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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Story’

Step back in time with me, back, back, beyond the borders of the familiar world we know and understand, back to a strange new realm of different priorities and peculiar truths. Let the comforting certainties of the 2010s tumble away as we are whisked back to a place and a time undreamed of. I cannot guarantee your safety, but the wonders you will see will be their own reward.

Well, probably not, as we’re only going back to 2007, the year which gave the world the third Pirates of the Caribbean film (gee, thanks) and the first Transformers (you know, you really honestly shouldn’t have bothered). So far, so exactly the same, you may be thinking – and up to a point you may be right. Nevertheless, as inhabitants of a world which has grown accustomed to Marvel superhero movies crossing over with each other and making $1.2 billion in record time, this is in some ways an odd year for us.

Marvel Studios is, as yet, still only an untried name without a single blockbuster hit to its credit. Marvel comics characters are still being leased out to other studios, such as the makers of the X-Men and Spider-Man series. Both of these have had critical wobbles recently. This is as nothing, however, to the mauling doled out to Tim Story’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a further movie based on the seminal comic, starring… hang on, isn’t that the guy out of The Avengers?

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Yes, it’s time for another round of Is It Really As Bad As All That? Let us examine the case for the prosecution: a quick sampling of internet opinion reveals Rise of the Silver Surfer to be ‘an awful, tedious drudge’, a ‘tedious, incoherent bore’, ‘relentlessly dull’, ‘existentially and aesthetically unnecessary’, a ‘plotless, brainless, witless bore’, and ‘drearier than corn dying in the Iowa sun’. Yowser. (Even so, many people, even while sticking it to this movie, cheerfully acknowledged it was much better than the original film).

Hmmm. As the movie opens, our elementally-powered quartet (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis) are getting on with their lives as celebrity superheroes. Top of the current agenda is Reed and Sue’s impeding wedding, plans for which keep getting disrupted by international crises, invasions from the Negative Zone, paparazzi, etc, etc. However, an equally serious problem appears with the arrival on Earth of a mysterious blob of space energy, which criss-crosses the globe causing all sorts of strange CGI effects shots. The space energy also wakes up the dormant Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) in his Latverian castle, no doubt causing a ripple of apprehension on the audience’s part: not because he’s a terrifying villain, but because the handling of the character was so fundamentally botched in the first movie.

The US Army insists that Mr Fantastic do his bit in tracking the intruder from space, though juggling this with the wedding arrangements is a challenge even for a man with rubber fingers. Nevertheless, both projects proceed apace and come to fruition at the same moment. It’s just the rottenest of luck that the space blob objects to being tracked and crashes the wedding to fry Reed’s  gear, transforming into a silver dude on a surfboard in the process (the reasons for this are never really dwelt upon, but as Jack Kirby’s reasoning behind the character’s look basically boiled down to ‘I’m bored of drawing spaceships’, you can kind of understand why).

It eventually transpires that the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne) is the advance scout for a world-devouring alien superbeing, Galactus, who is already en route to Earth. The Four have to persuade the Surfer to help them repel this threat, always assuming they can put to one side Reed and Sue’s romantic issues. And a problem the Torch has picked up where he keeps swapping powers with the others. Oh, and Doctor Doom quite fancies getting his gauntleted hands on the Surfer’s power, too…

Now, I quite liked the 2005 movie about these characters. While it made a right royal mess of one of comics’ greatest heavies by completely reimagining Doom’s background and powers, it was pacy, looked good, and got at least half of the feel of the Fantastic Four comics pretty much bang-on. By this I mean that the book itself gains much of its flavour and entertainment value from the sparks generated when a tongue-in-cheek family sitcom rubs up against grandiose cosmic spectacle and psychedelic weirdness. The first film got the sitcom right but fluffed the spectacle.

If there’s a real problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer, it’s that this time the situation is reversed. In this film the globe-trotting adventure is well-mounted, with some really effective sequences – the Torch’s aerial pursuit of the Surfer through New York City being just about precisely what you’d want to see in a Fantastic Four movie – but the character interaction and comedy is, for the most part, completely inert when it isn’t actually slightly painful to watch. An authentic Fantastic Four movie would be much sharper, more intelligent, and – crucially – much funnier than this one ever manages to be. Family-friendly it may be, but it’s the enemy of your grey cells.

That said, it’s not actually as boring as its critics seem to think – the story rattles along pacily enough courtesy of the multi-stranded plot and does its best to tick as many demographic boxes as it can – knockabout action for the kids, so-so jokes for the adults, comics in-jokes for the fanboys and some tasteful T&A from Jessica Alba for the benefit of internet film bloggers. It just never quite convinces as a serious movie, mainly because of the jokey tone of the opening. At one point there’s a sequence about the US Army torturing the captive Surfer for information, which in a darker film might have been quite effective – but here, it just seems incongruous and a real misjudgement.

I suppose Julian McMahon was already under contract as Doom, so they had to put him in the movie, and you can see the logic behind having a go at adapting the classic story from issues #57-60 where Doom usurps the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, but once again the good Doctor is one of the weak points of the film. Neither script nor performance ever really come close to doing Doctor Doom justice, although – once again – the final tussle between him and a rather Super-Skrull-esque Human Torch ticks all the right boxes in terms of property damage and digital virtuosity.

But then that really feels like this movie all over – the production values are excellent, the story (just about) hangs together, and the actors playing the title roles have nothing to be ashamed of. (Nevertheless, the toxic wake of this film seems to have effectively destroyed Ioan Gruffudd’s career as a leading man in major movies.) It’s just that the characters seem to have no depth and interact with each other in the most mechanical way, which is bad news for drama, but absolutely grim tidings for anything with ambitions to be light and/or amusing. The main problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer is not that it doesn’t work as a superhero movie, but that it fails as a comedy and a drama.

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