Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer

There are just so many movies these days to feed the inner comic geek! Strangely, I never got around to watching the first Fantastic Four movie, but I don't think that mattered much this time. The FF was never a favorite of mine, but I've read enough of their comics to know what it means when "Latveria" shows up in the captions, and who always follows the Silver Surfer around, so I was pretty prepared for this sequel.

Too prepared, maybe. More than once I knew what people were going to say before they said it. I'd like to think that's a sign of familiar characters well-written, but I think it's more a sign of a predictable script. Still, they throw you pretty much right into the action, and you're not likely to get bored watching.

Earth is in trouble. A strange, comet-like UFO has been spotted, and everywhere the thing goes, around the globe, bizarre things happen. The pyramids in Egypt are coated with snow. Power fails. And huge craters, 200 meters across, appear and look like they go all the way through the earth's crust. That's a looong way. Oh, and Reed and Sue are trying to plan a wedding in the midst of a total media circus. Obviously this crisis calls for some super-heroics.

Now, the guy playing Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is too young, but at least he can manage Reed's super-brains. Jessica Alba, however, is totally unconvincing as a blonde, and I'm not sure why they bothered when they didn't make her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) blond also. Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) is a pretty convincing Thing, though, and most of the scenes of he and Johnny bantering are good, and very much like the comic. Other such scenes just kind of feel like they were forced into the script, and were vaguely embarrassing, but on the whole, the actors have the camaraderie down, and it was nice to see.

The chaos (the environmental chaos, not the wedding planning chaos) is apparently being caused by a silvery man who rides around on a silvery, shiny surfboard. Hence, the Silver Surfer. (Duh. He's played by two people: Doug Jones, who seems to be mainly a bit player and voice actor, and Laurence Fishburne as the Surfer's voice. I never would have guessed that, though, because he really doesn't sound like Laurence Fishburne.) Just like our heroes, he's also cosmically charged, and an early encounter with him leaves Johnny's powers unstable and prone to 'swapping' with his teammates. I remember that sort of thing happening in the comics also -- poor Johnny often seemed to end up being the klutz, accidentally making things more difficult for the team, and that's what happens here, all right.

The U.S. Army gets involved too, of course, and shoots missiles and yells orders and does all the other things you expect but which never seem to help. It's Sue that finally manages to make some sort of connection with the Surfer, because it's always the pretty girl who gets through to the marauding, misunderstood bad guy, and they discover that they have a lot more to worry about than one surfing alien. My fellow comic geeks (and anyone who's been looking for spoilers on the net) will know all about Galactus, who, thankfully, doesn't look a thing like he does in the comics.

Does it work as an action movie? Absolutely. It's a semi-mindless action-fest with good effects, just made for summer release on the big screen with giant stereo speakers everywhere. It isn't much else, though. So two and three-quarter idols for this one. It really can be a fun movie if you don't think about it too much, but I just can't rank anything three full idols if I'm not interested in owning it on DVD, and on a smaller screen, this just wouldn't have the visual kick it needs. From what I've heard about the first movie, it's at least better than that, but that isn't saying much. If you really want a good team super-hero flick, go rent X-Men 2 and watch it on the biggest screen you can find.

Originally posted 6/2007. Rumor has it that the Silver Surfer will get his own movie at some point, but since the release date keeps getting pushed back and back and back, don't hold your breath. Unless you're like the Silver Surfer and can survive long stretches in space without oxygen.

Image: 
The Human Torch and the Silver Surfer have a heart-to-heart in the stratosphere.

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