The quality of the Fantastic Four franchise (and I hope it’s a franchise, not a duet) is apparently on an exponential growth curve. Rise of the Silver Surfer is, with one exception (Jessica Alba’s straining superpower face is bad), as good as a superhero movie about saving the world while wedding planning could be. It’s a delight, mostly because the first act spends more time having fun with the characters–all four of the main characters, unlike before, turn in great performances. The chemistry is down in this one; without the need to establish anything, it’s just a fun, hanging out time for a half hour. (Again, the “hang out” film being Quentin Tarantino’s term). Then the action starts and… well, apparently Fox threw a bunch of money at Silver Surfer because the action sequences are great… not to mention Tim Story being able to handle them a lot better.
With the movie centering around Alba and Ioan Gruffudd’s wedding, it’s important for Alba to turn in a good performance, instead of an acceptable one. Immediately, she does, but so does Gruffudd. Silver Surfer, for the Fantastic Four, opens in an airport with a family comedy scene… and it sets the tone for the film and indicates the cast is now comfortable in their roles (Gruffudd being the most marked improvement, ably juggling the super-nerd moments with the Alba’s husband-to-be moments).
Somehow, Silver Surfer manages to escape infusing its cartoon set-pieces–whether it’s the chase along the Great Wall or Chris Evans having all four of the Fantastic Four’s powers–with adolescent simplicity. It’s a neat trick–a combination of the performances and those expensive special effects, which integrate really well. Since the performances and the character relationships work so well–perfectly even–everything else falls in to line. The ludicrous things going on–the Silver Surfer being a shiny guy on a flying surfboard and all–fit thanks to Story’s handling of the film’s reality. It’s a familiar reality, one with jokes about coach and a sister running through crowded New York streets to aid her brother, but it’s… oh damn it. It’s a fantastical one too….
Of the cast additions, only Beau Garrett is bad. Andre Braugher is wasted, but he’s not bad (in fact, he’s playing a bad guy, so there’s really no potential–a dumb, torturing U.S. Army general). As the Silver Surfer, Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne do a great job. The combination of Jones’s movements and Fishburne’s vocal performance make the character alien, human and real. It’s something of an achievement, certainly not one I was expecting after the first film.
As usual, Evans is great. Michael Chiklis is either more comfortable under all the makeup as the Thing or writing is just better. Ditto with Kerry Washington, who literally has nothing to do but hang out and she does well at it. Julian McMahon’s a little bit of a disappointment, though he has a couple good moments… most of his scenes are in full makeup and they’re action scenes, so it’s not really his fault. His inclusion in the film is the most contrived and it left me wondering why the producers felt they needed Dr. Doom at all.
I rarely, anymore, hope for sequels, both because I prefer finite filmic narratives and also because there’s almost never anything worth a sequel. But I hope there’s another Fantastic Four, just because Gruffudd, Alba, Evans and Chiklis have created people I want to spend more time around.
Directed by Tim Story; written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, based on a story by John Turman and Frost and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Larry Blanford; edited by William Hoy and Peter S. Elliot; music by John Ottman; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters), Andre Braugher (General Hager), Beau Garrett (Captain Frankie Raye) and Doug Jones & Laurence Fishburne (The Silver Surfer).