Why Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Is a Good Sequel - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Why Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Is a Good Sequel

Marvel’s “First Family” has never received a cinematic adaptation worthy of the characters’ storied history on the pages. The infamous low-budget Roger Corman film from 1994 was produced purely to ensure that Constantin Film could retain the rights, and was never officially released; the film has only ever been available through bootleg distributors. After 20th Century Fox finally managed to snag the rights to the next adaptation, the reboot went through a chaotic development process. Such eclectic names as Christopher Coloumbus, Peyton Reed, and Sean Astin were all in talks at one point or another.

The Fantastic Four film that finally did hit theaters in 2005 from director Tim Story was a massive disappointment, and distinctly out of touch compared to the recent advances in Marvel adaptations with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and Bryan Singer’s X-Men saga. Marvel’s pro-science team of heroes trotted through a melodramatic rom-com that focused more on celebrity culture than it did action, intrigue, or science fiction. Worst of all, Fantastic Four was painfully dull; most of the 106 minutes are spent explaining how each of the heroes’ powers work through awkward comedy beats, only uniting them for an underwhelming final set piece where the comically silly Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) is dispatched in a matter of minutes.

The 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer debuted to disappointing box office returns and critical reception halted plans for a third installment and Silver Surfer spin-off. Although the reception was nearly identical, Rise of the Silver Surfer made many improvements upon its predecessor. The story was tighter, the characters that worked were given more pivotal roles, and the gleeful comic idiocy was a vast improvement over the dull love story that dominated the first film. While certainly not the definitive depiction of the beloved characters, Rise of the Silver Surfer is a legitimate case where the filmmaker and studio attempted to rectify their past mistakes.

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Even the most venomous critics of the first film tended to agree that Chris Evans’s Johnny Storm and Michael Chicklis’s Ben Grimm had elevated the material. Evans was simply having a blast chewing the scenery as a literal hothead, and Chicklis brought a surprising sensitivity to The Thing despite the ridiculous makeup. Rise of the Silver Surfer benefits from giving both characters beefed-up roles. Johnny takes center stage in the early action encounters with the Silver Surfer, which temporarily grants him the ability to transfer his powers. While goofy, these scenes retain the fun banter between the characters that was central to Jack Kirby’s original books.

Chiklis was put in an unfortunate position in the first film; his attempts to explore the reality of Grimm’s body’s distortion were done so in earnest, but Chicklis was weighed down by the terrible makeup and forced altercations with Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba). In Rise of the Silver Surfer, Grimm is mostly now a joke machine, taking pictures with smiling kids and leaning into his public persona. Chiklis seemed to realize that his dramatic prowess was better saved for the final season of The Shield, and both he and Evans revel in the fun of being superheroes. Still, Grimm’s hoisting of the London Eye makes for a genuine moment of heroism where he earns the popularity that he’s had so much fun reveling in.

Reed and Sue are still caught within a lot of melodrama, and the on-set treatment of Alba is by far the worst part of both films’ legacy; Alba was left so humiliated by Sue’s depiction that she considered quitting acting. Gruffudd, however, fares a lot better in the sequel. Rather than depicting Reed as a lovesick heartthrob, he shows a genuine passion for developing geeky tech, and the surprise reveal of the Fantasticar was a fun twist that the film’s marketing had kept secret. Reed also steps up as the team leader with more dominance, squaring off against Andre Braugher’s General Hager and his militaristic approach to the galactic threat.

The Silver Surfer is by far the best part of the film. Laurence Fishburne’s booming voice fits the character’s isolated nature; Doug Jones delivers his typically excellent performance capture work as the slick, austere alien creature forced to wreak destruction by Galactus. 2007’s visual effects certainly pale in comparison to today’s visuals, but the design of the Surfer is comic-accurate, and more importantly, he adds actual world-ending stakes. The first film’s Victor Von Doom was simply a petty romantic rival to Reed.

Doom does show back up, and the idea that the U.S. Government would actually team up with the crazed scientist that just tried to destroy a city wearing a Party City facemask is ridiculous children’s logic lifted straight from the panels. Stan Lee’s initial concept of Doom was a power-hungry perfectionist intent on ruling the world, and like Chicklis, McMahon leans more into the campiness this time around. When he ends up betraying Hager and attempts to steal the Surfer’s board, it's essentially played for laughs.

The action is much more dynamic. The first film didn’t unite the Fantastic Four themselves until the closing sequence but by the time of Rise of the Silver Surfer they’ve grown into their team dynamic. After a fun opening where Surfer’s devastation wreaks havoc on Reed and Sue’s wedding, the presence of the Surfer gives a more consistent threat compared to the laborious time dedicated to explaining Doom’s backstory. The New York showdown in the first film was a lot of standing around, but in Rise of the Silver Surfer they’re able to zip around and use their powers more creatively.

At this point, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the best Fantastic Four movie to date. That’s no high bar to cross, but the film embraces a cartoonish absurdity absent from the origin stories. Undeniably, the depiction of Galactus as a giant cloud is embarrassing, and on its own it's hard to label the juvenile collection of goofy scenes as a good movie. That doesn’t mean it's not a step up from what had come before. If nothing else, the ludicrous sci-fi mumbo jumbo in Rise of the Silver Surfer certainly isn’t dull.

KEEP READING: ‘Fantastic Four’ Film Heading to MCU from ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Director Jon Watts



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