — Sam Raimi is smart enough, as I’ve written here ad nauseum, to know that keeping the elements that made the comics great is not such a bad thing. Hence, Doc Ock’s wifebeater, Sandman’s striped shirt, Aunt May’s homilies, and Peter Parker’s attempts at keeping his grades up. Spidey 3 had the most Arad-introduced elements of any of the movies, and we all know how that turned out.
In FF, the original cheese has been stripped out. So it’s just Victor Von Doom, scientist and not…DOCTOR DOOM. Likewise, Galactus. I guess the idea of a big purple guy who went around eating planets was too silly, and would take people right out of the story, so here’s he’s replaced by a whirly cloud that would be at home in a 60s episode of STAR TREK.
The old embarrassing stuff is replaced by things like Johnny taking Reed to a dance club for his bachelor party and Reed breaking out with a stretchy dance. Yes, that’s not corny. Or Reed being so busy working on his super spy cam osciallator-o-tron that he forgets to go to his own wedding. Yes, yes, so believable! A guy in a purple suit would have ruined this verismo drama!
Like, whenever I heard people say things like “They’ll learn they can’t trust Victor!” my inner script doctor cringed. How is that a better line than “They’ll learn they can’t trust von Doom!” Of course it’s corny…but somewhere deep inside our little kids know that von Doom sounds a lit cooler than…Victor. It’s not they were channeling Tolstoy here. Let it breathe!
Sometimes the original cheese is so integral that is just can’t be taken out…hence…THE SILVER SURFER. A space dude on a surfboard, that’s not corny. The surfer here is really the only thing anyone is interested in — mocapped by Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, he’s the only thing on the screen with any wonder and his scenes do have an eerie grace to them. The Surfer is already being fast-tracked for a sequel, (reportedly penned by J. Michael Straczynski) so this was money well spent.
The story involves Sue and Reed trying to get married while the government, in the form of an obnoxious General — now that is original!! — is calling them away to investigate an “anomaly.” The anomaly turns out to be the Surfer, who resurrects Doom along the way. The obnoxious general ends up turning to Doom when Reed can’t seem to cut the mustard with his science. Gee, will Doom turn out to be bad?
My nit picks are mostly fannish ones. Ioan Gruffudd gets more face time as Reed Richards, but the way he’s written here the world’s smartest man would have a hard time getting out of the first round of ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER. Jessica Alba’s blue contacts and blond wig look faker than ever, and she’s portrayed as a dumb bunny who scolds Reed for taking so much time saving the world and frets about tabloid rumors. (Once in a while she puts on reading glasses to show that by gum she’s a scientist!) The Thing and Johnny Storm provide the comic relief, but it’s more forced than in the first one, where it had a certain level of charm. Dr. Doom is a complete waste again, and Julian McMahon looks like he can’t wait to cash his paycheck.
The Reed/Sue wedding scenes were also kind of unbearable if you remember the guest-star bonanza wedding special issues of yore. I know it would have ruined every ones movie option, but if only they could have given some teeny little in jokes here, like a guest named Wyatt Wingfoot or something. I kept looking for Crystal and Pietro.
Also, when Reed said he was too busy getting married to save the world, I kept thinking “WHY DON’T THEY JUST CALL THE AVENGERS???” In the X-men movies you get the idea that a whole world of mutants is out there. The FF are on their own, and seem much the poorer for it.
There were a few very very good things about this movie however:
• a gratuitous scene of Chris Evans in a towel. One of these days they are going to make a movie where Chris Evans must spend hours and hours wearing only a towel, and the world will be a better place for it.
• a not at all gratuitous scene where Jessica Alba loses all her clothes…although it’s very chaste.
• one little image that’s a nod to the real Galactus. Thrown in as an in-joke for the fans, it actually becomes very sad if you begin to think about it too much.
In the end of the film, the Surfer goes up against the swirly cloud to save the earth. I won’t spoil the surprise ending, but I will say that the image of a vast purple glove coming out of the cloud would have been 10 to the 12th power times cooler than anything else in the movie. But that would also have taken imagination, and there is very little of that on display here. But no worries, we know the real Galactus is only a trip to the comics shop away.