Zombos Says: Fair (misses the fantastic spirit of the comic book story by a mile)
I was grievously disappointed with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I wasn't grievously disappointed with the first Fantastic Four film, just very disappointed. But this second film definitely cut me to the quick. Deeply. I expected so much more.
In what's called, by older comic fans, the Silver Age of Marvel Comics, the arrival of Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer, is a high point in the very successful collaboration between Stan Lee, writer, and Jack Kirby, illustrator. In this landmark story, the turbulent Sixties' philosophical struggle between the Flower Power hippies and the war machine Establishment is reflected in the relationship between the quintessential flower-child, Silver Surfer, and his nasty job for the ultimate status quo Establishment man, the Devourer of Worlds and wielder of the Power Cosmic, Galactus. Aside from making for terrific illustrations used in those nifty psychedelic black light posters, the depth of the storyline—unusual for comic books up until then—was heavy, man, and downright righteous. But you'd not know any of that after watching this film.
Instead, what we get is more standard chuckles between Ben and Johnny, Susan's concern over how their celebrity is ruining her marriage and family plans, along with another one of her "Oh, damn, I'm nude again in public" scenes, and simplistic children's twaddle that completely erases the grandeur, nobility, and greater depth depicted in the comic book for gosh sakes. Digest that last sentence again: the 1960's comic book storyline had more depth than this movie.
In this film, the Silver Surfer has more depth in his navel then in his relationship with the Fantastic Four or Galactus. More thought was devoted to introducing the toy-potential Fantasticar than the significance of dealing with a power cosmic wielding, mass destruction godlike being whose hunger for sustenance must be fed at all costs. It wasn't bad enough they changed this giant, purple-suited human-like being into a Dyson vacuum commercial, they also had to remove a key plot element also: blind Alicia's relationship with the Silver Surfer.
In the original comic book storyline, it is Alicia's philosophical arguments and pleadings that open the Silver Surfer's eyes and long-dormant heart, causing him to turn against the big guy. Instead, Sue Storm just bats her eyes and the Silver Surfer is reminded of his long lost love; how convenient. Gone are the philosophical debates about life in all its forms being important. I suppose that's too sixties for today's more sophisticated audiences.
Apparently, what's more appropriate is writing down to the audience by relying on the usual funny banter and sight gags, with by-the-script Fantastic Four family squabbling. Hello, anybody notice Armageddon approaching yet? While Reed does the disco hustle at his bachelor party, and Johnny dons his Keebler-endorsed blue suit, whatever happened to a little suspense? Except for that brief planet explosion in the opening, more time is spent away from the impending doom than on it. I got it that being a celebrity is annoying, but hey, so is having your planet chewed on like rock candy while you're still standing on it.
Another critical character missing is the Watcher. Another big, toga-robed bald guy, the Watcher does just that. He's an observer and doesn't involve himself in the little problems of life and death. Until he sees the Silver Surfer heading for earth. For the first time, he takes a stand and steps in to hide the planet from Galactus' herald, but fails, leading to the drama that is sorely missing in this film, and the Silver Surfer's redemption.
At this point, you're probably saying to yourself, man, a purple-dressed and toga-robed duo of giants would have been laughable on screen. Perhaps, but you bought everything else up till now, right? You're okay with a flaming man, an invisible woman, a rubber guy, and an orange rock pile with a head, not to mention the Alcoa Reynolds Wrap riding the sky on a silver surfboard without any swim trunks. At least their appearance in the film would have made the story more—ironically—human and visually interesting.
Doctor Doom makes his obligatory sequel appearance. This time he's very interested in the Surfer's mode of transportation, the energy-empowering surf board. While this plot actually does happen in later issues of the comic book, why rush into it here? Planet-eating bad guys not enough? Interestingly, Kirby decided on the hang-ten board mainly because he was tired of drawing spaceships, but maybe his sub-conscious nudged him into this dichotomy of having a being that can cruise the universe at will like some surfer-dude riding out the eternal big one, but only just so far as his servitude to the man would allow, like some cosmic weekend warrior living free in his SUV until Monday rolls around again.
Doom ingratiates himself to the military, and too easily snatches the board away. Speaking of depth, there's much more to Doom in the comic books than you'd ever guess from his weak portrayal here, but at least he does wear his suit of armor and cape this time around. As the Fantasticar makes its commercial appearance—kiddies, it's already available at Toys "R" Us!—Doom fights to keep on surfing, even though the planet's about to be pulverized. Go figure. Maybe he just wants to live up to his name.
Jumping to another issue in the comic book series, Johnny's ability to absorb the Fantastic Four's other powers, which amazingly comes after his run in with the Silver Surfer, gives him powers like the Super Skrull (Fantastic Four Issue Number 18), and he goes after Doctor Doom. Before that brief showdown, his predicament provides the underpinning for most of the too easy, audience-tested chuckles as wacky antics ensue because of it.
In one of the most anti-climactic "why didn't he think of that in the first place if it were that easy" denouements, all's right with the world as the Silver Surfer realizes the error of his ways and saves mankind. Considering the title of this film is Rise of the Silver Surfer, I suspect a spin-off franchise is in the works. Just think of the marketing potential. I can see the silvery toys lining those shallow shelves now.
Like I said, I was grievously disappointed.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.