Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Review
Two years on from their defeat of Dr Doom, the Fantastic Four are facing another crisis...the marriage of Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Girl. Or, how they're known to their mothers, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba). They can save the world but they can't manage to say, "I do!" to one another. In fact, it's their saving of the world that appears to be coming between them. Well, that and the beautiful women who surround Richards on the stag night organised by Sue's brother Johnny Storm (The Human Torch, Chris Evans) as he does his super-stretchy thing on the dance floor. The film, no doubt in its chasing of a PG rating, avoids having one of these ladies ask, "You think he stretches everywhere?"
It's during their latest attempt at getting married that sees the Fantastic Four face their greatest adversary yet, one whose arrival on Earth has brought blackouts, storms and snowfalls on the pyramids. When this alien being arrives in Manhattan (and interrupts Richards and Storm's rooftop wedding), the Fantastic Four pursue him through the city and into the mountains of the north-west. What they find is the Silver Surfer (voice of Larry Fishburne), who claims to be the mere herald for one that will come after him, a creature who will destroy Earth as surely as he has destroyed other worlds before it. As powerless as they are before the Silver Surfer, how will they deal with the being following him across the universe. And in Latveria, a side effect of the arrival of the Silver Surfer also threatens the Fantastic Four. The energy from the passing alien has freed Dr Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) who wants to make an acquaintance with the Silver Surfer. And with those who jailed him, the Fantastic Four!
The world has a good many comic book adaptations, many of which, in these post-Dark Knight days, have a good deal to say about superheroes whose thoughts linger on what might have been, on the lives they haven't saved and how very different and attractive a run-of-the-mill life could be. And then there's the Fantastic Four who don't care a jot about any of that. Instead, they positively revel in helicopters crashing down around them, pursuing alien surfers through the tunnels in and around New York and having a giant rock-man shout, "It's clobberin' time!" as he lays waste to various undesirables with his XXXXL-sized fists.
The first Fantastic Four film had many critics. Actually, it is fair to say that there were a greater number of people who actively disliked it than would ever claim to enjoy it. On the contrary, I'm one of the latter, largely due to watching it in the presence of my children and finding it refreshing that there was a superhero film who pandered to the very audience that made them popular in the first place...young boys. Porsches were thrown skyward, Johnny Storm flew through the air in flames and Ben Grimm shouted, stomped about and made massive fist-shaped holes in brick walls. Here was a superhero film that was a Saturday-morning cartoon come to life with ITV's Toonattik following that film with a showing of the Fantastic Four cartoon in the old Power Rangers slot. It was just as daft a thing as the film but perfect for young boys. And for no-longer-very-young boys who can remember reading well-thumbed comic books during their own school days.
There is nothing new in Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. The characters and their powers are exactly as they were in Fantastic Four a couple of years back. Ben Grimm is as unhappy now about his predicament as he was then but love as calmed him a little. Reed Richards appears to have grown somewhat more at ease with his rubbery body while Johnny Storm is, as James Gray put it in his review of the R1 release of this film, as much of a tit as ever while no bookie in the world would offer odds on Sue Storm's invisibility failing her whilst naked and in a crowd of curious New Yorkers. Which is what happened in the first film when she reappeared wearing only her underwear. Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer doesn't even afford her that dignity. But, then again, you can see the producers of Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer thinking that if they don't make good use of Jessica Alba's body, what's the point of having her in the film.
Actually, you can see them thinking that with everything in the film. Why bother to feature Michael Chiklis if you can't clear him up of his acne-on-steroids skin-, bone- and just-about-everything condition that has him named The Thing? Happily for Chiklis, there is just such a moment when he goes back to being good old Ben Grimm and makes up for all of his suffering at the hands of Johnny Storm as the two men swap superpowers. The makers of this film are the same team responsible for Fantastic Four and it's clear they did not discover any wonder potion over the last couple of years. The same gags, the same superheroes and, with Dr Doom, the same villain. There's a reprise of the same set-piece that closed Fantastic Four, a space-cloud that doesn't look very different from the space-cloud that first gave the Fantastic Four their powers and, with the Silver Surfer, they even dust down the same piece of CG software left on the shelf by James Cameron once he'd done with Terminator 2. However, the suits are new, the Fantastic Four travel to London for a Thames-side fight with the Silver Surfer and they have a flying Fantasticar. Let's not say that it's completely lacking in new ideas.
Let's not be too harsh about it though. There ought to be room for Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. It's not as much of a shambles as Batman & Robin with its heavily-accented, "Ice to see you!" but neither is it X-Men 2, Superman Returns or Batman Begins. This is a middle-of-the-road film that's not too funny, not too thrilling and not too smart either but a more fitting watch for a family audience, one or two of whom would rather avoid answering difficult questions about a superhero mourning the death of someone they'd loved. Just as there are those who read Watchmen and The Beano - having tried it both ways, a life without The Bash Street Kids isn't half as much fun as one with - there will be those who want both a Spider-Man 2 and a film that has The Thing knocking Dr Doom off an alien surfboard with a giant crane. Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is for the eight-year-old boy in us, the same kid who cared not a jot for a heroes deeper thoughts but for his knocking villains through brick walls, into the clouds and just plain out with a giant THOCK!
That much was evident when watching Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer with two children, one seven and the other five. Without wanting the weight of human drama, they could just enjoy the superheroics, the flying through the skies and through space and the fistfights that left no stone, building or nearby vehicle unturned. And they are the spectacles that leave one enjoying Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, as one does with the comic sparring between Chiklis and Evans, the just-damn-cool posings of the Silver Surfer and the sneaking in of a giant purple helmet in the space-cloud that serves as Galactus. That it ends with the Fantasticar leaving a giant 4 smoke trail in the sky seems a fitting ending, something of a brother to Superman flying the stars-and-stripes back to the roof of the White House. Granted, it demands a fairly undemanding audience to get the most out of it but intellectually gentle fare like Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer will doubtless find such an audience.
Fantastic Four looked very good on its release on DVD late in 2005 and this is really no different. The film itself isn't a particularly remarkable movie to look at with many of the visual effects looking as though they were completed on the days when the principal effects artists were otherwise occupied but the DVD does very well. It looks reasonable on a big screen but it's really not a great deal better than being a run-of-the-mill disc. It's not as sharp a picture as it could have and I suspect the reason for that was to hide the gap between the live action and the CG effects but it certainly does the job of portraying the film on the screen.
The soundtrack is often far too busy to pick out individual audio effects but both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks move a great deal of air about the room with consistent use of all six channels. There are some very good uses of the sound space, in particular Johnny's chasing of the Silver Surfer across New York and through tunnels, but it's consistently good throughout. As is the care taken with subtitles, which are not only present for the main feature but also on the commentaries and all bonus material.
Audio Commentaries: There are two tracks included here, one with director Tim Story on his own and another with a mix of contributors recorded solo, including producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and editors Peter S Elliot and William Hoy. Story's is the better of the two, explaining how they developed the structure of the film, where there are nods to the Fantastic Four comics, where they simply made things up and how certain gags just found their way into the movie from being on the set. However, Story is prone to letting silences creep in although perhaps the bigger problem is listening to him try and explain something only to find that what you're watching bears little resemblance to what he's saying. A perfect example is Doom being freed thanks to the passing of the Silver Surfer. Had Story not explained it, I don't think I would have known what was going on. The second track isn't anywhere near as good. No contributor has enough time on the track to really make points worth listening to and you're really only hearing, from any of them, part of the tale, needing Story's track to make sense of the production. Both of these commentaries are subtitled.
Extended And Deleted Scenes (9m42s): The main such scene here is an alternate title sequence that would have followed the journey of the Silver Surfer through the universe until his arrival on Earth. Later scenes include a series of gags that see Johnny and Ben try and plan Reed and Sue's wedding - a crushed ring, smashed wedding cakes and a photograph of Johnny kneeling before Ben while handing him a bouquet of red roses is what this results in - and Doom disguising the metal on his skin that wasn't entirely cleared by the passing of the Silver Surfer. This is followed by a set of CG Pre-Vis Sequences (6m52s). Both sections have an optional Tim Story commentary. Again, these are subtitled in English, both with the dialogue and Story's comments.
Featurettes: Only two are included here, one on the Fantasticar (10m38s) and another on the Four Elements (12m04s), which is really only another way of talking about the Fantastic Four. The feature on the Fantasticar is fairly obvious - lots of folk handling computer printouts, scale models and a full-size-but-unfortunately-not-flying car for the actors to sit in - while the Four Elements feature describes the Fantastic Four as a family, husband-and-wife, friends and rivals with all the conflict that those relationships can bring. Once again, these are subtitled in English.
I suspect that those who've complained loudest about Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer now are those that, aged eight, would have also complained about the more serious superhero dramas as being boring. I remember when I was eight and my Y-fronts would have exploded with excitement had I seen the Fantastic Four (or its sequel). As it was, I was pretty damned excited with the version of The Amazing Spider-Man that came out in 1977 with a weedy little Nicholas Hammond as the webcrawler. Even with a heady dose of nostalgia, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is still a much better film than that one and decent enough to keep younger children, boys in particular, happy for ninety minutes or thereabouts, all the while, parents note, readying them for older superhero fare for later in their lives.