What this blog is about

It's an art blog.
Mostly about theatre... but also a healthy dose of pop culture, politics and shameless self-promotion.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic Four -- Rise of the Silver Surfer

SPOILER ALERT. If you don't want to know anything about this movie before you see it, then stop reading right now.

Last night I picked up my fellow actor/comic-geek buddy, David Shelley, to go watch the next Fantastic Four flick. He had spent the entire day on a film gig and was pretty exhausted. I asked him if he was up for checking out the movie and he said he was ready to just relax and veg out in front of the big screen. I said to him, "Don't worry pal, tonight we're gonna enjoy some really cool special F/x and some really bad acting, and it will be a good night!"

Sometimes I'm so on the mark, I surprise myself.

FF 2 or "Rise of the Silver Surfer" is not a bad movie. It's not a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not bad. I did not come close to feeling the crushing deflation and seething anger that I felt after Spider-man 3. In fact, I felt pretty good coming out of the theatre. If you have kids, I would recommend taking them to this movie whole-heartedly. If you're a long time fan of the comic, you'll probably think it's a horrific bastardization of the FF mythology. But, then again, you'd probably agree that it's ten times better than the first FF movie.

The highlight of this film is the Silver Surfer. Completely animated, and voiced by the always stellar Lawrence Fishburn, the Surfer is also the best actor on the screen. This is in part a jab at the cast of the FF family, but also this is in praise of the director, F/x team and Fishburn. The performance of the Surfer was simple, direct and empathetic. And he also had the best lines.

Writing: the first 25 minutes of this movie, and the final 10 had me wincing in my seat. Until the FF started interacting with the Surfer, this movie stumbled -- badly. Too many overused, predictable one-liners and too many cheap jokes. And the cast either didn't have the talent to save the dialogue or, maybe, they saw that the stinky writing couldn't be salvaged and didn't bother to try. Jessica Alba, while always nice to look at, was probably the worst offender. As Sue Storm (eventually Sue Richards), she had absolutely ZERO chemistry with Reed Richards. In fact all her chemistry seemed to be saved up for Johnny Storm, her brother; as David pointed out, "Every time they had a scene together, I thought they were going to kiss!"

Iaon Gruffudd (Reed) tried his best, but the writers saved the worst bits for him. And, like Jessica Alba, he's just not old enough to pull of this role. (If the producers were smart, they would have cast Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as the patriarch/matriarch of the ultimate superhero family: they both have the years, chemistry and chops to truly bring these roles to life.) Chris Evans (Johnny) had a little too much nudge-nudge, wink-wink in his performance for my liking, and Michael Chiklis was okay, especially considering he had a giant rock suit to act through for most of the movie.

Now, as my partner-in-crime, Shaun Mckee says, "I refuse to judge a movie for what it isn't instead of what it is." I, on the other hand, have no such qualms: I think the FF franchise has done a terrible dis-service to the myth of the Thing. The tragedy of the Thing is that he is trapped inside a monster's body and he can't get out. FF2, like its predecessor, keeps having the Thing transform between human and monster, and there are no consequences to the character. It's like Ben Grimm doesn't really mind being the Thing. And I'm not talking about his sense of humor or his good will or continual horseplay with Johnny Storm: this stays true to the comic and is one of the Thing's most endearing traits. At the same time, the Thing is the most tragic figure of the the FF as well as the physical manifestation of Reed's guilt. Neither movie takes the time to explore these themes (or the first one did but in the most cursory, platonic way possible -- like a laughable second thought). I feel like both FF flicks are prime examples of how when a superhero franchise is seen as money-making vehicle instead of an opportunity to make art, the consequence ultimately hurts the superhero-film industry as a whole rather than helps it. FF is one of the longest running and most recognizable comic titles out there: don't you think it's deserving of some research or at least recognition of its artistic merit? Don't you think it's more deserving of some thought and affection when being adapted for the screen? Don't you think the characters have something more to offer besides hot actors in tight outfits doing kick-ass special F/x?

But, maybe I'm wrong: maybe what I want is much too heavy when you're designing a franchise for kids.

(Mind you -- take look at classics like The Secret of Nymh or The Dark Crystal from the 1980's as examples of childrens' films that are unafraid to expose a young audience to elements of darkness. A generation grew up on these films; hell, I watched both of these films in elementary school. While scary, they were also wonderful.)

Okay - enough bitchin'. I actually liked this movie, for the most part. The exposition and conclusion, while painful, were also mercifully short and the movie wastes little time getting to the action. And the action is fun: the Surfer/Torch chase (as scene in previews) is excellent, there is a natural disaster in London averted, a choice battle between the Surfer and the US military which is short and sweet -- and an even better battle between the FF and Doctor Doom (SPOILERS COMING NOW) after Doom takes control of the Surfer's board and powers. I actually really like the film's depiction of Galactus (ominous black nebula cloud) and, as my buddy David says, you can see the outline of the comic-based Galactus head/helmet within the nebula during the film's climax (I'll have to take his word for it; I totally missed it). The film fails to explain how the Surfer is able to destroy Galactus or how he finds out he is able to do it... or if he already knew then what his reasoning was for not destroying it until this point. There were a couple murmers of "what?" in the theatre during the climax. This also was confusing for a moment because you think that the Surfer has decided to sacrifice his home world/true-love-at-home to save the Earth -- but then you realize the Surfer is actually deciding to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Earth.

So it's all good. Overall I'd say 3 1/2 stars of 5.

It's fun ride!