Tuesday, July 24, 2007


If you’re a comic book fan who loves a good film adaptation of your favorite hero—and what self-respecting fanboy doesn’t?—the 80’s were not a kind decade to you.
DC’s Superman franchise was running on empty with Superman III, and that particular flight ended in a messy crash with Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. Meanwhile, Tim Burton was yet to redefine the superhero film at the tail end of the decade.
But for all the misfires DC had at the time, Marvel was by far the more evil villain in that scenario.
There were low budget attempts at Captain America and The Punisher, and inept TV stabs at Thor and Daredevil, all of them not particularly good, and some, downright dreadful.
Funnily enough, these days it feels like a Marvel renaissance, with most of their efforts falling squarely into the not-particularly-good-and-some-downright-dreadful category.
Granted, the effects and costumes are way better, but a lot of the plots and scripts, and some of the performances, could very well have traveled here on a time machine from the good old 80’s to leave us comic geeks with sleepless, rant-filled nights.*

At this point, I should establish that Marvel’s latest, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, is actually better than some past turkeys like Ghost Rider, Daredevil, and Elektra. FF:RotSS is even better than its predecessor (see reVIEW (1); Archive June 2007).
That doesn’t make it a good film though.

The plot is just as threadbare as the original’s: the Silver Surfer (frequent Guillermo Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones, voiced by Laurence Fishburne) arrives on Earth to prepare it for the coming of the dreaded Galactus (in this incarnation, a planet-devouring cloud), thus disrupting the fourth attempt at a proper wedding by Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba).
The U.S. Military gets Reed to help them, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) crashes the party, Galactus arrives, but is thwarted by our heroes.
In the midst of all this, what I can only assume are attempts at “fun” and “funny”—schtick that barely manages to be juvenile hi-jinx—pepper the 92 minute running time like fleas on a mangy dog. (And though it’s good that all the power-switching becomes a climactic plot point, the bachelor party dance is still a particularly atrocious bit.)

Just as in Fantastic Four, where there was no joy to be found in a plot, we also don’t really see much in the way of characters again.
Even Chris Evans, whose superficial Johnny Storm was the highlight of the team in the first film, doesn’t seem as convincing as he once was. And what could have been an interesting character arc (as Johnny learns some much-needed lessons in responsibility) is not fully explored.
There’s some conflict with Sue wanting a normal married life away from the media spotlight, but it’s pretty much lip service and doesn’t have the ring of authenticity.

It’s really only when the CGI takes center stage that the film becomes halfway decent, particularly when Galactus arrives to devour the Earth, ironically, the sequence that could potentially piss off countless fanboys with its depiction of the Jack Kirby planet-eater as a roiling cloud.
With visual effects by Weta, The Orphanage, and a handful of other effects houses, the spectacle is certainly not too shabby. But without any honest emotional underpinnings and real characters, the film cannot generate any genuine tension and is grossly unsuccessful in involving its audience in its story. Without characters to truly care for, all we’ve got here that merits any sort of attention are pixels; pixels that are sure pretty to look at, but certainly not pixels worth any sort of emotional investment.
Did it look impressive? At times, it actually did.
Did I feel for once that there was any real danger, that the Earth stood on the brink of total destruction, and that all life as we know it was in jeopardy?
Certainly not.

If there is any triumph to be found here, it’s that director Tim Story managed to deliver a better film than the sad-a$$ original. (At the very least, Story’s got a better track record than Mark Steven Johnson. Already guilty of inflicting Daredevil upon us, Johnson outdid himself with the horrible Ghost Rider; review in Archive March 2007.)
But it’s a hollow victory, as FF:RotSS is nowhere near being a good comic book film adaptation; it’s the kind of comic book film where the heroes still have time to do some goofy skywriting even as Venice is sinking into the sea.
It’s all ultimately very inconsequential and disposable, like a planet that’s had the life sucked out of it by Galactus. And where’s the fun in taking an hour-and-a-half long round through lifeless territory?

* The other thing that’s different about Marvel’s current crop of stinkers is that a lot of them are making money. Ghost Rider is actually the 13th biggest film of the year at the moment, with a total gross of $115, 802, 596. FF:RotSS is 10th, with $128,879,368! (And these are just the domestic figures for the U.S. box office.)

(Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer OS courtesy of kinopoisk.ru.)

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