The good news about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is that it, unlike the bulk of today’s comic book movies, doesn’t think it’s Shakespeare, Citizen Kane and grand opera all rolled into one. The bad news is that it still isn’t any good. The fact that the movie realizes that it’s a silly comic-book movie doesn’t change the fact that it is a silly comic-book movie. Of course, this hardly comes as a great shock, since the first film, Fantastic Four (2005), was also a silly comic-book movie. With the same cast and the same director, Tim Story, and one of the same screenwriters, Mark Frost, did anyone really expect different results? The only possible difference to be noted here is that the sequel is, if anything, more ridiculous than the first film.
OK, so the mere fact that we are dealing with four folks—Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis)—whose DNA has been rejiggered by a “cosmic storm” to turn them into Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing is already pretty high on the absurd-o-meter. Factor in a similarly altered villain who didn’t even have to adopt a colorful sobriquet after the fact, Dr. Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon)—last seen being carted back to his homeland, Latveria, as a statue—and it’s obvious that stark realism, or even marginal sanity, was hardly a concern from the onset.
However, this starts to sound pretty reasonable up against the new plot involving the Silver Surfer (played by Doug Jones, who portrayed the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, but pointlessly voiced by Laurence Fishburne here). The Surfer is a shiny silver gent—looking like an improbably BVD-clad 1930s modernist statue of a wrestler—who travels through outer space on a similarly metallic surfboard for purposes of preparing planets for his master, Galactus, to “eat.” Setting aside the fact that the name Galactus sounds suspiciously like some kind of cosmic remedy for irregularity, and the fact that the preparations for his planetary repast resemble nothing so much as boring holes into the Earth to turn it into a very large bowling ball, the whole Silver Surfer concept smacks of a silly bout of 1960s trippiness. The fact that comic-book maestros Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had him debut in 1966 tends to bear this out and strongly suggests that these two middle-aged gents created him in a bid to stay relevant to a changing demographic. Whether or not it worked in 1966, it merely seems dated now—unless one is a presold fan, I guess.
In any case, the Surfer has now made it to the big screen to square off against not only our four superheroes, but also, it seems, against Victor Von Doom, who courtesy of some sort of never explained Lederhosenland, err Latverian jiggery-pokery has gotten all better. (Ah, but is he any less duplicitous? With a name like Von Doom, what do you think the chances are?) For a film that’s housed in a scant 92-minute running time that deals with a seemingly unstoppable super villain and the impending destruction of the Earth, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is astonishingly padded out with inconsequential folderol and comic relief.
I suppose one, maybe two gags involving Mr. Fantastic’s ability to stretch himself into shapes various and sundry is not unreasonable, but the film insists on at least a half dozen such gags—three of them in the space of one scene—and uses the same schtick of him being flattened like a Warner Bros. cartoon character twice. Perhaps this is to make up for his complete lack of character in nearly every other instance. A good deal of the running time is given over to the business of Richards/Fantastic trying to marry Sue/Invisible Woman. This mostly serves to prove once again that Sue’s major claim to fame is her bra size, since she’s more concerned with her nuptials than the fate of the world. (It never occurs to her that the destruction of the planet might put a crimp in their honeymoon.) It doesn’t help that Alba is wearing rather creepy contact lenses and appears to have been slathered in that orange-colored faux tanning makeup.
At one point, the film has a strange outburst of trying to make a statement by throwing in a bit where it criticizes the army for torturing a prisoner (the Surfer) in order to get information, but instead of adding weight to the camp-and-cheese fest laid out by the rest of the film, it only seems out of place. Then again, so does the movie—about 40 years out of place. Rated PG for sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo.