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Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer   D

20th Century Fox / Marvel Enterprises

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Tim Story
Writers: Don Payne, Mark Frost
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Laurence Fishburne.

Review by Rob Vaux

I present to you the final, damning proof of the Fantastic Four's inherent mediocrity: not only can they not sustain their own movie without help, they can't even sustain their own billboard. The ads have rudely shoved them aside to make room for the Silver Surfer -- a sure sign that 20th Century Fox has lost confidence in this superhero franchise in only its second outing. Not that the studio is entirely responsible for the feckless nature of their titular quartet; they're merely guilty of perpetrating it in order to grub a few extra bucks off of the fans. The most successful superheroes work because they have engaging personalities completely unrelated to their powers. Spider-Man? A shy teenager whose self-confidence blooms as he slowly discovers his purpose in life. Batman? A wounded orphan who learns to channel the fear and rage of unspeakable loss towards positive ends. Superman? Another orphan, taking on enormous responsibilities for the sake of a world where he will never completely belong. There's depth in all of them. They contain foundations for fascinating stories; stories in which the four-color spark of paranormal abilities are the side dish rather than the main course; stories that can keep an audience coming back for more, even after 50 years of constant reinvention.

Mr. Fantastic, on the other hand... um, isn't he the guy who, like, stretches?

The original Fantastic Four movie exacerbated that basic dullness in myriad ways, presenting these figures as one-note effects monkeys rather than real people. The sequel compounds the error while hoping to distract us with the new gimmickry of the Silver Surfer -- an ostensible villain whose potential for noble tragedy is completely wasted. He arrives on Earth to pave the way for Galactus, a giant intergalactic space cloud that eats planets whole (and he is just a cloud; the comic-book version with the pink tiki-god helmet is nowhere to be seen, though there a quiet nod towards the end if you don't blink at the wrong moment). Certainly the Surfer looks cool, as the effortless physical charisma of actor Doug Jones blends with some excellent CGI to pleasing effect, and the voice of Laurence Fishburne provides the Zen calmness that we always knew the character held. As the Fantastic Four -- rubbery Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), rock-like Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), see-through Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), and her fiery brother Johnny (Chris Evans) -- engage him in an effort to halt the coming Armageddon, we're treated to a few precious moments of nifty Weta-created Surfer Fu. You're likely familiar with most of them: they measured just enough to sustain a decent trailer.

Sadly, the trailer and billboards contained the entirety of this project's creative engagement. No one could be bothered with the rest, and why should they? The promotional material will convince plenty of people to take a look, and that's clearly all that matters here. For the remaining 88 minutes, director Tim Story can think only of new ways to show off the team's rather boring shticks while sucking the plot dry as a bone. The visuals exist as ends unto themselves, devoid of context or excitement. Richards goes all noodle-limbed on the dance floor at his bachelor party, the Invisible Girl swaps powers with her brother after a run-in with the Surfer, and as the bells and whistles pile up in arbitrary, meaningless dead weight, we're supposed to summon enough energy to give two squirts of piss. Meanwhile, the imminent threat of Galactus moves forward at an almost petulant pace -- the Four treat it more as an inconvenience to Reed and Susan's upcoming wedding than the extinction of all life as we know it -- while the fumbling dialogue prevents anyone from jump-starting the proceedings by mistake.

Julian McMahon's Dr. Doom makes an encore appearance as well, as an ostensible ally in Earth's salvation, but with (surprise!) secret ulterior motives. For a few minutes early on, it looks as if Story might actually restore some semblance of honor to the greatest villain in comic-book history. But soon enough, Doom reverts to the same smarmy used-car salesman he was in the first film, lending an excuse for more pointless pyrotechnics before a distressingly murky final showdown in the skies above China. His irritating incarnation easily matches the rest of Rise of the Silver Surfer: dopey, illogical, and too lazy to even try to engage us. But what else should one expect from an exercise whose sole purpose is to separate us from our wallets? Indeed, so brazenly does it shill for every possible nickel that even its feeble attempts to laugh at the trend feel dictated by some accountant's ledger. The film's sole distinction -- the one thing it will likely be remembered for -- involves the single most shameless piece of product placement I have ever seen. Yeah Johnny, it's got a Hemi. Too bad the rest of your movie is such a broken-down lemon. Enjoy the first weekend's grosses, folks. If there is any justice, it's all you're gonna get.

Review published 06.15.2007.

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