Fanstastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it…

For non comic book fans over the age of 13, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a tedious, incoherent bore. For comic book fans of any age, it is an atrocity - the cinematic desecration of one of the most storied and beloved of Marvel comic book epics. It reduces iconic characters to soulless special effects and turns one of the most ominous and dangerous of all villains into an interplanetary storm cloud. The action, of which there is little, is predictable and unexciting. The so-called "drama," of which there is far too much, is painful. Soap opera writers would be embarrassed to script such drivel. Then there's the overlay of "comedy," which is intended to reflect the superheroes' comic book origins, except it's not funny and it makes the Fantastic Four seem more like the Four Stooges than a quartet of world saviors. For a story that has been kicking around in one form or another in Hollywood for 30 years (at one point, it was to have starred Olivia Newton-John as the Silver Surfer's girlfriend), it's discouraging that this is the best the filmmakers could divine.

Bring on Galactus, I advised during my review of the underwhelming first Fantastic Four movie. Well, they brought him on and promptly dissed him. He's not much of a presence in the film, always hovering out of sight if not entirely out of mind. And when it comes time for the big "reveal," the word "underwhelming" doesn't do the experience justice. Granted, the Galactus of the comic books, with his bright purple suit and ridiculous helmet, might have looked a little silly on the big screen, but his stand-in is a huge disappointment. To quote Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also featured a space cloud heading for Earth: "Is that all there is? Is there nothing more?"

When the movie opens, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are trying to get married. But their nuptial plans are interrupted when a celestial traveler called the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones, voice of Laurence Fishburne) arrives at Earth to prepare it as the next meal for his planet devouring master, Galactus. His arrival awakens Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon), who manages through nefarious means to be named the lead scientist on a government project studying the Surfer and his board. Reed, Sue, and the other members of their quartet, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chilkis), find their best efforts to stop the Surfer to be futile, and every time they fail, Galactus looms ever closer.

Director Tim Story, who also helmed 2005's Fantastic Four, seems convinced that the movie must be pitched to pre-teens. There's something unsettling about a superhero movie carrying a PG rating. There are plenty of special effects but the action sequences (which include a soaring flight past New York skyscrapers and a chase featuring a souped-up Dodge - talk about a product placement!) could have been lifted from a video game and the characterization is atrocious. Story is creating a product and he has lost sight of everything that makes the Fantastic Four beloved by fans. I can't say this is the worst comic book superhero movie to grace the silver screen, but it's in the dregs (and this series hasn't even reached #3 yet).

The acting is almost uniformly cringe-inducing. If not for his work in Amazing Grace, I would be convinced that Ioan Gruffudd has no talent whatsoever. Jessica Alba makes love to the camera with her looks but no amount of physical beauty can camouflage the fact that she can't act. (The guy sitting next to me kept murmuring, "She's hot!" not "What an actress!" That, I suppose, is the point.) Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon froths at the mouth so energetically that one wonders if he has rabies. Stripped of his Shield and trapped under foam and latex, Michael Chilkis comes close to making Ben Grimm a sympathetic figure, until bad jokes get in the way. And Chris Evans is simply annoying, even though he has what comes closest to a character arc.

This movie is a mess. It's as if the script was cobbled together in a rush then changed during filming. The ending, in addition to being a letdown, is nonsensical. A lot of what happens in the film, including the re-introduction of Dr. Doom, feels completely arbitrary. What does it say about a major motion picture when the Stan Lee cameo is the highlight? (That was the only time when I smiled.) Rise of the Silver Surfer is only 90 minutes long but it seems as protracted and pointless as anything else this summer has had to offer.

I can see how there might be some disposable appeal here for an audience that doesn't care much about what's unfolding on the screen. Yet Rise of the Silver Surfer is so lackluster it makes Spider-Man 3 feel like a masterpiece by comparison. Peter Parker has more personality than all four of this film's heroes combined. And that's sad, because The Fantastic Four deserve better. I was willing to forgive the series its mediocre first entry because origin stories are always hamstrung, but there's no excuse for this. Rise of the Silver Surfer is an insult to comic book aficionados and movie lovers alike. Those who know and love the Fantastic Four will curse Tim Story and 20th Century Fox as they leave multiplexes shaking their heads in disgust.

Fanstastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2007-06-15
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1