Rise of the Silver Surfer, the sequel to 2005’s enjoyable Fantastic Four, is a great example of the movie world recreating the simple joys of comics on the big screen…
I don’t want all my superhero films to be like this but the Fantastic Four saga has developed such a likable niche. In the comic-book-to-movie business, whether it be Marvel, DC, or graphic novels and the rest, there’s room for complicated origins stories seeped in tragedy and inner turmoil just as there is space for those that get turned into great big walking boulders who don’t give a damn and shout “it’s clobbering time”.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer carries on where the first film left off, continuing the lightweight, knockabout fun of the foursome’s first outing. Made up of Mister Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), the Human Torch (Chris Evans), and the Thing (Michael Chiklis), this group of scientists and astronauts have become major celebrities as their extraordinary powers have sparked the attentions of the wider public following their run-in with megalomaniac Doctor Doom. Now, a new threat emerges in the shape of the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne), who plans to destroy all life on earth unless the Fantastic Four can stop him. However, Doctor Doom has unwittingly been released from his prison and joins forces with the Fantastic Four to help them defeat this new nemesis. But can he be trusted and is there a more deadly force hiding behind the Silver Surfer?
The film is so enjoyable because it doesn’t over complicate things. It is a criticism you could throw at some of the other comic-book adaptations such as The Avengers or X-Men. The most interesting aspects of superheroes and super-villains might not be lavish action sequences full of spectacular special-effects, catchphrases and clichéd romances; sometimes stripping away the backdrop to reveal only the basics provides a lean, uncluttered narrative that titillates the most basic emotions. In short, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is fun, plain and simple.
The film doesn’t have the depth seen in, for example, the Iron Man saga or The Amazing Spider-Man. It also treads on much lighter ground, steering clear of deeper moral issues, the sort that plague characters like Batman. But what the film does well is translate the most simplistic pleasures of the comic-books to the big screen. The highlight is certainly the internal bickering between the foursome, the Human Torch wallowing in their newfound celebrity brings conflict between the group as Mister Fantastic prefers to keep his life low-key while courting the Invisible Woman. Indeed, the romantic element is neatly told by director Tim Story who keeps it satisfyingly cartoonish. For instance, there’s a good running joke about the pair’s wedding being interrupted by villainous acts getting in the way.
Director Story counterbalances the levity with a couple of good villains – Silver Surfer might suffer from special-effects that look like they were borrowed from the 1990s (his liquid-metal skin reminding me of Robert Patrick’s bad-guy Terminator in T2) but Laurence Fishburne’s bass-pounding baritone, the voice of the villain, is strangely dreamlike in its notions of menace and calm destruction. Doctor Doom is less complicated, feeding off megalomania seemingly so typical, but his straightforward determination to rule the world fits perfectly with the simple pleasures of the Fantastic Four saga.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a dish that serves simple pleasures. Where other comic-book-to-movie adaptations may have tried to do too much with character or plot, possibly trying to please everyone from aficionados to the casual action-fantasy fan, the Fantastic Four saga is happier keeping the tone light, the characters one-dimensional, and the conflict direct and uncluttered. It would be easy to dismiss this superhero adventure, which is an upgrade on 2005’s enjoyable original, as featherweight and throwaway. But that would do a disservice to a film that knowingly sidesteps the baggage in favour of fun and frivolity. It maybe a superhero movie for less demanding audiences; a category I must consider myself in, on this evidence.