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Let's start out by being completely frank: I like comic book movies. Some critics seem to think that any film with a Marvel logo at the beginning is part and parcel of the decay of contemporary cinema, but I disagree. Perhaps this is partially due to my childhood obsessions with titles like X-Men, Alpha Flight, and The New Mutants, but the fact remains that many modern-day films based on comic books are actually quite good. The most obvious case in favor of illustrated icons being adapted to the big screen can be made with the X-Men series of films, at least the installments with Bryan Singer at the helm, anyway. Spider-Man and its sequels have been both popular and critical successes, although the franchise seems to be wearing a bit thin with the third and most recent entry in the series. Ghost Rider was also a big hit, and while Daredevil and The Punisher kind of sucked, it was undeniably cool to see those iconic characters given their theatrical due. Of course any discussion of comic book originals or film adaptations would be remiss without mentioning the Hollywood versions of The Fantastic 4.
Stan Lee's group of gamma ray-mutated superheroes were always on the campier side of the comic-book spectrum, having more in common with Spidey's pop culture-referencing, humor-laden storylines than the X-Men's hyper-serious, metaphorical plotlines. The same holds true for the F4 movies. The first film, 2005's Fantastic 4, was a silly but pleasurable origin story for the group's core of characters: Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch, The Invisible Woman, and The Thing. Rise of the Silver Surfer, the second of the F4 films, was helmed once again by the original's director, Tim Story, and is now available on a two-disc DVD set. This film keeps the lighthearted humor and sometimes (intentionally) cringe-inducing banter of Fantastic 4 intact, while supplying a wallop of special effects that surpasses those of the first. More importantly, an iconic character of the Marvel universe is introduced, a sort of Zen-like counter-culture figure, who also proves the folly of blindly following orders - the Silver Surfer.
The film begins with the Surfer arriving on Earth, intent on destroying the planet to feed his master, Galactus. The Surfer's descent to terra firma unfortunately coincides with the wedding of Reed Richards (the uptight Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (the sultry Jessica Alba). After the escapades of the first film, the 4 are now a team of celebrities, and they mostly seem to be eating up the attention, especially Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). After a stupidly appealing club sequence in which Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Reed dance, the latter using his stretching abilities to get literally "loose," the wedding is interrupted as the United States government enlists the Fantastic 4's help to rid the planet of the Silver Surfer's menacing presence. Of course, things aren't always what they seem. The Surfer isn't really such a bad guy, and Dr. Doom, once again played by Julian McMahon, is really helping out the government for his own nefarious reasons.
All of these plot details should really come as no surprise, but what makes it all work is the natural chemistry of the cast and the light, playful touch that director Story uses in putting it all together. Spectacular set pieces reproduce everything from Greenland to China to Germany's Black Forest, and as mentioned before, the special effects are stupendous. Still, Story resorts to campy swish-pans in scenes where the four main characters are relaying crucial dialogue, creating a sense of delirious urgency about issues like Johnny's "unstable molecules." Huh? It doesn't really matter, because in the comic-book world of the Fantastic 4, it's not so much the minor details that are sweat, but rather the ability to entertain with tongue planted firmly in cheek, without ever crossing into the land of utter stupidity. This Fantastic 4 franchise - and there will surely be more installments to come - is consistently saved by its insistence on keeping things as far away from serious as possible with a knowing wink and smile, something Spider-Man 3 attempted but failed to accomplish the moment that Peter Parker strutted down the street to the Bee Gees.
Bonus materials included with the DVD release of Rise of the Silver Surfer consist of several featurettes, most notably a 45-minute "Making Of" documentary detailing the pre-production and shooting of the film. A bunch of deleted scenes are also available for viewing with optional commentary from Tim Story, as well as a feature-length commentary from Story and one from the producer, writer, and editors. SEE ALSO: www.f4ssdvd.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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