Tuesday was my birthday, and as is our tradition, the lovely wife and I went to a “birthday movie.” My choice for this year was the second Fantastic Four film. I preface this review with the reminder that I enjoyed the first one. (In fact I recently bought the extended DVD, but mainly for the documentary extra material on Kirby and the comic itself.) I really liked it right after we left the theater - afterwards I saw the flaws in the adaptation from page to screen but I have always been of the mind that a movie is not a book (or comic) and it’s a mistake to expect the film to exactly mirror the source material. I’m also cynical enough to expect Hollywood to screw things up so I’m happy when they don’t completely decimate the source material. Some comic fans that posted on the internet believed they did just that.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer crams three comic book stories into one screenplay. The wedding of Reed and Sue from the first FF Annual, the original appearance of the Surfer and Galactus, issues #48 - 50, and the third appearance of the Surfer from issue #57 when Dr. Doom hijacked his powers. Even though that sounds like a lot to pack into a movie it doesn’t feel as tightly packed as what some people have written about Spider-Man 3. (I didn’t see that one - I don’t like Toby Maguire and I’m not that much of a Spidey fan.) Even with the Dr. Doom element, which I thought was unnecessary it all flowed well.
What scenes do we have to have in every Fantastic Four story? Reed being more interested in his science and gadgets than the people around him - got that. Ben and Johnny playing practical jokes on one another - not so much. Sue wanting a normal life - check. Big superhero action scenes - of course, but only the Kirby era had the right stuff. What scenes do we have to have in every Fantastic Four movie? Johnny being a jerk - got plenty of that. Johnny with a succession of hot babes - yep. Sue Storm naked, yet strategically filmed - yep. Bare chest shot of Chris Evans (Johnny) - got that but in a scene that really makes no sense. What Michael Chiklis looks like under the Thing suit - got that. Cameo by Stan Lee - got that, this time playing himself! Big superhero action scenes - got that, more than in other recent films (“Superman Returns”)
The personalities of some of the characters were better handled in this outing. Specifically Reed Richards. In the origin movie he was more or less a dishrag, not the leader type at all. That was corrected this time. The Thing didn’t have enough to do physically although there are a couple of nice personality scenes with him, Alicia and Johnny. Sue Storm comes off as a bit of a whiner until the end and Johnny Storm is a bit more obnoxious than I recall from the first film. (I’ve got the DVD, just haven’t watched it yet - except for the Kirby documentary and the FF comic overview. They are both excellent!) The Julian McMahon Dr. Doom doesn’t really have a personality in my opinion, he’s just oily, annoying and unnecessary.
Months ago shots of the Fantasti-car were revealed. I thought it looked pretty good. Nowhere near at great as the second one Kirby designed but good for a movie. It’s shrouded shape appears early in the film but it’s not revealed until the climax but since everyone had seen it what was the draw for the big reveal? Maybe the dumbest example of product placement I’ve seen to date. A “DODGE” logo on the leading edge of the hood and the exchange between the Torch and Mr. Fantastic, (Torch) “A Hemi” (Mr. F) “Of course!” Extremely stupid. I was surprised when it split into individually flying sections as all good Fantasti-cars must. We have to assume that expert piloting of a craft none of them had seen before they had to fly it in a dogfight situation is among the skill set of the Invisible Woman.
I think a bit too much emphasis was placed on the Torch. Giving him the power of all four team members for the climactic battle with the powered up Doom not only takes away from the team aspect of the film, which should always be maintained, it also effectively eliminates any possible later introduction of another of the villains from the early, best days of the Fantastic Four comic run, The Super Skrull. Should they decide to use that character in subsequent films they’ll have to radically change him (which they would probably do anyway!) because viewers would say they’ve seen those effects before! Of course Chris Evans came out of the first film as the most popular character so the writers yield to the urge or pressure to give him more screen time. That impulse should be restrained in the future.
The special effects were satisfying. I’m not one to dissect a film’s effects to the ultimate degree but if they aren’t convincing and take me out of the experience I’ll notice it. The Surfer effects were great. That bit with him melding into and through his board is very effective. There’s also a noticeable difference in his sheen when he’s separated from his board. He doesn’t have any. He looks like dull unpolished metal, but sparkles right back up when he steps back on the board. When he performs a bit of business at the end of the film that you just know he’s going to do he actually tarnishes with the effort which was a nice touch. Reed’s stretching could still use some fine tuning but it was so heavily criticized in the reviews of the first film that I was watching that more closely than anything else. Still not as convincing as the corridor door scene in “the INCREDIBLES” but much better than the first film. At times he looked just a bit too watery. But his part in the giant ferris wheel rescue scene was very nice. I wanted a good “strength of the Thing” scene but didn’t get it. The Invisible Woman’s power display was very well done. I just wished it was done by some other actress.
I still have problems with the casting of Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, and Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom. Alba doesn’t look the part. In this one her tan is so dark it makes her too-blonde hair look like the wig it probably is. Also, what’s going on with the woman’s lips? She looks like she has special effect appliance make-up on! In the last scene she has on bright red lipstick that makes them look like candy wax lips! (What’s really odd is that we stopped into a Border’s book store after the film and she was on about 5 magazine covers and on none of them did her lips look so overly poofed up.) Julian McMahon was completely the wrong choice for Dr. Doom. Yes, he can do the oily villain quite well but Doom needs an imperious, regal supremely overbearing villainous aspect. When he first appears he’s in the armor, briefly, then does a Star Wars evil emperor riff with twisted features hidden in a voluminous cloak. Could be anyone, certainly doesn’t have to be Julian McMahon until he’s struck by the Surfer’s blast and seems to be miraculously cured from his rotting, partly metallic state. From then on he’s just that creepy guy from “Nip/Tuck” until he gets the power to use the board, then he puts the armor back on. Why? They’ve built him up to be a vain, narcissistic person then when he gets the power of a god he hides his face. McMahon’s voice is not the voice of Doom!
And Galactus is a cloud. Which is probably for the best. Kirby’s giant humanoid in red and purple armor with a fantastic trash can helmet most likely wouldn’t work on the screen. I would however have traded that sort-of-the-helmet silhouette crawling across the planet for a murky head shot in the roiling cloud during the conflict between the Surfer and his Master.
All that being said, we liked it, I’ll probably buy it on DVD whenever the inevitable extended version comes available.