Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 2 stars
Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon. Directed by Tim Story. Released by 20th Century Fox. Rated PG; 1:35.
Films based on comic books — especially old, fondly remembered comic books, as opposed to “graphic novels” — present myriad problems for their makers, critics and fans. The history of this “comic book superhero” genre is instructive. Tom Mix, the Lone Ranger and others occupied places of privilege in ancient Hollywood, but rarely did anyone confuse their movies with great art. I guess that wasn’t the point back then. In the modern era, these films can trace their origins to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman and Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1978 and 1989, respectively). These films were hugely successful, but their sequels rapidly devalued what came to be known in film circles as “the franchise.”
What the industry noticed was the demographic that attached to these movies: young kids and baby boomers. No one spotted this as quickly as Stan Lee. Lee was the main man at Marvel Comics for decades. He decided that his own superheroes could easily hold their own on the big screen against the characters from rival DC Comics (home to Superman and Batman), and so Marvel Entertainment was born. Since then we have been graced with Spider-Man and forced to put up with Daredevil, The Hulk, Ghost Rider and others too painful to recall.
In this latest Marvel franchise installment, the charm is all in the irony, as once again plot is a foregone conclusion. The four principals are back: Michael Chiklis as the lumpy, misunderstood Ben Grimm; Ioan Gruffudd as team leader Reed Richards, who has awesome stretching abilities (probably does Pilates); Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, a bit of an arsonist; and Sue Storm, played by the lovely Jessica Alba, whose casting seems to be the real reason this sequel was made. The returning ensemble has an easy, unprepossessing rapport with each other, but the real attraction for fans (besides Alba) is the introduction of the Silver Surfer, one of the most beloved Marvel characters of all time. The enigmatic Surfer (Doug Jones) is an emissary sent to Earth by an even more terrifying enemy, the inscrutable Galactus. The pair is augmented by the appearance of the Four’s earlier nemesis, Dr. Doom. With all of these cool characters and cool costumes, there is precious little room for storyline. What is there focuses on the ultimate loyalties of the Surfer: Is he at heart a good guy or a bad guy? Is he beyond even the formidable powers of the Four?
Sadly, that’s about as deep as it gets. The FX are nice, but nothing to make George Lucas worry. Director Tim Story seems to have done his level best with a script and story that barely improve upon those of the wretched original. Boomers can still comfortably take their kids to this one without worry. Maybe in the future people still watching this stuff will say, “Well, it was great, but there was no story and no developed characters. I suppose that wasn’t the point back then.”