Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book
by Jordan Raphael
(Hardcover from Amazon)
"Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"
This series' greatest strength is its greatest weakness. Stan Lee and his Marvel Comics creative teams apparently understood that not all superheroes needed to be or even should be stressed loners, say, like Batman or, increasingly, Superman and Spider-Man. The "Fantastic Four" seems to be designed with a family-friendly coziness at its core, to appeal to a gentler, less testosteronic comfort level. So we have these four nerds who happen to have different but complimentary capabilities who act as a family unit.
As things open up, in fact, the big thing on Sue Storm's (Jessica Alba) gorgeous mind is her marriage to cohort Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), a gentle high level scientist with the ability to stretch a point as well a limb to any disproportionate degree needed, giving him the moniker of Mr. Fantastic (which also speaks to his central role). Colleagues Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) who, as the Human Torch, can ignite himself and burn up the heavens; and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the physical heavy of the bunch with the armor plating of an armadillo, are doing their appropriate best to be supportive of the upcoming nuptuals and their key roles in it.
But something isn't as it should be on planet earth. There's something destructive occurring in different quadrants of the earth's surface -- an incoming comet stirring up a wake of damaging storms that make Katrina look like a minor shower.
Reed's distraction and scientific work on the phenomema is all too apparent to Sue, aka the Invisible Woman, who all too femininely, sees it as yet another doubt about her future husband's true desire. But if the planetary phenomenon isn't destructive enough to get her on a superhero wavelength, the appearance of surly, demanding General Hager (Andre Braugher) demanding scientist Reed's full attention to a threat of global proportions gets it.
Still, as Reed sets up sensors to locate the source of the meteorological anomalies, the big, fab, celebrity wedding on the roof of a posh hotel goes forward. It's a sunny, fab day with sparkling buildings and blue sky. The bride is nothing less that sensational looking, the groom handsome and snappy as a store model. As though this marriage was going to be pulled off with perfect harmony.
It turns out that Reed's sensors has brought the perpetrator to his doorstep which, at the moment, is the wedding assemblage. Pulsing with energy, this magnetronic freak who has no use for gravity, puts Reed's sensors out in an instant (apparently not liking the limelight either) and just about ruins the wedding. What is this mettalic thing flying through space? Johnny ingnites up and gives chace to the creepy vandal to find out what and who the stranger being so cavalier with our world is.
No match for the superior power of the intruder, he manages to confront it, and it turns out to be a mercurial mold of a man, slender, perfectly muscled and statuesque (Doug Jones), whose few words are spoken in a sad, basso profundo voice (Laurence Fishburne's) --a startling new image in the pantheon of super-antagonists. What he's doing here is preparing Earth for total energy transference to Galactus, his home world, something it depends on for survival and which guarantees the host planet complete annihilation.
After Johnny brands this enigmatic figure "Silver Surfer," the team learns what mighty power is all about and, just when they figure out that the surfer itself derives power from the boogie board on which it rides, General Hager raises the stakes by bringing in a new expert. Turns out to be the viciously evil Victor Von Doom (Julian MacMahon), the quartet's more earthbound nemesis whom they thought they had left for dead in a glacier. Doom professes his intention to help contain this threat but what he's really after is the power of the board and he's more than willing to trade the planet for it, even if it means a short term lease on the property.
All of which makes for a engaging yarn with a group of iconic figures brewed up for the comic pages and showing some personality behind the established stereotypes. Least interesting and little more than a stock character is Chiklis' fourth banana role who is used mostly to bolster a few corny jokes.
Evans character is better defined than in the original; Gruffudd seems to take the dominant role of superbrain with a bit more authority in this encounter; and Alba can't be better photographed for the bounty of her beauty. Director of Photography Larry Blanford gives her every advantage, little of which seems needed with such natural gifts. McMahon shows some deliciousness in the way he takes over the screen with such malevolence of soul.
The Silver Surfer is a smashing competitor for sci-fi superhumanity's most dynamic concepts and writer Don Payne and Mark Frost make much out of it with a story on a sweeping interplanetary scale that generates the best shots the Fantastic Four can come up with. Which may amount to a rich payoff from that demographic that'll connect with it either because of the nerdville factor or despite it. Director Tim Story keeps it moving and consistent.
If it seems that I got more out of the adventure than many of my critical colleagues, it's because I did. You could call it all nonsense, but it's a supercharged slice of nonsense with enough logical plausibility in the central vision to keep the entertainment afterburners energized.
~~ Jules Brenner