Rise of the Silver Surfer
Movie: 3 out of 5 stars
Movie with Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
The appearance of a metallic man on a surfboard in the skies over Japan causes the warm fishing lanes to freeze solid. Halfway around the world, the silver humanoid streaks across the sky and snow flurries begin to tickle the nose of the Sphinx. Who is the Silver Surfer and where can I get one of those cool surfboards?
“The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” is the paint by numbers sequel to “The Fantastic Four,” which grossed 330 million worldwide. Too bad it doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
The appearance of the intergalactic surfer is not only disrupting the weather, its also causing matter-sucking craters to crop up around the globe. But most importantly, the silver one’s appearance has interrupted the wedding of the century – the nuptials of Reed Richards (a/k/a Mr. Fantastic, a bland Ioan Guffudd) and Sue Storm, (a/k/a The Invisible Woman, a blond Jessica Alba). To save the world from destruction, General Hager (Andre Braugher, taking an acting breather) seeks out the help of the Fantastic Four; including a human rock quarry (a gruff but occasionally amusing Michael Chiklis) and impulsive publicity hound Johnny Flame (exasperating Chris Evans). An encounter with the Surfer shorts out Johnny’s powers, causing him to take on the characteristics of the team member he touches, and his impetuous actions nearly cost the team their lives during a rescue mission.
The radiation from the wake of the Silver Surfer’s board revives Dr. Doom, who encounters the silver one in Greenland. The scheming armored villain wants to form a let’s-end-the world-together franchise with the aluminum alien, who rebuffs him. Insulted and angry, Doom attacks the Surfer, whose retaliatory electrical charge blasts Doom the across an ice flow like an ill-prepared clown shot out of a cannon, but also serves to restore his powers. Leveraging his first-hand knowledge of the Surfer, Doom manipulates General Hager into forcing the Fantastic Four to work with him on a plan to disarm the intergalactic silver moon doggie. The tag team of supernatural brainiacs realizes the Surfer’s power is in his board and develops a series of pulse generators designed to make the surfing star rider wipe out. The Surfer glides in front of Sue as she’s finishing setting up her device. The two parley, and Sue discovers he’s a herald, an advanced scout, for Galactus, a gluttonous planet eater:
Sue: Why are you trying to destroy us?
Surfer: I have no choice.
Sue: There’s always a choice.
Surfer: Not always…
When the Surfer tells her, “My service spares my world and the one I love,” Sue realizes the troubled air-rider may not be the enemy they thought. Hague and his men open fire on the Surfer, who protects Sue from harm. With Hager’s cracks shots distracting the Surfer, the others fire the pulse that knocks their free floating foe off his board. Taken to Siberia (kinda obvious, ain’t it?), the now helpless Surfer is tortured old school style by a sadistic doctor. Doom steals the Surfer’s board and his absorbs its power. Now it’s up to the Fantastic Four and their new ally to stop Doom. In the process, one of the four makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the Surfer. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, the Surfer is forced to make a choice – serve his master and sacrifice the woman he loves, or save his friends and their planet. Turning to Reed, he says, “Treasure each moment with her (Sue) and tell her she's right, we do have a choice.”
The plot is easier to figure out than a Dr. Doom double cross, but it’s secondary to the special effects. The chase into dangerous air space and into space itself between the airborne Johnny Flame and the Surfer is a panorama of supersonic imagery that’ll make you believe its mankind’s right to fly faster than a speeding bullet -- just watch those landings if your candle goes out. The accidental transfer of powers from one hero to another also yields some amusing special effects, including allowing Michael Chiklis a few moments out of his cement tile suit to act as irresponsibly funny as Curley Howard of the Three Stooges (a role he played that re-launched his career). Chiklis’ transformation injects some levity into a scene that was already stretching to make a point. Speaking of which, there are too many scenes in which the not-so-fantastic-four act as if they’re auditioning for “The Gong Show” or putting together a superhero blooper reel. There’s the lame “I feel betrayed” banter between The Thing and Johnny when the latter overhears Sue and Reed talking about breaking up the team; Alicia’s (the Thing’s girlfriend) uncanny ability to tell whenever Johnny’s in the room -- not to mention her teeth-grinding talent for dispensing sage-like advice. Every time Alicia enters a scene you expect her to whip out a crystal ball and predict the future like some cosmic gypsy. All she needs is some mandolin music and the Gabor Sisters in tow. Alicia also gets the better of Johnny in their verbal jousts so easily you expect Johnny to let out a surrendering “D’oh!” Then there’s Johnny’s Hugh Hefner come ons directed at General Hager’s hot aide. She has the all the resistance of Play Dough (or is it play D’oh!). You know without having to use Alicia’s clairvoyant insights that the General’s aide will eventually melt to asbestos boy’s charms. The story is clichéd, packed with weary plot devices … The skeptical general… The noble/troubled villain… The double cross…The notion that the whole is better than the sum of the parts… Love conquers all. There are no surprises, but don’t forget the source material is a comic book, not “War and Peace.” Turn off your mind and ride the wave of special effects.
The actors reprising their roles as the not-so Fantastic Four give credible performances befitting the PG rated comic book banter written for them. Ioan Guffudd hardly stretches his talents as Mr. Fantastic. His best scene is on the dance floor when he boogies down to the beat and stretches out like the Rubberband Man. Guffudd has to look brainy, so he occasionally ruffles his brow and gets as self-absorbed as The Professor used to on “Gilligan’s Island.” And just as Russell Johnson’s egghead somehow ignored the charms of Ginger and Mary Ann, Guffudd’s rubbery professor concentrates so hard on the task at hand that he ignores Jessica Alba. Alba, who showed she was more than a pretty face in “Sin City,” is given the difficult task of looking beautiful and acting brilliant. Thanks to a bad, brassy blonde dye job and baffling dialogue, she’s neither. When a gruff voiced brute with a bad case of acne is your comic relief, you’re asking for trouble, but Chiklis comes off as being more multi-dimensional than the rest of the quarrelsome quartet. Impetuous hot shot Chris Evans is annoying, which to some degree he’s supposed to be. His buddy buddy bonding talks with The Thing are strictly filler designed to show he’s not a complete narcissist but in the end serve to show he is. The real star of the movie is the Silver Surfer, voiced by Larry Fishburne (James Earl Jones must have been busy), and played in the metallic flesh by agile actor Doug Jones. Although he’s little more than a guy wearing a leotard dipped in silver, Jones’s close ups convey the inner struggle he bears at having to serve Galactus in order to save his own world. An unnecessary Kerri Washington returns as The Thing’s sightless but insightful girlfriend, Alicia, as does an underutilized Julian MacMahon as Dr. Doom. He’s an afterthought brought back from the dead in case there’s a Fantastic Four #3., (And you can bet Thor’s hammer there will be.) With his manicured eyebrows and Oxford mannerisms, McMahon makes Dr. Doom as threatening as a “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” alumni. Distinguished actor Andre Braugher (Frank Pembelton in “Homicide: Life on the Street”) plays nay saying General Hager, his talents hamstrung by a lack of definition. In a few short years, Braugher has gone from Emmy to empty.
Galactus, the real villain of the movie, is little more than a combination threatening thundercloud and swirling whirlpool. In the comic book series, Galactus was a two story humanoid, as much in conflict with his need to swallow planets for his life’s blood as the Silver Surfer in his role as the dupe guiding Galactus to them. The Surfer’s guilt preys and builds within him as the plot progresses, but Galactus is no more than a swirling boogie man waiting for his lunch. His lack of form forces the audience to doubt his hold over the Surfer. What? A cloud has control over the Surfer’s will? When was the last time a thunderstorm forced you to commit murder? (Folks who live in the hurricane/tornado belt don’t have to answer.)
It’s the extras that prop up an otherwise mild surf. You get a second DVD that’s just as long as the movie, only with more plot twists. You can follow director Tom Story and his crew as they work their way through pre-production meetings and scout locations (including an ice house that becomes a freezing labyrinth when the crew gets lost, and an extravagant theater that serves as Dr. Doom’s lair). I was surprised to find out that many of Doug Jones’ scenes were actually live action shots rather than special effects. No, he can’t actually fly, but he’s a lot higher off the ground than most real life surfers who at least have the ocean to break their fall. Jessica Alba continues to show she’s a good sport by getting tossed around like a bungee jumping rag doll, all the time laughing about it. (I bet the insurers of the film won’t be laughing when they see her doing her own stunts.) But the nice guy award has to go to Chiklis, who not only quips while carrying a brickyard on his back, but also comes face to face with a 1,500 pound Kodiak bear and acts like he’s talking to Yogi Bear.
Sequels are a tough act, and without a substantive plot, “Rise of the Silver Surfer” is hardly fantastic. The only character that seems remotely human, the Surfer, is ironically the most humanoid. The others are cartoons, siphons for the special effects. “Rise of the Silver Surfer” isn’t a wipeout, but it’s no killer wave of intellectual action either.