Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fantastic Four: "Rise of the Silver Surfer" Movie Review, by a Cosmic Old Comic Book Fan

This post of mine was recently featured on Gather Essentials: Movies, so I thought I'd crosspost it here.

The second chapter of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four franchise introduces movie audiences to the Silver Surfer, an iconic hero from the "silver age" of comics (1955-1970, according to Pat, at the great Silver Age Comics blog). The ads for the movie often seem to promote the Surfer more than the Fantastic Four (or "FF," for the rest of this review), with good reason. The story is a grand retelling of his first appearance, and his origin.

With relatively few lines, but lots of action, the Surfer stole the show. I'm biased, but I thought his acting was among the best in the movie. The character was "played," with heavy CGI, by Doug Jones, with the voice done by Lawrence Fishburne. The effect was stunning, and his scenes were much more dramatic than the "slapstick" mood of many of the FF's. I smell a spinoff in the making.

Of course, this was the route that the Surfer took back in the late '60's, getting his own comic book series shortly after his debut in the pages of the FF. This parallels the spinoff of Electra from the Daredevil franchise, both in comics and movies. The interesting thing is that neither Electra or the Surfer comic series lasted very long, in their first incarnations. Because both characters were critically acclaimed, and immensely popular with comic book fans, they have both had resurgences over time, and longer-running series. Hence, their translation into movie "stars" is understandable.

The storyline of the movie combines elements from different FF stories, including the wedding of Reed and Sue, as shown in the trailers and commercials, so I'm not spoiling anything. I just want to point out that at their wedding in the original comic, all of their super-hero friends were there. They could have had Prof. Xavier in attendence, and maybe Peter Parker could have been there, taking press photos, in the movie. If Stan Lee gets a cameo, why can't some of his other super-hero creations?

I also got a sense of "rushing" the storyline, similar to the first FF movie. I understand the need to change the story somewhat in a movie adaption. This is still a classic story, though, and sometimes it doesn't quite come off as such on the screen. Again, that's a 45 year old comic fan's bias. I was amused by the comedic interplay between the FF, because that was an essential part of the comic book. Still, I don't think we'd see Sue Storm naked in public in any FF comic book from the 1960's (not that I'm complaining, mind you).

The movie is entertaining, and should be popular with wider audiences than "comic book fans." I would recommend it for the effects alone, but there's more to it than that. these are effects based on ideas from 40 years ago, updated, and finally able to be done right on film. The super powered gags are tied in to the ability to make it look realistic, to an acceptable degree. In this they succeed, in spite of some wooden acting (I won't name names; decide for yourself).

I have one final complaint, which applies to the first movie as well: the final battle scene was way to short, and way too simply ended. I don't know whether it was done to "leave us wanting more," but it echoes my earlier concerns about "the need to change the story somewhat." Signifigant storylines picked up from the last movie remain unexplained, probably awaiting the "Dr. Doom" spinoff.

All criticism notwithstanding, I still recommend this movie for parents to share with their kids, because of the great characters it introduces. I don't just mean the Silver Surfer, but his master, the planet-devouring Galactus. (I'm looking forward to seeing his classic clash with Ego, the Living Planet in future FF or Surfer movies-oops, there's the comic fan again!) Marvel Comics has one of the richest collections of epic stories and iconic characters in the world. It is gratifying to see them "come to life" on the silver screen with images that surpass anything possible in the '60's or '70's cinema.

As Marvel spreads into the movie business, one can expect bombs and hits, but there will never be a shortage of old ideas to tap. They did a pretty good job with this one, and if it doesn't "have legs" at the box office, I hope that the Silver Surfer still gets a solo movie. He has been analyzed as everything from Jesus to Lucifer, with Galactus being God.

See the movie if you want to know why. As I said, Marvel has some awesome and epic stories to tell.

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