Paul O'Brian writes about Watchmen, trivia, albums, interactive fiction, and more.


Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer

I wasn’t a fan of the first Fantastic Four movie, so I went into this one with trepidation. I suppose a more rational person just wouldn’t go at all, but I am not that person. I’m a big fan of the FF, and the last movie did provide some things I liked, so I’m not going to just stay home. I went hoping to find some enjoyable moments, and I did. I found some enjoyable moments, surrounded by a sea of suck.

In the spirit of saving the best for last, I’m going to discuss some of the crappy things first. I’m not going to discuss all the crappy things, because there were so many that there’s no way I could actually remember them all.

  • The product placements. Oh my god the product placements. I remember being annoyed by them in the first movie, but in they’re worse in this movie than just about anything else I’ve ever seen. Johnny holds up his proposed NASCAR-looking FF uniform, with prominent logos for Dos Equis beer and Dodge autos. Reed and Sue scoff, as if to say, “We’d never wear something like that!” Little do they know they’re trapped in a movie that is the equivalent of that NASCAR uniform. Johnny and Ben drink at a bar. Their beer of choice? Dos Equis, of course! Reed unveils the Fantasticar, which says DODGE in big letters on the front, and has seats embroidered with the Dodge Ram logo. “Hemi?” asks Johnny, just to make sure we know we’re watching a Dodge commercial. “Of course!” says Reed. If I were Reed Richards, I would invent a technology that allows me to reach out and smack the writer and director when I see a movie scene like this.
  • This movie retains the casting from the first movie, which is too bad, because the casting in the first movie SUCKED. Julian McMahon is just an awful Dr. Doom. He has no dignity, no gravitas, no monarchial presence. Imagine Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns, with all the acting skills surgically removed and replaced by generic hunkiness, until all that remains is a disconnected smirk, and a robotic lockstep through the plot. Things got a little better once his armor was on — he moved from being an actively irritating wannabe villain to being a silent action figure. Also, Jessica Alba is completely wrong for Sue Storm, and not just because her Aryan makeup is about three times less convincing than Michael Chiklis’s Thing makeup. (For heaven’s sake, just make her a Chicana rather than trying to pretend she’s a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian.) She comes off as a lightweight, both literally and figuratively. Sue in the comics is supposed to have a core of strength, and from the beginning has resisted being pigeonholed into a lesser role just because she’s the female. Alba’s Sue feels little-girlish, like a self-absorbed parody of a nagging wife rather than a smart, strong member of the team. Her hysterical reaction when she transfers powers with Johnny was a big eyeroller. In addition, this sequel apparently forgot that the first movie had established her as an intelligent scientist. She just stands around watching Reed work in this one. Chris Evans, as jrw noted last time around, is okay as the Human Torch, but takes one aspect of Johnny’s personality and dials it up to eleven, making that his entire performance. Ioan Gruffud grew on me a bit this time as Reed Richards, but still feels too young, too carefree, and too silly. He’s still a long way from who Reed ought to be.
  • The plot made no goddamn sense. What, the Surfer could kill Galactus all along? Why didn’t he do that in the first place? I mean, it’s one thing if he feels like by disobeying Galactus he puts his own world at risk, but if he can just eliminate Galactus, what’s been stopping him from doing that all this time? Also, why would Galactus create something that could kill him? The story makes just the barest hint at explaining the Surfer’s origin, I suppose relying on us comic book geeks to fill in the gaps. But you can’t both rely on the lore and contradict it where convenient. Actually, it’d be better not to rely on the lore at all, but to actually tell the story for the many, many people in the audience who don’t already know it. Also, why didn’t Johnny absorb Doom’s power when he touched him? After all, the first movie revised Doom’s origin so that he got his power in the same accident as the FF. Was it the armor that inhibited the transfer? Clothes certainly didn’t seem to do so. But okay, so he couldn’t absorb Doom’s powers. Why didn’t Doom actually use them in the fight? I may have missed this, as things were happening awfully fast, but it seems like Doom could have put up a better fight, even against Sorta-Super-Skrull Johnny. There’s much more. Reed’s grandstanding against the general. The general’s seeming ignorance of anything about Doom. Their failure to evacuate the area of London that they knew in advance would be the target of a catastrophic event. I could go on and on.
  • To go along with the product placement, we get a whole lot of painful pandering to what the film must think is its target demographic, 14-year-old males. There’s a dance club where supermodels rub up against Reed. There’s a tough, smart military woman who gets a miracle makeover into being Johnny’s arm candy by the end of the film. And surprise, surprise, there’s a scene of Jessica Alba naked. “Why does this always happen to me?” she asks. I think it’s because you’re in these terrible movies, sweetie.

The choice to make Galactus into a swirling galactic cloud rather than a giant purple guy with a wacky helmet is something I feel mixed about. On the one hand, it would be very challenging indeed to bring comic book Galactus to the screen in a way that didn’t seem completely ridiculous. On the other hand, the big swirling cloud felt more like a force of nature than a being with consciousness or agency, which makes the Surfer’s role even more confusing.

Now then, having gotten that beefing out of the way, let me mention a few things I enjoyed about the movie. I liked the visual when Johnny became the faux Super-Skrull. Seeing all those powers combined into one person gave me the feeling of seeing one of the FF’s great villains brought to the screen without actually having to go through the process of telling his story. Of course, in story terms, Super Skrull Johnny makes no sense at all, since the film had already established that he trades powers with people rather than just absorbing them. The movie told us he could only get one power at a time, then abruptly changed its mind with any explanation. Speaking of that power switch, though, having Sue and Johnny switch powers when the device was first introduced felt like a subtle nod to Fantastic Four #519, in which Mark Waid switched their powers and then sent Johnny off to be Galactus’s new herald. Of course, then the movie went silly places with it, but there was a fun tingle of recognition for a minute there.

Except for his actual story, I thought the portrayal of the Silver Surfer was good. The visual effects for him were just about perfect, and the combination of Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne gave him an excellent air of graceful nobility. I’d like to see a movie just about him… written and directed by someone else, I hasten to add. Also good was Michael Chiklis, who once again is pretty much the best of the bunch. His Thing makeup worked a little better this time — there was enough mobility around his face and hands that it felt like the orange rocks really were his body rather than a big foam suit. I quite liked the design on the Fantasticar too, ludicrous corporate crap aside.

Finally, combining the Galactus plot with the notion of Doom stealing the Surfer’s powers is a great idea for this movie. Pity that, like so many other things in the film, it was so badly executed.


The Police in Denver, 6/9/07




  1. Anonymous

    I just got back from seeing it, and I’m still gauging my reaction. I’ll probably have to do my own write-up. I didn’t have the same gripes as you (I don’t even know what a Dodge “hemi” is to be bothered by a reference to it), and enjoyed more of it than you did.

    I think our gripes about the actor playing Doom are identical, though. Sheesh.

    • jrw

      Hrm, that was my comment. I don’t know why I was logged out. That’s been suddenly happening recently.

    • I don’t even know what a Dodge “hemi” is to be bothered by a reference to it

      Honestly, I don’t really know what one is either. I think it’s some kind of engine thing. All I know is they’ve been relentlessly pushing that word in their advertising for the last couple of years, so highlighting it in the movie like that made me feel (even more) like I was watching a Dodge ad.

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