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Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Nothing galls me more than when Hollywood filmmakers take source material that was kickass to begin with and apply the mentality of, "I can make this better because I'm in Hollywood." That said, I am deeply galled by FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. I'll get to my litany of complaints shortly, but first a little background for those of you who have never read a Fantastic Four comic book, especially one from the fertile period that spawned this film's source material.

First published in 1961, FANTASTIC FOUR was the series that ushered in what would become known as "the Marvel Age" of American comics history, a refreshing change of pace away from the somewhat-stolid archetypes that the genre was founded upon. The Fantastic Four were a quartet of neurotic New Yorkers whose superpowers enabled them to save the world on an almost daily basis, that is when they weren't fighting amongst themselves. Their recognizable flaws made them easy to identify with, superhero avatars for the everyday person, and they very quickly assumed the role of an anti-team team of good guys who weren't even superheroes by definition; what the FF were was a family first, and a team of metahumanly-gifted scientific explorers second. Saving the world was usually just something that fell into their laps because, let's face it, other than relying on their own unique skill sets, these four were each a mess in different ways, the family unit equivalent of watching two monkeys trying to fuck a football, a state of confusion compounded by adding two more monkeys to the equation.

While Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman), the Human Torch and the Thing handled the ever-escalating threats and intrigues posed by the likes of the Red Ghost, the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, the Frightful Four (including the regrettably-monikered Paste-Pot Pete), the Impossible Man, the Inhumans, and of course, Doctor Doom, we got to know them as individuals, both for better and for worse, and we learned to care about them.

Then came the day they met God.


After pitting the FF against just about every kind of threat they could come up with (and then some), creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby figured their dysfunctional super-family could take on just about anything and win, so what was left? That stumbling point was solved by the introduction of Galactus, a nigh-omnipotent, gigantic cosmic being who survived by absorbing the life-energies of entire worlds, and his visually-spectacular herald, the Silver Surfer, another vastly-powerful extra-terrestrial whose role was to find planets for his master to consume.

The coming of Galactus: Not only does he announce himself, he also rocks a cool "G" on his breastplate in case we got confused.

But where Galactus was a cosmic force of nature personified, the Surfer was a tragic slave whose long-forgotten humanity resurfaced after plummeting through the skylight of the Thing’s blind girlfriend’s apartment. With Galactus’ arrival imminent, all manner of unnatural hell breaking loose in the environment and the Fantastic Four facing a disaster that they haven’t a hope of overcoming, the blind sculptress gets through to the chromed-up alien and awakens in him the realization that all life is precious, a notion that enables him to turn on his master and buy the FF the time necessary to receive help from the Watcher, another cosmic entity, but one who the Fantastic Four befriended years earlier. When all is said and done, Galactus agrees to leave the Earth alone forever, but he also strips the Silver Surfer of his trans-galactic travel abilities, vindictively stranding him on our violent, intolerant world.

For a mere comic book, a trifle aimed at kids and enjoyed by adults as well, that’s some pretty epic shit, and it kick-started the “cosmic” genre, a story form that would become Marvel’s stock-in-trade with such yarns as the Kree-Skrull War, the Thanos Saga, Adam Warlock Vs.The Universal Church of Truth, the Dark Phoenix Saga, and many others. But it was the Galactus Trilogy that was the first, and, in many ways, the best, a true watermark in the grand superhero myth.

Which brings me to the movie version.

I did not enjoy the FANTASTIC FOUR (2005), a considerably less-than-half-baked attempt to expand the Marvel Comics movie stable in the wake of the success of the first two SPIDER-MAN films, and went into the sequel expecting absolutely nothing, although it had to be a step up from the first film by virtue of its mere existence. But while the FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is an improvement over the first film, don’t forget that a gilded turd is still a turd and the few improvements are rendered utterly moot by a number of sour notes that sink the cosmic opera like it was the goddamned Bismark.

The new film finds Reed Richards and Sue Storm about to tie the knot, but that plan gets the kibosh when Reed is more or less press-ganged/guilted into working for the military in tracking an incredibly fast UFO that causes strange environmental phenomena wherever it goes. By this point you pretty much know the rest thanks to the earlier recap of the original comics, but the film removes nearly all of the elements that made the story a classic, leaving little more than the Silver Surfer standing when the smoke clears.

I could go on for days about why I hated this film, but I’ll spare you that rant and break it down to concise points, both pro and con.


There are many, especially if you’re already a fan, so I’ll just hit the major ones:
  • IT’S A KIDDIE FILM. This film is aimed squarely at the little ones, and that artistic choice robs the story of all dramatic impact. The first two SPIDER-MAN films are a prime example of films that both kids and adults can enjoy, and the filmmakers would have been wise to take their lead, but such was not the case.
  • DOCTOR DOOM RETURNS AND SUCKS EVEN WORSE THIS TIME AROUND. Doctor Doom was handled incredibly poorly last time around, and his treatment somehow managed to degenerate even further. The guy playing him is a total non-entity, a complete void of presence that sucks all life from the movie whenever he's onscreen. There's none of Doom's personality evident at any point of the film, and if this guy's supposed to be the monarch of the European country Latveria, why does he sound like he just stepped off the Metro North commuter express from Fairfield? Even more annoying is when Doom manages to remove his trademark mask and wanders about looking just like the Emperor from the STAR WARS flicks (although, let's face it, Darth Vader owes a lot to Doctor Doom, so I guess turnabout is fair play). Seriously, Doom is a big fucking zero in this film and isn't even worth notice after he robs the Surfer of his powers and starts hanging ten in the sky over Siberia (don't ask).
  • ALL OF THE FF SUCK AND ARE MERELY CRIB NOTES VERSIONS OF THE CHARACTERS. Little of the rich characterization that made the FF classic characters is found here, the actors' performances coming off like the poor schlubs who are paid to don costumes and serve as whatever hero is needed for shopping mall appearances.
  • THE WEDDING OF SUE AND REED ADDS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO THE STORY. There's much made of the tension between Sue and Reed as their wedding looms since he's totally absorbed in his research, and she wants a fairy tale wedding. I don't know about you, but considering that the entire planet is about to be rendered lifeless by an approaching whatchamawhoozits, their personal issues are totally insignificant, so not only do the viewers not give a flying fuck about that bullshit, Sue and Reed come off like a pair of utterly self-absorbed shitheads.
  • DISCO REED RICHARDS. Following hot on the heels of SPIDER-MAN 3's execrable dance sequence, this film gives us a painful bit taking place during Reed's bachelor party — an event that the character would never have allowed to happen, as it would cut into his research time and he has no friends other than his teammates — in which we see Reed get his freak on and dance with a bunch of hot club bunnies, using his elastic body to dazzle onlookers and perform "cool" moves. I was appalled.
  • STUPID BITS INVOLVING SPEED AND TIME. When the Surfer shows up in NYC, Johnny takes off in hot pursuit (sorry) and in no time the two of them are in Washington, D.C., a distance I can totally buy the Surfer traversing in seconds, but not Johnny. And when the FF need a ride out of Siberia, Reed summons the Fantasticar, which makes the journey from Manhattan in about five minutes. Five minutes? From New York to fucking Siberia?
  • THE THING STILL LOOKS LIKE A HUGE HIGH-FIBER TURD IN SWEAT PANTS. Considering the incredible things that CGI has wrought in the past decade alone, to say nothing of what the top-level effects makeup artisans are capable of, there is absolutely no excuse for the Thing makeup. He looks like a "rear admiral," one of those super-solid doodies that stands up and salutes as it swirls down the bowl, and it's impossible for a turd to look heroic. Imposing in its sheer fecal horror, yes, but heroic? No fucking way. Ben should look like the bottom of a dried riverbed and while humanoid, his proportions are distinctly non-human with one eye is considerably larger than the other, a disconcerting image if ever there was one. The guy's a fucking monster, people, and he's supposed to be both hideous and frightening. The tragedy is that a beautiful soul exists trapped within that horrible body, and the version in the film is downright cuddly. Just what the world needs, a cuddly doo-doo man...
  • ANNOYING AND OBVIOUS PRODUCT PLACEMENT. There are numerous sightings of the Dos Equiis beer logo, and we find out that the Fantasticar is a Dodge, complete with the "ram tough" logo embossed onto the seats.
  • JOHNNY STEALS HIS SCHTICK FROM BOOSTER GOLD. Johnny is portrayed as an avaricious douche who thinks it would be a good idea for the FF to wear corporate logos on their uniforms and do endorsement deals for some extra scratch, exactly the kind of moves pulled by DC Comics hero Booster Gold. And while Johnny was always an attention-seeking dick, this was out of character.
  • WHAT WAS DONE TO GALACTUS SHOULD BE PUNISHABLE BY FEDERAL LAW. Galactus is a cosmic giant and a sentient being, so although he's sort of a force of nature he's also totally aware of his actions. The problem is that he doesn't give a fuck about the "lesser" life forms he wipes out, much like a blue whale doesn't stop for a second to consider the tiny organisms that filter through its baleen. The filmmakers have transformed Galactus on an enormous cloud — yes, you read that right — with no sentience, so while a natural disaster like a tsunami or a volcanic eruption may be scary, robbing Galactus of a face and voice renders the threat void of cosmic awesomeness and personality. I've read that the effects people claimed that there was simply no way to make a giant man look believable but that's a load of motherfucking horseshit, so to those effects men I say the following two words: TIME BANDITS. Oh, and a very firm "FUCK YOU!!!" to whoever it was who made this "creative" decision.
And the few good points:
  • THEY NAILED THE SURFER. I never cared for the Silver Surfer past his initial appearance — a story in which he actually served a purpose instead of being a whiny pussy-boy — but at least he was done the justice that his master was denied. Visually interesting, sleek and voiced by Laurence Fishburn, he's pretty damned cool.
  • JOHNNY DOES A “SUPER-SKRULL.” An idiotic plot twist that allows Johnny to switch powers with any other member of the FF if he touches them is put to good use when he absorbs all of their powers to take on the now cosmically-empowered Doctor Doom (even though it was clearly established that he would switch powers with someone else, rather than absorb said powers and still keep his flame abilities, but since no one appears to have edited the script why nit-pick?). Armed with all the powers of the Fantastic Four, Johnny becomes a stand-in for the Super-Skrull, a shape-shifting alien warrior who has gone toe-to-toe with not only the FF but Thor as well; Super-Skrull is a badassed motherfucker if ever there was one and the ass-kicking that Johnny hands to Doom is worthy of the big, green mofo.
  • BEST STAN LEE CAMEO EVER. Stan Lee, co-creator of the FF, shows up in a tux for the wedding of Sue and Reed, and when asked by the usher who he is he replies, "Oh, I'm Stan Lee. I'm on the list." The usher looks at him with disdain, says, "Nice try, buddy" and kicks him out on his ass. Priceless.
  • JESSICA ALBA IN HER FF JUMPSUIT. I know that Sue Storm is supposed to be the textbook example of a white chick, but Jessica Alba is very easy on the eyes, even in that terrible blonde wig. At last you can put that fake popcorn butter to good use, if ya know what I mean...
So the bottom line on FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is that if it were any more of a flat-out cocksucker, there would be a great big, hairy pair of balls bouncing off the film's theoretical chin. And if you don't believe me, check out James Belardinelli's scathing review for some vitriol that makes my opinion look like a puff piece.

Oh, and special mention should also be made of the trailer for UNDERDOG, the latest TV-to-film adaptation, the trailer for which makes it look like it could be the worst movie ever made. Track it down online and be prepared to know the true meaning of despair.

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