12/1/07

R049 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

(2007, Action-Superheroes, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

Galactus: Gradual Approacher of Worlds

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

The eponymous superheroes must stop an alien cloud from destroying the Earth.

Summary:

That board's about to decapitate Ben and Sue.You remember the Fantastic Four, don’t you? That superhero family of disparate, conflicting personalities who managed to learn to accept their abilities and work together to defeat the childhood enemy of their leader. Wasn’t it great when Mr. Fantastic hid from Dr. Doom’s probe behind the waterfall, but was captured eventually anyway, and then his wife and kids had to infiltrate the island to break him out and save their home from that giant robot...

No wait; that was a different, better film. The Fantastic Four is the superhero team whose members spent most of their cinematic debut hanging around in an apartment and bickering. Why anyone would want to make a sequel to that steaming turd is beyond me, but at least they get out of the house occasionally in this one.

We start off with silly wedding antics, as the nuptials of Reed Richards (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic) and Sue Storm (a.k.a. The Invisible Girl, played by Jessica Alba) are interrupted both by a media circus and a condescending general. The media just want to sell news and photos of the super-powered celebrities. The general’s needs are more complex. Some kind of alien force has been digging enormous holes and freezing lakes all over the world, and he wants Reed to build some kind of Alien-Lake-Freezer-And-Enormous-Hole-Digger-Finding-Out device. Reed does this with minimal difficulty, but the act of tracking the above-described entity also draws its attention. A silvery interloper buzzes the rooftop wedding vows, knocking aircraft from the sky and burning out the tracking device.

Johnny (a.k.a. The Human Torch) flies off to give chase, and is eventually caught by the alien, a nude, silver fellow on a flying surfboard. His energy scrambles Johnny’s powers so that every time he touches a fellow team member, he switches abilities with them, as discovered in the scene where Sue burns off all her clothes, thus fulfilling the movie’s statutorily required Jessica Alba nude scene. Reed uses the coordinates of the previous enormous holes to calculate the location of the next one; the middle of the Thames in the heart of London.

They head out to intercept him, but the surfer’s arrival causes an enormous Ferris wheel to fall; they spend their time rescuing the tourists and miss their opportunity to catch him. This annoys the general to no end (apparently they should have abandoned the tourists to their deaths). He calls in another expert, whom you may remember from the previous film...

Of course Victor Von Doom survived the last movie, but remained scarred and metallic. He has used his own scientific prowess to track the surfer to one of his holes and ask for his help to take over the world. The surfer refuses with the portentous, “All that you know... is at an end.” He moves Doom out of the way with a blast of cosmic energy. Somehow, this heals Doom to pre-metallic status. Doom takes the footage of the encounter to the military in exchange for favors not yet named.

I smolder with generic angst.Ben Grimm (a.k.a. The Thing, played by Michael Chiklis) in particular isn’t happy about it, but they agree to work with Doom to bring the surfer down. From Doom’s footage, they determine that the board is the source of the surfer’s power. Reed builds a device to separate him from it, which they put into practice at the next enormous hole target area. During his capture, the surfer tells Sue that someone else is coming soon to destroy the planet. Reed and Sue would like to know more, but the army takes over at this point, sequestering everyone involved at a remote base in Siberia.

Sue sneaks into the interrogation room during a torture break, and the surfer narrates his backstory over a video presentation that emanates from his torso. He works for a giant, alien cloud that eats planets, known as Galactus, because his service protects his home world from a gruesome fate. The silver board is the beacon that draws his master to each new world.

Meanwhile, Victor demands payment—namely, a chance to study the silver board. Of course he’s figured out a way to harness the board’s power for himself. He kills the general and takes off with it. The Fantastic Four rescue the surfer and head off in pursuit. The subsequent battle destroys the Great Wall of China and ends when the Four crash into an unnamed Chinese city. Doom skewers Sue with a cosmic javelin. Having determined that none of them can defeat Doom on their own, the other three use Johnny’s previously established ability to switch and absorb powers to give all their abilities to him. Johnny flies up to separate Doom from the board. Touched by Sue’s sacrifice, the surfer takes back his board and uses its cosmic power to resurrect her. Then he flies into space to destroy Galactus. Why he didn’t do this before the movie began is anyone’s guess.

In the epilogue, Reed and Sue have a quickie Chinese wedding and then run off to save Venice. From what? Who knows? Oh, and the Silver Surfer survives the Galactus-destroying blast, and flies off into space.

Thoughts:

You'd tell me if this hat made me look stupid, wouldn't you?Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer works better than its precursor, but that’s not high praise. It’s a whole lot better at keeping the plot rolling, but characters are still petty juveniles who do stupid things for no reason beyond “the script told me to,” and several gaping plot holes will make you sit back and say, “Huh?” There are three in particular that hurt my brain.

First: The power transfer thing. They established early on that when Johnny touches the other team members, he trades powers with him. So why, when he touches all three at once, does he get to take all their powers and keep his own? (I’d ask why Sue’s clothes burn off when everyone else’s seems to be fireproof, but the answer to that is depressingly obvious.)

Second: The Silver Surfer can destroy Galactus? And he’s really a good guy depressed at his role in the destruction of an undefined number of worlds? Then why the $@!! didn’t he work himself up to kill the vaporous $!%&* eons ago, sparing the earth and perhaps billy-yuns and billy-yuns of previous inhabited planets? The Silver Surfer, ladies and gentlemen: body by Doug Jones, voice by Laurence Fishburne, decisive qualities by Hamlet.

Third: Galactus as a giant, planet-eating cloud? Guys, the movie’s marketable because the entire friggin’ audience for this turkey is already familiar with the property. At least eighty to ninety percent of the people walking into the theater already know that Galactus is a mountain-sized spaceman in a stupid-looking hat. Yes, I know it’s silly, but I submit to you that it is not any sillier than a flying, chrome-plated body-builder on a nigh-omnipotent surfboard. You might as well make a version of Superman where he fights a hyper-intelligent dust devil named Lex Luthor. Or a version of Batman in which the caped crusader battles a malevolent can of Joker-brand root beer. Or a version of Transformers where Megatron turns into an airplane instead of a gun, making him virtually indistinguishable from Starscream... wait...

This stupid, irritating piece of celluloid is rescued somewhat by Mike, Kevin, and Bill. When Galactus destroys on an obviously digital planet during the opening credits, Mike intones, “A long time ago, on a hard drive far, far away...” As the hooded and disfigured Doom sits on his throne, watching the Silver Surfer’s progress on an array of monitors, Bill says, “The Emperor seeks out the Next Top Sith.” During the final battle, Kevin takes in the scenery and says, “The China set feels about as authentic as Panda Express.” I can recommend the Rifftrax/film combo as a whole for the decent action-based pacing and the funny riffing, but certain elements of film still bug the hell out of me.