Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Sequel

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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:

Chrisevans1Th• 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.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for that uproarious closing shot of Galactus– man, that Lee(/Kirby?) dialogue reached some kind of zenith here that even Kirby’s NEW GODS couldn’t quite top.

    I think most of these observations are bang on target. But I do wonder if the Fantastic Four are really the poorer for not being in a shared universe. Sure, it does make that wedding less fun, but the plot would have been even more nonsensical if there were an Avengers and an X-Men out there to help take on the bad guy, but sorry! they were busy braiding each other’s hair or something. (Oh, Thor!)

    For me, what’s missing in the movie Fantastic Four is not a universe shared with other super-heroes, but a boldly explored one. The FF seem to be reacting to trouble on the ground (armored car robberies) and letting the aliens come to them instead of traipsing off to the Negative Zone and the Microverse and Wakanda and Blackbeard’s ship and Mount Olympus and Oz and the land of Dr. Seuss. There, too, I sometimes wonder if the presence of the Avengers diminishes the Fantastic Four somewhat– hard to pump up the stakes when someone else has the heroes’ back.

    This kind of stuff has been on my mind for a while. Heidi, you might be interested in reading this rumination on what Wonder Woman loses by the presence of Superman.

  2. Sphinx Magoo says:

    Wow. What a nice insightful review. I was looking forward to it!

    A couple of observations:
    1) A gigantic cloud? How can you sell action figures and playsets of a giant cloud?
    2) Sometimes I think Hollywood has a serious lack of faith in the original source material. To paraphrase Darth Vader: “I find their lack of faith… disturbing.”
    3) I agree with T Campbell’s assessments on the FF being about exploration. After Lee and Kirby’s original run, most FF stories have been about playing with the toys they built and not about exploring new places or characters.

  3. A space god would have worked with the right director or at least, do the ‘Galactus looks different to every observer’ thing.

  4. I wouldn’t have even minded the stupid cloud so much if Galactus actually talked or did anything. The whole point of a Galactus story is that its the FF versus God. Not the nice god or even the old vengeful god, but a new god who is cold and indifferent and perfectly embodies the scientific and political climate of the original Lee/Kirby comics. A monstrous god drapped in nightmarish Kirby-esque technology who barely even awknowledges us. The Surfer is his angel, specificly his Samael, who betrays his creator to defend a people he has never met. He fails, because its frickin’ God, and falls never to soar again. You need Galactus to talk and interact with the Surfer in order for any of this to come across. If Galactus is just an inanimate cloud, who the Surfer could have apparently killed on his own at any point, then the Surfer isn’t noble, he’s just a putz.

  5. Brian Spence says:

    Great points about the God/Angel/FF points from the original FF stories, joffe. Unfortunately, it would have been way too much to hope for. They had to have Dr. Doom in it (to quote Tom Cruise: “You’re glib”. Why is Doom a wisecracking jerk and not the tough dictator badass he is? I HATE the movie version of Doom, and they actually made him worse in this one). Overall, I thought it was entertaining and skewed for a younger audience. I know my nephews and nieces will love it.

    I’m surprised at the number of people who think Galactus was only a cloud though. You can see the silhouette of his helmet on Saturn, and you can see him behind the swirling clouds (although it’s not easy).

    I put this in with the same category as the AvP movie. They had excellent source material in the original comics, but they think they know better and they change it for the worse. One of my favorite parts about FF 48 was that the world blamed the FF for the bad things going on around the world. They thought the human torch made the sky turn to fire. That would have been so cool. It was entertaining, but filled with missed opportunities which made it disappointing for fans. The audience loved it. Laughing out loud through the whole thing.

  6. bad wolf says:

    I think Heidi herself said after the first movie: Not bad, but do you want to see the Galactus saga done by this team? Well, here we go.

    It does explain the strange conflicting reports from cast/crew as to whether we see Galactus himself before the release. If it’s all one CGI effect versus another, who knows what happens until the final release?

  7. Well, FF2 has had a pretty good opening weekend box office, so we might see more of this franchise…but then again, so did Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and that ain’t comin’ back.

  8. Wraith says:

    A few quick points.

    1. I thought this movie was GREAT. It was better then the first FF movie (which I also liked). Heck, it was better then SPIDER-MAN 3.

    2. I thought FF2 was a heck of a lot more faithful to the source material then many other fan favorite comic book movie adaptions.

    3. Unlike most other comic book superhero movies, FF2 (despite what Heidi might think/beleave) was NOT ashamed of the source material.

    4. Has anyone thought that the reason why they did’nt show the “real” Galactus was because they may be saving him for the Silver Surfer solo movie.

    5. I find it funny that some fans complain about the changes made in the FF movies, but are fine with more drastic changes made to other superhero movies.

  9. joffe says:

    I dunno Brian, I can think of scenarios where they could have kept Dr Doom and still had a talking Galactus. You don’t even need Galactus to talk to anyone other than the Surfer and could have just done one scene at the beginning and one at the end, but I suppose they really wanted his existence to be a big mystery. Too bad it doesn’t work that way at all in the actual product.

    Everyone just seemed so bored in that movie. I don’t think anyone involved even cared. Not just the actors, there were a ton of basic writing and editing errors as well, like the disappearing woman next to the Thing on the airplane.

  10. It did stick close to the source material in a way. Dr Doom on the surfboard is something Heidi could have used as a comic panel instead of Galactus. But I don’t know that Reed dancing and doing everything except The Worm really holds close to the comics. I also think the movies show why Julian McMahon never became a true star–he sort of sucks. Surfer was cool though.

    I just don’t know why this movie needed belch jokes or the first one needed toilet paper jokes. You don’t see these things in Batman or X-Men! If this was a TV Movie I think everyone would say it was well done for a TV movie, but “Dude, Where’s My Pogo Plane?” isn’t something the world needed.

  11. Wraith says:

    I’ll take a 100 belch jokes to one direspectful joke like “what did you expect, yellow spandex”. Funny how comic fans have a problem with the belch jokes in FF2, but have no problem with (and often quote) the stupid “yellow spandex” joke.

  12. “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.”

    sexist!

  13. “family friendly”…?

    Yeah, okay. I saw it, I watched it. But man….. even for a leave-your-brain-at-the-door PG film… it was not working for *me*. But hey…. BIG weekend, so I guess Hollywood is justified and knows what they’re doing, right?

    Right?

  14. Jessica Alba’s contacts really bothered me too. Why is it that the total-cgi Surfer’s eyes looked more lifelike than Sue’s? They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on these things, why not just digitally recolor Alba’s eyes instead of the weird contacts?

    As for the “family” quality of the movie, my kids enjoyed it well enough, but I couldn’t figure out why everyone was swearing all the time. It was always “What the hell is this” and “This damn thing” and “Oh my God.” I don’t remember that kind of gratuitous language from the comics. I couldn’t care less for myself but if you’re going to make it a family movie, what is the swearing supposed to do? Make it seem more “adult” to the kids?

    Oh, and my son is six and even he knew that “that’s not how the Silver Surfer got rid of Galactus.”

  15. THE INCREDIBLES killed any chance of a FF movie being good if it was not a psychedlic cgi-animated movie without producers worrying about “Realism”. FF, the Surfer and galactus are a product of the 60s in every way, and keeping that sensibility and sense of wonder would have saved it, not making the damn thing have the feel of 90s tv movies.

  16. M. Lusk says:

    My kids and I loved this movie. As an FF fan of 37 years (since 1970, thank you) I have little substantive complaint.Not perfect, but SO improved from FF1 it’s unbelievable.
    Who ever promised us Galactus for crying out loud?? We got just the right amount of Galactus. Any more would have taken the audience’s attention from the Surfer. They never intended on revealing Galactus in full in this film, and were saving that for the Silver Surfer movie. Several people close to the production have said this more than once.
    Bottom line with Galactus is this movie was never intended as a straight adaptation of FF 48-50, just as it was not a straight adaptation of FF 57-60 (“Doomsday” arc) or FF Annual #3 (The Wedding).
    Doom was still not Doom, but SO MUCH better than in FF1. What, Don Payne was supposwed to fix the pitiful Doom from FF1 with just a few scenes?? Jesus, what Payne did do here was borderline miraculous, especially considering how terrible Doom was portrayed last time.
    YES, a Pixar adaptation of the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four would be the only way to do the material justice in my opinion. maybe one day we’ll get that.

    These movies (FF, Superman, Spidey, ALL of ‘em) are, at best, decent covers of beloved favorite songs. All of them fail in some way, a few exceed our expectations, NONE of them come close to the seminal magic of Lee/Ditko SPIDER-MAN or Denny O’Neil BATMAN.

    It’s easy to hate on a good-hearted lightweight flick like FF2.
    I think it takes a little perspective and perhaps even being a parent to really get what Don Payne & Tim Story accomplished with this picture.

    Personally, I think Jack Kirby would have loved it, despite its lapses and flaws. He would have appreciated it for what it is: A very decent cover version.
    Maybe next time will be even better.

    It didn’t surprise me at all that my 7-year old came out of FF2 bouncing, declaring “Daddy! THAT was better than Spider-man!!”
    And yet Spidey is by far his favorite character.
    “A lot more fun than Spiderman 3″ is something I’ve heard from a number of my friends this weekend.
    Unless they’ve all suddenly lost their grip on reality, that tells me a LOT about both franchises. And a lot about the nature of fandom.

    So sad that some could not enjoy themselves.
    Nevertheless, Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer ROCKS.

  17. “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.”

    “Pleasantly brainless”? Because the actual Fantastic Four comics have always been known for their deep intellectual explorations of the human psyche, right….or their experimental, cutting-edge analysis of dark psychological themes?

    Talk about missing the point.

  18. joffe (see 4th post) got it right about the man vs god story in FF 48-50 and that was missing from this film. I certainly would have preferred a Galactus who could recite the line about mankind having to choose between greatness or self-destruction but I have to agree with M. Lusk, too. FF2 repaired much of the damage to the characters that had been done in FF1 and, if you read through all of the Lee/Kirby issues, it really has much of the flavor of those stories. There was even some of Lee’s distrust of authority theme in the film with the Army/CIA/whatever contractor torturing the Surfer and the overbearing General Ross-like character. The FF was always my favorite comic and Lee my favorite writer but in middle age I have to admit that they really were written for kids; smart, inquisitive kids, but kids nonetheless. It would be easy to pick this film apart like a frustrated fanboy but I have to admit, I left the theatre smiling.

  19. Alan Coil says:

    Bully said: “…we might see more of this franchise…”

    We certainly will. The Silver Surfer script has already been written by JMStraczynski.

  20. Brian Spence says:

    Will: “sexist!”

    Nah, probably just horny :)

  21. I saw the movie with my girlfriend, and neither of us saw the first one. But I read the books and she doesn’t. What surprised us both was how little effort was put into telling us who these people were.

    The movie just starts and shows us the characters. There was no mention of how they got their powers or what their relationships to one another. Not until before the wedding, a half hour into the movie, is Johnny mentioned as being Sue’s brother. Doom was in a box in Latveria which I recognized as his country, but my girlfriend didn’t and didn’t know who he was. Neither of us can figure out what the Surfer did to him though. But that owes more to the story problems than the storytelling problems.

    Alicia is in three scenes, bobbing and weaving and looking off center before the only mention of her blindness comes up. And that is merely Johnny saying making a comment about her “being you know” and wiggling his fingers in front of his eyes. The word blind never comes up. Which is not to say she should be defined by that, but it explains later why she stands still and looks into her impending doom. This could have been mentioned in the first film, but obviously, not everyone saw that.

    There is a frequent concern in comics that a book is not easily accessible to new readers. And to make things seem easier and simpler, titles are relaunched with lower numbers. People might not want to read Fantastic Four #541 because there is so much back story they won’t understand it all. But this was only the second movie, and too much of it didn’t make sense to me. But a lot of it, might have made more sense if they tried to clue us in on what went before. If you open any issue of the book you will be told: scientist, rocket ship, rays, powers. But this movie didn’t try. If they had tried, I might have been more accepting and forgiving. I might have even enjoyed it.

  22. Randy Bunn says:

    I used to read Fantastic Four about 40 years ago and I thought the title stood for the number of super heroes in the plot as opposed to the number of letters in the words so frequently used in the movies. Has the target audience of the subject matter changed from preteens to late adolescents and young adults? I don’t recall Superman, Batman or Spiderman movies relying on foul language and skin to attract an audience. I always thought their super powers and their weaknesses were what set them apart from us mere mortals but I can see that it now takes more than that to attract a sophisticated audience of contemporary consumers (who, according to national statistics, may not be able to read the comics anymore).

    I think the screen writers were a poor choice for this project and the previous Fantastic Four movie because they felt the need to deviate from the nature of these comics so much with side issues of language and sex. Is that necessary? Do the producers have marketing statistics that indicate their profits would have suffered without the inclusion of profanity and sex? I understand the profit nature of an enterprise such as this but I doubt anyone could demonstrate a significant monetary difference between a FF movie with and without foul language and unclothed humans and heroes alike. I must admit that not reading the FF for forty years puts me at a slight disadvantage as to its most recent content if it even still exists, maybe skin and foul language are what draw the prepubescent reader these days. If that is correct I fear the demise of the super hero is imminent.

    I am sad that I do not feel comfortable taking my 5 and 8 year old boys to these movies because I enjoyed them so much in their comic book medium. I know that I am two or three standard deviatios from the target audience for this movie but I challenge the Hollywood industry to see if they can make a FF film that is more like the comic book and less like a flashy fantasy slut fest.

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