20th Century Fox
Produced by Avi Arad, Bernd Eichinger and Ralph Winter
Directed by Tim Story
Screenplay written by Don Payne and Mark Frost from a story by John Turman and Mark Frost
Based on THE FANTASTIC FOUR comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and published by Marvel Comics
The Fantastic Four are among the coolest and most heroic characters ever created in any medium. A family of scientific thrill seekers granted with astounding superpowers due to an unauthorized space flight gone wrong. Bathed in cosmic rays they return to Earth as more than human. Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic finds his body now as elastic and fluid as his brilliant intellect. Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman can make herself and others invisible as well as being able to psionically generate unshatterable force fields. Johnny Storm/The Human Torch can turn his body into living flame, burning with the fire of the sun itself. Benjamin J. Grimm wasn’t as lucky as his friends. Even though he’s now strong enough to juggle tanks his skin has been transformed into an orange rocky hide that makes him look like a Thing.
What makes The Fantastic Four stand out for me is that they’re not your conventional team of superheroes. They’re a family, first and foremost. Reed and Sue eventually get married and have a son. Johnny and Ben behave like bickering brothers who love each other to death but would rather cut out their tongues than admit it. Reed and Ben have been best friends since college and on many occasions they’ve risked their lives for each other. Secondly, they’re explorers, scientists and adventurers. Oh, sure they walloped the piss out of the occasional supervillain but their real job was pushing back the boundaries of The Marvel Universe, always finding new worlds, new dimensions and new characters. And all the while dealing with the same problems that most other families deal with.
2005 saw The Fantastic Four come to the big screen in a live-action movie that was highly anticipated but really disappointed me. It seemed more like an over budgeted pilot for a television series than an epic adventure. I’m happy to say that I liked FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER much better. Yeah, Jessica Alba still can’t act. Not that I think most of the guys who go to see the movie will really care. Doctor Doom’s role in the movie is totally unnecessary. Some of the so-called ‘jokes’ made me roll my eyes in exasperation. V’ger’s big brother gets to play Galactus. But by the time the movie had got to the 30 minute mark I was finding more and more than I didn’t care. Before this movie came out I had been hearing and reading that “this is the movie they should have made first” and you know something? I agree.
The whole world is in a state of happy hysteria as the day when Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) get married approaches. Reed has put away his molecule particle accelerators and Negative Zone portals to focus on helping Sue plan the wedding while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Chris Evans) is busy scoring endorsements and securing media rights of the event while Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) watches from the sidelines like a benevolent uncle along with his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)
The arrival of a cosmic anomaly on Earth quickly puts the marriage on hold as Army General Hagar (Andre Braugher) comes to Reed Richards for help. Not only is this anomaly disrupting weather all over the world but it’s also excavating giant shafts in the Earth’s crust, straight down to the core of the planet itself. The cosmic anomaly comes to New York where The Human Torch gives dizzying chase and finally uncovers the identity of the anomaly: a man seemingly made of pure silver, riding of all things: a surfboard. It isn’t long before The Fantastic Four finds out that The Silver Surfer (Body by Doug Jones/Voice by Larry Fishburne) is actually the herald of something much worse: The Devourer of Worlds known as Galactus. Galactus literally eats planets and Earth is next on the menu. Somehow The Fantastic Four have to persuade General Hagar to let them come to terms with The Silver Surfer and find a way to save Earth. It’s not easy when a resurrected Doctor Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) has managed to get General Hagar’s ear and has convinced the general that Doom has a much better plan to save The Earth and deal with The Silver Surfer. Of course Doom doesn’t mention a few little details like…oh, well how’s about stealing The Surfer’s cosmic power in order to destroy The Fantastic Four once and for all…
FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has something that for me, places it head and shoulders above a lot of other superhero movies: at last we’ve got a superhero movie where the superheroes actually are having fun being superheroes. The Fantastic Four are media darlings. They live well. They obviously have money. They’re respected by the public. There’s not a whole lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and “woe is me, why was I cursed with these powers” here. I think that the filmmakers honestly tried to bring to this movie that sense of wonder that comic books used to be about and I think they pulled it off just fine. The story takes us all over the world. There are incredible gizmos and gadgets Mr. Fantastic pulls out of his hip pocket every five minutes. The family dynamics of the characters is given just as much time and attention as the menace of the world being eaten. Johnny gets an interesting character arc where by the end of the movie he’s grown up a little and has learned something about responsibility. The Silver Surfer is surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the comic book character.
That’s not to say that the movie made me do cartwheels of joy in the aisles. Much as I like Julian McMahon I still say he’s badly miscast as Doctor Doom. And there’s actually no reason for Doom to be in this movie at all, except to have an obligatory fight scene at the end. But at least in this fight I could tell what was happening unlike any of the fights in “Spider-Man 3” It was never explained to my satisfaction why or how Doom was resurrected and restored to normal and even several of the characters in the movie demand an explanation from Doom. He just gives ‘em a shit-eating grin and goes back to greasing the general. Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba actually look as if they’re really enjoying acting together while Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis once again prove that they have actually read some of the comics because they hit exactly the right note in the relationship between Johnny and Ben. And even though much of the story elements were taken from the classic “Galactus Trilogy” it still ain’t that story.
But I hardly think anybody is really going to care except for the fanboy purists who will no doubt BMW that once again their beloved characters have been desecrated and shat upon. I’m not with them. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has a lot of the elements that made me fall in love with the characters in their comic book incarnation. The interaction between the characters. Amazing action scenes. Great visuals. Humor that comes from these extraordinary people trying to deal with things the rest of us deal with such as overbooked flights, bachelor parties that go wrong, wedding day jitters, balancing work with family responsibilities. And as I said earlier, if you’re tired of moody, angry superheroes and want to see a movie where superheroes actually enjoy their powers and their adventures then this one’s for you.
So by all means, if you haven’t yet seen FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER go ahead. It’s not going to raise your IQ and it’s certainly not going to go down in movie history as High Art but it does have a sense of adventurous fun and wonder at its core and that’s the main thing.