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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

2007fantasticfour

Movie review by Greg Carlson

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” already ringing up massive receipts due in no small measure to its kid-friendly PG rating, is catastrophically poor.  The best children’s movies contain content that appeals to grown-ups, a notion utterly ignored by the moviemakers in this case.  From dismally one-note characterizations to iceberg pacing, “Rise of the Silver Surfer” does not hold a candle to the intriguing comic book that inspired it.  Only the nonsensical, souped-up CG effects distract from the rotten proceedings, but handsome visuals alone do not an entertaining feature make.

Despite earning an armload of negative reviews, the original Fantastic Four outing proved a cash cow.  The complaints attending the original movie apply to the sequel: execrable dialogue, undisguised sexism, and moronic interactions that resemble one of ABC television’s TGIF sitcoms.  The creaky plot revolves around the impending nuptials of Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba).  On his wedding day, Mr. F feigns interest in the lavish, highly publicized affair, despite being more engaged by his Baxter Building laboratory tinkering and the sudden appearance of an unexplained force wreaking havoc on the earth’s climate.

The meteorological mystery turns out to be none other than that interplanetary lover of the longboard, the Silver Surfer. The Surfer is voiced by Laurence Fishburne with mock gravitas, and Doug Jones and millions of pixels share the physical manifestation of the character.  The Silver Surfer often looks impressive, particularly when he is zooming around through space, but screenwriters Don Payne and Mark Frost, working from a story by John Turman skim the figure’s origin story.  The Surfer’s relationship with Galactus is left unexplored, much to the disappointment of fans old enough to have read the comic book.

In the first movie, the Human Torch (Chris Evans) and the Thing (Michael Chiklis) shared comic relief duty.  In “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” the formula holds with a vengeance.  The Thing’s humanity is replaced with belch jokes and blustery indignation.  In the air, the Torch manages to look cool, but on the ground, he merely riffs on the same old womanizing jerk routine.  In another putrid scene that rivals the stupid dance sequence in “Spider-Man 3,” Mr. Fantastic cuts a rug in a nightclub, using his elasticity to dazzle two partners simultaneously.  Saddest of all is the movie’s dismissal of Invisible Woman.  Alba is arguably the biggest name in the picture, and yet she is reduced to playing an ineffectual helpmate for Mr. Fantastic who appears to have neither skill nor interest in the high-tech science and engineering practiced by her mate.  Instead, she uses her talents to make a zit disappear from her forehead.

Director Tim Story favors a tone of breeziness that in more capable hands might have played like an antidote to the depressing soul-searching that dominates Marvel’s other massive franchises.  The result is so flat, however, that “Spider-Man 3” practically seems like Ernst Lubitsch next to the miserable and decidedly not fantastic quartet.  “Rise of the Silver Surfer” is the very definition of banal.  The chemistry-free interactions of the performers are so vacant that if you look closely, you can almost see the reflections of dollar signs in their eyes.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 6/18/07.

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