REVIEW: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The Fantastic Four 2 film ends up not so fanstastic due to flat dialogue and "phoned-in" performances
Beginning with Spider-Man 3, followed by Pirates 3 and now Fantastic Four 2 things do not bode well for character and story driven, big budget, action movie sequels. It seems the bigger the budget the less need there is for a good plot and character development, as big effects have eclipsed big characters. These films also contain dialogues at par with what one would find in a Saturday morning cartoon. And a cartoon is exactly how this move plays out. At a long 92 minutes, the movie could easily be condensed into a half-hour time slot and still have room for commercials. Along with the amount of shameless product placement its a wonder this movie wasn't produced by Dodge motors. The story is simply not there, but that doesn’t stop the writers from reaching for one. Unlike its predecessor which moved at a fast pace from minute one, “Rise” takes its time moving the story along. Aside from a comical cameo by series creator Stan Lee, there are large gaps of unsubstantial and cliché dialogue between too few and uninspired action sequences, including a short anti-climactic final confrontation. Bottom line, the movie is boring and at times painful to sit through.

One can easily “see” where all the money went. The most interesting parts of the film are its visuals. The bigger budget has allowed for an increase in the amount that we see our four heroes using their powers. Mr. Fantastic a.k.a. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) has plenty more to do but in the end there is only so much that a person with his powers can do, and if it wasn’t for his super brain his character would simply appear stretched out. The “Thing”, which looked fantastic (forgive me, couldn’t resist) in the first film looks ever better with a fuller range of facial expressions and appears less wooden and more organic in movement. Unfortunately for The Invisible Woman and the Human Torch (played by a bored Jessica Alba and Chris Evans) turning invisible and igniting ones self, apart from some creative power switching at the expense of the Human Torch, stills seems business as usual. But the highlight of the films visuals comes from its title character. The Silver Surfer (played by Doug Jones, voiced fittingly by Laurence Fishburne) looks as if he flew right out of the comic book, surfboard and all. He looks just as real as any of the other characters on screen.

The movie opens with ominous tendrils of smoke and debris causing the slow destruction of an unnamed planet. Then a silver streak in seen leaving the floating remains and entering earth’s atmosphere, serving as a dark omen for all. This moody set-up quickly dissolves as we are then thrown into the trials and tribulations of being public superheroes stuck in an airport. Which only leaves an air of confusion as we wonder, “they can afford their own building but can't afford their own jet?” But that soon passes as we are burdened with the frustrations of Reed Richards and Susan Storm as they try to become Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic, in a 30 minute sub-plot that seems to serve only as a means to kill time until something more exciting can happen. From that point on the movie trudges along as a by-the-numbers, save the world movie that has the Four pitted against a world-eating monster (reminiscent of Star Trek’s VIGR) and his “herald”, the Silver Surfer. In who’s “board” allows him to channel cosmic power, which he uses to make the planet ready for his masters' arrival. Dr. Doom also returns in a most conveniet and coincidental fashion. From that point the film moves along to its inevitable and predictable conclusion with a battle between the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom, and another one between The Silver Surfer and his master, Galactus. Both of these battles, which occupy a total of maybe 10 minutes, seem written in only as an after thought. It's amazing to see how the screen writers spent all this time on useless plot elements and gave no attention to the parts of the movie that would have served well to improve it.

While everything looks very pretty, unfortunately the characters have to speak and when that happens the illusion of an exciting and creative comic book movie quickly begins to fade away. While amusing in the first film, Chris Evans’ cocky and self-absorbed Johnny Storm is now a little boring and (forgive the pun) burnt out. Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba seem to have lost what little chemistry they had from the first film and look bored as they “phone-in” their story of angst as public super heroes. Michael Chiklis’ Ben Grimm seems to be the only character who has grown up from the previous film as he gets over his unfortunate transformation and begins to settle into his new life as a gentle orange giant.

What is most unfortunate is that the films most interesting characters (Dr. Doom, the Silver Surfer, and the much anticipated yet disappointing Galactus) get the least amount of screen time. Julian McMahon returns as his diabolical alter ego (not Christian Troy silly, the other one) Victor Von Doom as he searches for a new way to defeat his nemeses. McMahon plays his over the top villain brilliantly and steals the screen every time he’s on it. Along with Von Doom the only other reason to stay seated is to get another glimpse of the Silver Surfer, who presence has more to say than his character. Doug Jones’ physicality gives the Surfer great strength even while being tied down and tortured. But what Surfer fans are certainly looking forward to is a screenfull of Galactus. Unfortunately members of the silver surfer fan-elite will be dissapointed. This all leaves one wondering why some much time was wasted on the Fantastic Four when any one of these characters could be given two or three times the attention and could make for a more interesting movie.
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