Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wanted to hear someone say, "It's not the end of the world," when those giant craters appeared.
Sue Storm: Why are you destroying our planet?
Appearing in 1961, The Fantastic Four were the first in a new wave of modern Marvels. In the wake of the success of Justice League of America at rival National Comics (now DC), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were put to work on a new title.
"[I]t would be a team such as comicdom had never known. For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading…and the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to; they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and—most important of all—inside their colorful, costumed bodies, they'd still have feet of clay," Lee said, quoted in Great American Comic Books by Ron Goulart.
The Four put Marvel—descended from the 1940s company behind Captain America and Sub-Mariner—back into the superhero business. They followed up with, among others, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Hulk.
Given Lee's mandate and the Four's history, any movie about the Fantastic Four would have to be a little different—maybe even "quirky" (don't you just love that art-house word). Does Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer do its maskless marvels justice?
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer—The Power Cosmic Edition comes with two discs filled with movie, commentary, and special added attractions.
Facts of the Case
As Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer begins, something whizzes past a Japanese fishing boat—and the water turns solid. After snow at the Sphinx and a blackout in Los Angeles (and the entire West Coast), experts think there might be a pattern, as experts in movies always do.
The only one thinking about it much, it seems, is the guy who's being told to chill out and concentrate on his wedding—scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, King Arthur).
"Unbelievable. Bizarre anomalies have been occurring all over the world, defying every known law of physics—and all the media want to know about is what china patterns you and I picked out," Reed tells his lovely fiancée Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, Sin City), who could get very stormy indeed if he pursues those "bizarre anomalies."
The reason for everyone's interest in Reed and Sue, other than Sue's good looks, is that they are a pair of "bizarre anomalies." After an incident in space (see Fantastic Four), Reed's body stretches like rubber and Sue turns invisible. They hang out in New York's Baxter Building with Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, The Shield), whose body has turned into orange rock, and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, Fierce People), Sue's brother, who regularly bursts into flames—and survives. They're known to the public as Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing, and The Human Torch—or, collectively, The Fantastic Four.
The reason for Reed's interest in bizarre anomalies that don't look like Jessica Alba is that he's an incurable science geek. Naturally, he looks into the matter, building a cosmic disturbance monitor in secret. Sue finds out on their wedding day, when it goes off as she's coming down the aisle. But she might be glad Reed was distracted, because the anomaly hits New York as they're being wed, with a helicopter crashing the wedding—putting the guests in danger—as an immediate bit of collateral damage.
The wedding's on hold as The Fantastic Four looks into the disturbances. Could it be clobberin' time for good as they contend with a disdainful general (Andre Braugher, Glory), a revived Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, Nip/Tuck), and the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix)—an alien advance man for the end of the world?
Rather than relating a complicated mythos and setting up action scenes, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer mostly plays with its oddball characters: Reed, the absent-minded scientist; Johnny, the hotheaded opportunist; Ben, the strongman whose powers create awkwardness rather than solving problems; and Sue, the mother hen who'd rather be starting a family than saving the world.
Kerry Washington (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) as Alicia, Ben Grimm's girlfriend, didn't get much screen time in the original, but the sequel expands her role into that of a confidant to the superheroes, especially when Sue gets wedding day jitters. And you get the sense that the Fantastic Four needs a confidant a bit more than the Justice League.
Comic bits like Reed's stretching to make space for his luggage on a crowded plane, Johnny's seeking endorsement patches for the team's uniforms, or Sue's use of her invisibility powers on a zit take center stage, while action scenes seem more like an afterthought. It's not what you'd expect for a summer comic book flick, but it's a nice diversion.
The creative decision to put Jessica Alba in glasses every time Sue Storm's trying to look serious seems like the ultimate 50s sci-fi cliche. A scene in which Sue Storm's clothes get burned away as she briefly turns into The Human Torch gets a mild-but-suggestive play, a la a 60s farce, and some of the banter, especially from Johnny Storm, has the same feel.
That's not where the old-time resemblances end. In some ways, Silver Surfer reminded me of a Godzilla flick. It's not just because the action begins off Japan's coast, with the classic element of fishermen watching something as strange happens. There's a triumph of the nerds, with gizmos, scientific knowledge, and understanding saving the day when tanks can't. The threat facing Earth has an alien backing, as Godzilla movie menaces often do. The final battle, which finds the Four watching from the sidelines like the human heroes in many a Godzilla epic, has overtones of the original Gojira. One could even argue for Silver Surfer as environmental allegory, but that would be a stretch, even for Reed Richards.
The one thing that really doesn't work that well is the reappearance of Victor Von Doom, who seems more like a Saturday morning cartoon villain here as he steals the Surfer's board.
In his commentary, director Tim Story points to the "winks" he gave the original Marvel comic books. What that seems to mean is that he filled Silver Surfer with comic book images and tried to adhere to the tone of the original, but made the material his own, despite a good deal of reverence for the original material. Story also goes over a lot of plot points in the commentary, explaining things he left up to the imagination in the actual movie. It's interesting to hear what Story was thinking as he made Silver Surfer, but he was right to leave the details out—Silver Surfer works better as a splashy, colorful, tongue-in-cheek ride.
Story also points out a scene in which he made Reed look stretched out without any special effects. I was almost wishing there were fewer of the high-tech effects; more low-tech ingenuity would fit well with the comic attitude.
There's a second commentary by producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne, and film editors Peter S. Elliot and William Hoy. This one isn't as good; there are simply too many voices here.
The 10 minutes or so of extended and deleted scenes are mostly from the first part of the movie, cut so the movie could cut to the chase. Check out "Wedding Montage" and "Reed Gets Crushed Ring," two sequences that show how Ben and Johnny botch wedding preparations; these bits, at least, should have been squeezed in.
"Family Bonds: The Making of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" spends 45 minutes showing how various scenes were put together. Best are a Vancouver side street that becomes a Shanghai shopping street and an encounter between The Thing and a bear.
Michael Chiklis as The Thing is the best part of a set of four featurettes, too. "Character Design with Spectral Motion" takes an in-depth look at Chiklis's foam rubber suit. These features—"The Fantasticar: State of the Art," "The Power Cosmic," and "Scoring the Fantastic"—are mostly about the technical aspects of the movie. This adds 40 minutes to the extras total.
The package is rounded out with an interactive look at the Fantasticar sketches, stills galleries, and theatrical trailers (I liked "Theatrical Trailer A," with its mystical, intriguing tone, a lot, by the way). All told, the extras give you around three times more viewing than the movie. Still, none of the features is so good it's mandatory, so you won't miss out much if you just buy the bare-bones edition.
I was viewing a screener, so results may vary, but I didn't find any flaws in the transfer or sound.
With a PG rating, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a mild-mannered movie. There's no profanity and the action is strictly comic book; there are some risque double-entendres and suggestions, though.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Purists may shudder at the irreverent treatment The Fantastic Four gets in Silver Surfer. While the comic books weren't dead serious, the balance here is overwhelmingly toward the gags.
And one little thing that bothered me: when the Thames is drained into a giant crater, cars go by on a bridge over the river like nothing has happened. Wouldn't they be gawking—if the bridge hadn't been closed as a precaution?
This isn't a serious superhero movie, either in the dramatic and character-driven sense (Spider-Man) or the plot-heavy sense (X-Men). However, the goofy riffs in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer have a charm that grows on you. It may be dumb at times—as when you see Reed crushed flatter than a pancake behind The Thing, Looney Tunes style—but the banter and sight gags should bring a smile to your face.
I wouldn't say Silver Surfer touches the work of the tag team of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire, but director Tim Story makes a fun movie by wandering off on his own path.
With a double dose of commentaries, I watched Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer three nights in a row. I still laughed the third time around. That's saying something.
Not guilty. 'Nuff said.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Tim Story
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