Rise of the Silver Surfer makes some strides, but still not fantastic
Largely an improvement over its mostly enjoyable predecessor, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a decent attempt at bringing the FF’s comic book adventures to the big screen, but still a few fixes away from truly being fantastic.
To a major extent, returning director Tim Story (Think Like a Man) and screenwriter Mark Frost (joined by co-screenwriter Don Payne) address a number of issues with the first film. The humor is less forced, the action more intense and the special effects are vastly improved. What holds the film back from the upper echelon of comic book films are a couple of legacy issues and a lackluster final act.
Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm/Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) are trying to get married, but one calamity after the next keeps interfering with their plans forcing them to question their commitment to the team. Johnny Storm/Human Torch (Chris Evans, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) are unsure of their future if Reed and Sue were to leave, but a strange new visitor may make that moot.
Causing unprecedented global events in his wake, The Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne), is a harbinger for his master, the planet destroying Galactus. And Galactus’ next target is Earth.
Gen. Hager (Andre Braugher, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse) recruits Reed and the FF to stop the alien menace, but his dislike of Reed clouds his judgment enough that he agrees to let Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) consult as well.
Fun fact: Braugher’s obnoxious Hager was originally slated to be Nick Fury, but Fox opted not to use the character. Fury wouldn’t make his big screen debut until a year later in the post-credits of Iron Man.
The FF have their own problems as Johnny’s encounter with the Surfer — a spectacularly shot meeting of super powered individuals — has left his powers unstable and itching for a rematch even at the risk to the rest of the team.
Once again, the filmmakers pick and choose what aspects of the source material to use for the big screen. What’s most frustrating is when they stick to the source material i.e. Ben and Johnny’s bickering, Reed’s fascination with science, Sue feeling invisible at times, the film is a perfect translation of the Fantastic Four right down to the team being a celebrity tabloid magnet superhero group.
It makes the changes from the comics more annoying as comic creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby provided a perfect blueprint and the film only struggles when departing from what’s already worked. Thankfully beyond the ill-advised bachelor party segment, the poor attempts at humor are otherwise scrapped.
Just like the original chapter, the highlight of the film is the performances of Evans and Chiklis, who provide definitive takes on their characters. Fortunately, they have more scenes to play off each other. It’s in those interactions the film is at its best and feels more like a proper Marvel Studios production.
The same can’t be said for Gruffudd and Alba who still aren’t believable as a couple, but at least they have a few nice solo moments this time. McMahon’s take on Doom also remains problematic and the worst part of the Fantastic Four films.
A larger budget — $130 million compared to the first film’s $100 million — is apparent early on with the effects and the gorgeous look to the Surfer. The Thing’s costume looks less a prosthetic creation and more of an actual unique skin tone and the battles look much better this outing.
For the minor problems early on, the biggest issue is the weak final act, which negates the point of a team movie by having one character face off against Doom while the Surfer’s battle against Galactus in essence comes down to traveling into a storm cloud.
20th Century Fox saw the film as an opportunity to not just strengthen the FF brand, but also expand it by introducing the Silver Surfer with the hopes of launching a spin-off.
While that didn’t pan out as the film only made $23 million less than the original, this is a sequel that showed solid improvement.
A third film likely would have fixed the holdout issues and rode the Marvel wave of Phase 1 of the Avengers films, but Fox decided to give up on the FF until 2015 where the studio hopes they’ve gotten it right this time. If not, we’ll always have these occasionally fantastic exploits of Marvel’s First Family.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox