So now we come to the conclusion of our recap of the big budget sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. When we left off last week after a mostly actionless first half, the Fantastic Four had been called into action by General Hager to investigate the mysterious Silver Surfer and the huge boreholes he was leaving all over the planet. And at one such borehole, the newly resurrected Doctor Doom encountered the Surfer first hand.
So Johnny overhears Reed and Sue talking about giving up the celebrity life of the Fantastic Four and going off to live in obscurity somewhere. Right after comes (for me anyway) the hands-down stupidest scene in the movie. Reed gives a slide show in which he describes how he has been backtracking the Surfer’s movements and discovered a string of lifeless, sometimes shattered, worlds. Wherever the Surfer goes, eight days later, the world dies. And he illustrates with close-up pictures of the destruction.
I know it’s silly to talk about science in a comic-book movie, but I just can’t buy Reed being able to determine this eight-day timeline. There are too many reasons why I can’t buy it, and the last straw is the fact that, although Reed can somehow track the Surfer’s movements and events on the planets he visits with great precision, he somehow misses the gigantic freaking world-devouring cloud following him around?
Anyway, Sue and Reed figure out the pattern behind the boreholes so that they can show up to try to prevent the next one, in the middle of the Thames in London. Johnny intends to take the fight to the Surfer, but when the borehole opens up, it causes an earth tremor, and next thing you know, the FF’s new mission is to Save Ferris!
And like so much of this movie, this really looks like it takes inspiration from the comics. Reed looks just like Kirby would have drawn him, while Sue takes inspiration from John Byrne’s revamp of the character, able to use her force fields in much more versatile and interesting ways. And everybody’s working as a team, until the Surfer appears, and Johnny–eager for payback– takes off after him and accidentally touches Reed. They swap powers, and the Ferris rescue is suddenly in jeopardy.
But they pull it off, barely. Which is when General Hager decides to bring in an expert consultant: Doom, now completely cured of his metal acne. Doom shows them a video of his encounter with the Surfer, which shows that he draws his power from the board.
Reed sets to work trying to figure out how to separate the Surfer and his board, and has a brainstorm after a neckrub from Sue. He and Doom set about designing a tachyon pulse doohickey. That is, Reed designs it and Doom designs a gimmick to override it.
Then we get an interlude between Johnny Storm and one of General Hager’s aides, the lovely Captain Frankie Raye. And this is such a complicated meta-circular in-joke that I hesitate to describe it, but here you go: in the comics, Frankie Raye was Johnny’s girlfriend during John Byrne’s run, who ended up pulling a Norrin Radd and volunteering for the Silver Surfer’s old job in exchange for the Earth’s safety. She then became a sort-of uber-Human Torch calling herself Nova.
So now off to the Black Forest to trap the Surfer. The four heroes head off in four directions to set up their tachyon doohickeys, but before Sue can activate hers, the Surfer appears and effortlessly penetrates her force field. And wow, do they go crazy with the reflections on his shiny skin.
He tells Sue that he is not the Destroyer, but before he can explain further, the Army attacks (goaded by Doom), and we finally get to see the Surfer in action!
For less than a minute, and then Sue activates her tachyon deal and the Surfer drops. And then, for reasons that are never explained, they hustle the Surfer off to a remote base in Siberia (because the Russians are so cooperative with the U.S. Army that way). The FF are locked in a room while an interrogator (a.k.a. torturer) from the CIA or something works on the Surfer. And it feels like this is some sort of attempt at relevancy in the wake of the revelations about secret CIA prisons and waterboarding, but seriously Tim Story? You left any hope of relevancy behind with the ludicrous “eight days later, the world dies” scene, so keep your cartoon politics to yourself, mm’kay?
Anyway, while the torturer pauses to have a sandwich or something, Sue sneaks in to talk to the Surfer who, being separated from his board, is no longer fabulous, and is now a dull matte black. He doesn’t look half as disturbing as she does, though, with her blue contacts and her heavy, heavy eyeliner (and fake eyelashes maybe?). Weirdest of all, the bright lights on set have caused her pupils to contract, so now her eyes are blue and brown.
She asks the Surfer about that “Destroyer” thing he mentioned. In answer, he fires up a Powerpoint presentation on his tummy.
OMG, he’s a Teletubby, y’all! He says the planet destroyer is named Galactus and whatever. Meanwhile, Doom is taken to study the board, which he promptly steals, giving him the cosmic power to turn the General into an obsidian statue or something.
Cool effect, but seriously, WTF? So now it’s up to the FF to take the board back from Doctor Doom and give it to the Surfer so that he can stop Galactus. How exactly is the Surfer strong enough to beat Galactus? Don’t ask. Not addressed.
But how will our heroes catch the Surfin’ Doom? Why, in the Fantasticar, of course, summoned from halfway around the world by Reed’s Nokia phone. Taking inspiration from the original Fantasticar designed by Kirby in the early days of the comic (it can split into multiple independent sections when necessary), it is also the most blatant product placement in the movie.
Look closely at the seats; that’s the Dodge Ram logo on there. Because Dodge is so famous for their aircraft engines (actually, Dodge did manufacture aircraft engines during WWII, but we’re talking now-ish).
They catch up to Doom in China somewhere and have a mid-air confrontation.
It doesn’t turn out well: Doom flings them away with a tornado and causes them to crash in Shanghai. Then he tries to kill the Surfer and mortally wounds Sue instead.
Our heroes figure out that they need all of their powers to beat Doom, but they can’t bring them all to bear at once. So Johnny offers to absorb them all, which they do by means of a familiar gesture.
This is a callback to the very first Fantastic Four story, which featured the four doing this very same “Go, team!” gesture when they first decided to use their powers to help mankind.
So now comes the big climactic fight between Johnny, wielding the combined powers of the Fantastic Four, and Doctor Doom, wielding the stolen power of the Silver Surfer! Wicked cool, right?
And not only cool, but a tribute to the comics, as well. Doctor Doom did steal the Silver Surfer’s powers in one memorable storyline, while Johnny’s condition calls to mind the villainous Super Skrull, who could copy the powers of all the Fantastic Four.
But because Doom isn’t the main antagonist, he gets dispensed with pretty quickly here. Less than two minutes after Johnny absorbs everyone’s powers, Doom has lost his board and been knocked into the harbor.
So finally, after reviving and healing Sue, the Silver Surfer flies up to face Galactus, with a boost from Johnny.
I gotta say, I really like the way they interpreted the Torch in these movies. I have plenty of problems with the two films, but the Torch is not one of them.
And now we finally get to see the Surfer confront Galactus. And the film’s depiction of Galactus has gotten a lot of flack, but I think they did okay with it. Because on the one hand, the big guy with the giant purple helmet would be really hard to pull off. And the giant planet-destroying cloud is actually pretty intimidating.
But then you also get this image within the cloud, which clearly evokes the classic Kirby look.
Were they trying to have it both ways? Sure. But I don’t mind that nearly as much as the idea that the Surfer can just go BOOM and kill his master instantly. Which is what happens.
So the world is saved and all is well. Except that Reed and Sue still have to get married. But instead of going back to the media circus of New York, they stop off in Japan to have a small ceremony, and holy God, what the hell is she wearing?
It’s like the entire movie they keep trying to top themselves with how weird they can make Jessica Alba look. The film ends with a new variation on the FF signal flare shot that ended the first film, now made by the sections of the Fantasticar flying separately.
And that’s it. I have really mixed feelings about the film. Because on the one hand, I think the film gets a lot right. I think the light comic tone works well in the first half. I like the characters. Ben and Johnny especially seem like they have stepped right off the pages onto the screen, and it’s obvious that the creators love the source material.
But there are some big problems, too. The film is simultaneously too big and too small. Which is to say, there’s a lot packed into that second half–the Ferris Wheel rescue, the Surfer capture, the fight with Doom, the fight with Galactus. But at the same time, the action sequences are super brief–to save both time and money–and feel very underdeveloped.
Add to that the rampant stupidity and tiresome descent into real world politics just long enough to cause a serious eye roll, and you end up with a strangely uneven film. Not bad, but not good enough to make the franchise worth continuing. And now that Chris Evans is starring as Captain America in The Avengers, you’ll never see him come back as Johnny Storm again. The Fantastic Four may return to the screen someday, but who knows when that will be?