It doesn’t suck.
Or maybe I went into the theater with such low expectations that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as my imagination had concocted.
I’ll confess right off the bat that I’ve only marginally been exposed to comic books and graphic novels. Just this week, in fact, I asked some fanboy friends to help me remedy this glaring oversight in my pop culture education. That said, I’ve enjoyed plenty of comic-to-screen adaptations, but have never been able to muster the slightest interest in The Fantastic Four. Of all the Marvel franchises, the Four seem the hokiest, the most dated, frankly the most ridiculous superheroes out there.
Despite being pretty by-the-numbers superhero stuff, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” is indeed better than its predecessor and may be (gulp) better than “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” its summer blockbusters forerunners (I know, that’s not saying much). But if you get to the theater and discover you’ve made a big mistake, don’t lose heart. “Surfer” is mercifully short — not even an hour and a half long.
Unlike some movies, “Surfer’s” plot can be summed up in just a few words: The Silver Surfer, a servant of the evil, planet-gobbling Galactus arrives on Earth to prep it for destruction just as two of our heroes are finally getting hitched and dreaming about embarking on a “normal life.” Needless to say they drop everything to save the planet, are forced to align themselves with their old nemesis, Dr. Doom, and discover that the Surfer may not be the monster they think him to be — in fact, he just may be their salvation.
The simple plot may actually work in “Surfer’s” favor. The film completely lacks any sort of pretentious philosophical subtext which, when done right elevates the typical comic adaptation but when mishandled, sinks it. Instead, “Surfer” just aims to be a crowd-pleaser. This unfortunately means that the story is clunky (the coming global apocalypse doesn’t seem to really phase anyone) and the Saturday-morning-cartoon dialogue is completely banal and juvenile.
However, if you are one of those rabid-at-the-mouth fans who doesn’t care about any of this and just wants me to cut to the chase and get straight to the Silver Surfer, I can completely put your mind at ease — he is, well, fantastic. He soars through space, carving through the atmosphere with digitally rendered finesse and grace. A fully CG character, the Surfer is completely believable at every moment, a true digital marvel. Alas, the rumors about his master, Galactus’, shall we say, non-corporeal nature, are all true, but that doesn’t mean that he too doesn’t come off as breathtaking and terrifying. Weta, the team of digital artists behind "The Lord of the Rings," have once again outdone themselves. Sadly, the rest of the effects, doubtless farmed out to other houses are a mixed bag, lacking the sort of seamless integration that one would assume to be pretty standard fare by now.
In fact, the Surfer comes off so well that the Fab Four are completely uninteresting next to him. Despite the fact that we are supposed to be excited for Reed (Ioan “I prefer to remember you as Hornblower” Gruffudd) and Sue’s (Jessica “haaawt” Alba) wedding, or concerned about narcissistic Johnny’s temperamental powers, their characters are dull, lifeless, and without spark. This is the Surfer’s movie and even they seem to know it.
For the next film they should just kill off Mr. Fantastic and his pals and let the Surfer carry the show. That film I might actually want to see.