Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Dir. Tim Story
Premiered June 12, 2007
So I was off on my own, going to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End at what would later become the ArcLight Pasadena when a college-aged guy came up to me to offer me a place at a test screening for two upcoming politically-oriented films: Rendition (about which more later) and War, Inc. This seemed like a cool deal, but I had briefly forgotten that I was still 17, which meant that the man barely older than myself then attempted to be “hip” by chatting me up about the upcoming Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer until it quickly became clear that neither of us knew what we were talking about.
This is for good reason: of all the Marvel superhero brands, the Fantastic Four stand alone in never having clicked with a wider audience: by 2007 it had been the subject of a handful of little-seen TV series, a never-released Roger Corman b-movie made purely to hold onto the option on the comics, and Tim Story’s 2005 film, which was financially successful but of no interest to me or anyone I knew.
As for that first movie, the cast appear to have been chosen for their physical resemblances to the characters in the comics and nothing else, as they have no chemistry. Despite having played many Americans before, Welshman Ioann Gruffudd strains at an American accent as Reed Richards and ends up occasionally lapsing into an impression of Guillermo del Toro; Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing is at least serviceable, but doesn’t feel like he’s playing a character; Jessica Alba as Susan Storm, the Invisible Girl, is only a slightly more convincing a scientist than Denise Richards; and even Chris Evans, who can usually bring much-needed levity to a dubious character, acts like a lost castmember from Grind while playing Johnny the Human Torch.
The plot is painfully generic and relies on so many contrivances and conveniences as to border on dream logic; the dialogue cliché-ridden and delivered with uniform woodenness. What’s more, it focuses far more on the Four’s personal lives and petty squabbles than on being superheroes, to the point where they only end up saving themselves at the end. The overall mood is oddly weightless and carefree in a distinctly pre-9/11 sort of way– indeed, the final draft of the script was written in April 2001 while the film was in the midst of a tortured decade-plus development.
Having gone through an even quicker production cycle than usual, its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, raises the stakes to a reasonable level, but doubles down on everything else to the point of parody.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer can be easily be divided into two parts: first, the the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) comes to Earth and starts messing up all kinds of stuff: power outages in the US, snow in Egypt, the ocean freezing in Japan– not cooling down to a solid state, but simply becoming stuck in time and thus taking on the attributes of solid mass– and giant sinkholes appearing all over the world. Yet this news is somehow sidelined by the long-awaited fairytale wedding of Reed and Sue. Having repeatedly postponed their marriage in order to save the world, they begin to question whether they can lead a normal life as celebrities and decide to quit being heroes.
But before they can do that, the franchise finally remembers that it’s about superheroes. General Hager (Andre Braugher) reaches out to Reed for help tracking and capturing the Silver Surfer, with help from previous baddie Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon), who’s been inadvertently revived by the Surfer’s energy and reasons (if only temporarily) that he needs the world to continue existing, because it turns out that the Surfer is merely a slave to a world-devouring cloud called Galactus.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer wants to be both a superhero movie and a comedy– attempting to do what Guardians of the Galaxy eventually would. But it’s relying purely on the situations to be funny, and misses every opportunity to tell a good joke. For example, after being dragged into space by the Silver Surfer, Johnny crash-lands in the Sahara desert where he encounters some Berber nomads. The joke should be that they recognize him as the world-famous Human Torch, it would make sense in the context of the rest of the movie, but instead, Johnny looks up and there’s a camel! Isn’t that hilarious!?
And as a superhero movie, it doesn’t have enough care for its own universe to make sense. Another example: after coming in contact with the Silver Surfer, Johnny and Sue switch powers when they touch; as ever, the fire powers make Sue’s custom-designed supersuit burn up leaving her naked, yet Johnny’s suit, altered only to resist fire, turns invisible with him. Then he switches with Ben and turns into his own version of The Thing but stays roughly the same size as his normal self.
The plot too is relentlessly sloppy: there’s no rhyme or reason to the nature of the Surfer’s influence on the earth, and Reed figures out that his next attack will be on London because London is in fact at 50º east and 30º north. You heard it here first, folks: London is the capital of Iran. Also, the Great Wall of China is driving distance from Shanghai, Yakutsk is a short flight from Manhattan, and a cloud is a compelling villain.
The whole thing is like this: it’s all mapped out to be silly and weird, but instead it reads as awkward and stupid. The blocking, cinematography, editing, and special effects are so bland and careless that whatever director Tim Story was trying to do– having already been handicapped by a laughless script– dies onscreen. It’s worth noting that Chris Columbus was an executive producer, and though it’s unlikely that he had much creative input, this movie fails in all the same ways that his directorial efforts do.
Signs This Was Made in 2007
The New York Skyline features the World Financial Center but neither incarnation of the World Trade Center. Circuit City still exists. Reed still has a PDA; the iPhone debuted the month after this came out. The US is using a military base in Russia.
I don’t know how to say this nicely, and it’s certainly not her fault, but Jessica Alba’s solid blue contacts in this movie make her look like a Robert Zemeckis mo-cap zombie.
There’s a weird microplot about General Hager resenting Reed for being too much of a nerd, but I’m pretty sure some intellectual rigor is required to be a military officer, and Andre “Snowflake from Glory” Braugher doesn’t exactly read as a meathead.
How Did It Do?
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer suffered much the same fate as Spider-Man 3: it made a profit ($330 million against a $130 million budget), but still grossed less than its predecessor and was trashed by critics– albeit not as overwhelmingly as the first Fantastic Four, and admittedly it’s at least not as boring.
In a very strange series of events, 20th Century Fox somehow got the Franklin Mint to produce US quarters altered to advertise the film, which was super illegal and made the government quite cross.
By the film’s premiere date, plans had already been drawn up for another sequel as well as a Silver Surfer spinoff, but as with Spider-Man, the failure of the movie convinced 20th Century Fox to burn it all down and start over. As before, this took several years of development which continued even after the ultimate reboot began production. The result, helmed by Chronicle auteur Josh Trank, was widely considered one of the worst studio films of 2015.
Next Time: Live Free or Die Hard