Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Review

I have a confession to make - I don't mind the first Fantastic Four movie. I understand why comic fans hate it: it's the most dumbed down comic adaptation since Batman And Robin. On the other hand, if you watch it with little knowledge of the characters and low expectations, it makes for fast, unpretentious entertainment. There's none of the bombastic overkill that's plagued the action blockbuster genre over the last decade. It doesn't want to be anything other than dumb summer fun and on that level it's watchable enough.

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is indefensible on any level. No matter how low your expectations going in, this is going to disappoint you. At only ninety minutes long, it still manages to feel slow and padded. Imagine a witless forty-five minute sitcom followed by a cartoonish forty-five minute action-fest with bad special effects and you've got the idea.

The first half is the worst. The bulk of it involves the four superheroes standing around squabbling and wise-cracking like roommates in a "Friends"-style sitcom and playing silly pranks on each other with their powers. These scenes are pointless: the subplots aren't interesting and they aren't even properly resolved. We're supposed to enjoy them because they involve the Fantastic Four. Many failed sequels make this mistake - they assume we'll be delighted just to see the old gang back together again. Remember Ocean's Twelve?

Among the dreary conflicts going on between the heroes: Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are about to be married and Sue is upset because Reed is more interested in saving the planet than their impending wedding. That little plot thread gives away the IQ level of this film - it reminded me of the kid in Lost In Space who was cross with his dad for being too busy saving the human race to play catch with him.

On top of that, the couple are thinking of leaving the team to start a family, which upsets the other two. And everyone is upset that Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) has become obsessed with fame, money and bimbos. Meanwhile poor old Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) looks upset that the script gives him little to do but be upset with everyone else.

Eventually this tiresome nonsense gives way to some sort of a plot. A number of unexplained power failures and atmospheric disturbances have been caused by the arrival of an alien entity known as the Silver Surfer. We discover he's the herald of Galactus, an immense being that survives by devouring planets - sapping them of their thermal and biological energy. The Surfer is sent to these planets to prepare them for their imminent destruction. Now he's here on Earth and the only man who may be able to stop him is the Fantastic Four's old nemesis, Dr Doom (Julian McMahon).

Though fans of the comics will probably be unhappy with the liberties that have been taken with the Silver Surfer mythology, the Surfer, voiced by Laurence Fishburne, is easily the most interesting character in the film. He's the only one who's half-way developed and ironically he's the most human. It says a lot that a half-arsed CGI effect is more colourful and sympathetic than any of the people onscreen.

That Surfer effect really is shoddy - he looks like a primitive version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2. That film came out in 1991 - now explain to me why the CGI in a major 2007 release looks dramatically inferior to work done sixteen years before, in the early years of computer effects! For that matter, Galactus, depicted here as a large interplanetary cloud, looks like a poor man's version of V'Ger from 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There's no excuse for the quality of the effects in this film, which range from adequate to shockingly poor, like the scene involving the London Eye.

Even when the effects don't spoil things, the action is never exciting or spectacular. Director Tim Story came to the Fantastic Four franchise after making the comedies Barbershop and Taxi and he shows no gift for filming large-scale action. This wasn't such a problem last time around - the first movie kept things smaller and it benefited in places from Story's light touch. The sequel however wants to be a big budget action epic with enormous set-pieces, and Story's simply not up to the job. His direction is flat, pedestrian and boring, like a TV director's - he doesn't deliver a single genuine thrill or memorable image.

I'm getting tired of superhero films whose action scenes basically involve CGI figures interacting with other pieces of CGI. Though they're better directed, the Spider-Man films are guilty of this too. Since CGI-created people are rarely very convincing, the effect is distancing. It's hard sometimes even to associate the little computer game sprites bouncing around the screen with the actors they're supposed to represent. You're not watching Tobey Maguire, you're watching a cartoon Spider-Man flipping around lamp posts.

For all its flaws, at least Spider-Man 3 worked intermittently - the part where Peter Parker turned to the dark side was great fun. Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer splutters to life only when the Surfer emerges as a character in the last half hour and by then it's far too late.

The Fantastic Four are well-cast but the actors are wasted. Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans both deserve to be in a much better superhero franchise. Jessica Alba comes off worst, inviting comparisons with Halle Berry in the X-Men films. In her defence, she's expected to play a brilliant scientist who gets in a huff when her boyfriend dances with hot babes at his bachelor party. She's also horribly photographed, as are all the women in this film. I don't think I've ever noticed such obvious make-up on actresses - Alba is positively caked in it. Here's one of the most beautiful women in the world and she's been made to look like she should be working behind a cosmetics counter in Debenhams.

Overall

4

out of 10

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