In Defence Of… Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
I have always enjoyed Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Strangely enough, this puts me in a minority of comic book movie fans as it is not a well-loved piece of work. When it’s not ignored it’s dismissed as that of an unpleasant memory. I honestly could not disagree more. I don’t consider it a guilty pleasure, nor do I think it’s “so bad it’s good”, I actually recommend this movie and it certainly deserves to be remembered as a cracking good superhero movie.
In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the sequel to the first film, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) are an internationally famous superhero group called The Fantastic Four. As they try to balance their public and private life an intergalactic threat called Galactus looms over the Earth. A mysterious alien creature called Norrin Radd tries to warn the people of Earth but is held captive by the government and The Fantastic Four must rescue him before the Earth is devoured.
I think the main reason the sequel is ignored is spillover from the first Fantastic Four movie (no, not THAT one). Released in 2005, this big budget adaptation of Marvel’s First Family was, in a word, awful. The characters were dull, the acting was poor and the action scenes were boring, especially the dreadful climax where The Fantastic Four and Doom literally stand in one spot for 10 minutes exchanging powers. It’s certainly one of the worst Marvel movies to date. The sequel however is a marked improvement. The cast and crew are the same but the addition of the late Don Payne injected some much-needed liveliness to the script. Now our heroes have got much better dialogue and the requisite chemistry which was once absent is in full fantastic flow. Their thoughts and feelings bounce off each other and you really get a sense of how they need to work as a team to get the job done.
Of course, not everything is improved. Jessica Alba, while given much better lines, is still not convincing as Sue Storm and does not come across as an authority figure. Worse still is Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom. One of the most iconic super villains in comic book history, his quiet, understated take on the character is practically unwatchable and, like before, will leave you wondering why such a bombastic baddie was depicted as a snivelling sap.
These are fair criticisms but they don’t kill the movie. As I said, the story and characters are interesting enough to keep the movies rattling along at a jolly pace. The Silver Surfer himself, despite some severe deviations from the comics, is well presented character. With Doug Jones lean physique and Laurence Fishburne’s smooth voice, Silver Surfer is depicted as vulnerable yet wise and when he has to, quite compassionate. His powers and back story are altered from the comics which angered some fans but the spirit of the comic and character is still there. Compared to how Deadpool would be treated to years later, Norrin Radd got off lightly.
The characters aren’t the only thing given a jump start. With a bigger budget, Rise of the Silver Surfer has got much more exciting action scenes, including a rescue in London, a high-speed chase through New York and a truly amazing finale beginning in Shanghai and ending up above the Earth itself. Reed’s stretchiness, Sue’s force field, Johnny’s flames and Thing’s clobberin’ are all utilised well and unlike last time it really feels like a true Fantastic Four adventure instead of a boring story with famous heroes in it. Alas, we never get to see Galactus himself as he is mostly obscured by a giant killer cloud. Yes, I know he wears a lot of pink but a confrontation between him and Silver Surfer would have given the film more dramatic weight. Still, this is a relatively minor quibble as the finale is still tremendous fun and does justice to the work of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Talking of Stan Lee, his cameo in this movie is the best he’s ever done. When Earth is saved, Reed and Sue finally get married. There are many guests at their lovely, high-profile ceremony but, sadly, one old man, Stan Lee, is denied entry and is forcibly ejected. This is a direct reference to the comic itself. In the issue where Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman get married, both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were turned away at the door. For all the criticism this film gets regarding faithfulness, this scene certainly shows more love to the source material than just drunkenly shoehorning in the word “Excelsior”.
If you avoided this film because you didn’t like the original I implore you to reconsider. Almost everything you didn’t like about 2005’s Fantastic Four is reshaped and re-edited into a great 90 minute blast. Released at a time when everything had to be “dark and gritty”, at least this film dared to be fun. Hopefully thanks to the critical and commercial beatdown of Josh Trank‘s monstrous attempt at a grim and realistic interpretation of a superhero comic book, this film will be given the credit it deserves. Yes, the villain is substandard, the other villain is underused and the source material is disregarded but all in all, Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer is definitely worth watching because of the epic action scenes, the well structured script and the genuine chemistry between the four leads. It won’t change your life but it definitely will cheer you up, and there really is no better recommendation for a Fantastic Four movie than that.