“Less than Fantastic Voyage”

The talk of a Silver Surfer movie began in earnest back in the 80s. The idea intrigued many a fan boy and much like the early talk of a Spider-Man movie, I’m glad that the efforts didn’t come together until the special effects technology caught up with the idea (I can only imagine what a silver spray-painted surfer movie might have looked like. Then again, the Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four movie is still floating around out there, so we don’t have to imagine too hard what the effects might have been).

Now, if you weren’t a fan of the original, you have no business complaining about this movie: you knew what you were going to get. Spare me you “it’s in the spirit of the 60s era/Silver Age/Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four” people – I wasn’t a fan of them either. Written by Mark Frost (Greatest Game Ever Played), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer succeeded in what the original sought to accomplish. The family dynamic gelled better: you actually had the sense that these characters cared for one another. Sue (Jessica Alba) is still the taken for granted wife/member, but she loves her guy. Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) still struggles with getting his head out of the lab. Ben (Michael Chiklis, The Shield) teases Johnny (Chris Evans) as much as he’s teased. They are a dysfunctional family of super-heroes and sustain the air of silly fun the movie sets out to have.

First, my quibble: Just because an actor is contracted for the sequels doesn’t mean you are obligated to use him. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon of Nip/Tuck) doesn’t have to be in each movie (just like Magneto doesn’t have to be in every X-Men nor Lex Luthor in every Superman). Of course, this could simply be my reaction to his horrific acting. Now for a bigger issue: we are still essentially dealing with four blank slates for characters. Johnny Storm, we get it, he’s vacuous. But even the most self-absorbed people can be fleshed out characters. Actually, he epitomizes the characterization problem. We’re shown over and over how vain he is, but there is no attempt to explore his vanity.

“Some are beginning to wonder if the hand of God is at work.” –newscaster

Preparations for the celebrity wedding of Mr. Fantastic to the Invisible Woman (a bit of social commentary that doesn’t, um, comment) are interrupted by strange phenomena of cosmic origin. The Silver Surfer in question is the herald of Galactus, the forerunner who prepares the way for his master, Galactus. Galactus is a force of nature, so (comic fans) don’t think:
Galactus is like the ultimate environmental threat. In fact, if you have problems with the Galactus of this movie, then you probably have problems with Warren Ellis’ re-imagining of him in Ultimate Nightmare. Galactus, a kind of cosmic judgment, is also how a lot of people view God, but that’s an excursus some may want to just skip.

[skippable excursus!]

“Who do you serve?” –Sue

Galactus as wrath brought to mind a famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, the salient portion of which reads:

“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.”

This goes hand in hand with the idea of God pouring His wrath on Christ. But I’ve always had issues with this idea of sacrifice washing away our sins, appeasing the angry cosmic destroyer God. No wonder so many have this image of a petulant God. “I made you but I really don’t like you” seems to be the portrait given, which naturally would lead people to ask “is this the kind of God you want to serve?”

“What do you mean you have no choice. There’s always a choice.” –Sue

God can be wrathful, but that is not the only dimension to Him. Just like God is good, but goodness is not the only dimension to Him. Just like there is a respectful fear we should have of Him, but, paradoxically, He is love and perfect love drives out fear. It brought to mind a quote from an early theologian, Athanasius:

“It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die ; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all then, having been created, to be neglected and perish ; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.”

[end skippable excursus!]

“How do you want to spend your last few minutes?” –Johnny

At 90 minutes you have none of the bloat that has infected most sequels. Not to say the movie is good, but rather, alright. Something about the movie never quite comes together for me. The actors seem more comfortable in their characters’ skins, though “comfortable” isn’t quite the same as “good acting”. The script hits most of the right notes, but “hitting the right notes” (also read: “air of silly fun”) isn’t quite the same as “this movie makes perfect sense” (do not think about things like why this famous family has to fly passenger planes at all. Or how someone who was given power by the one he was a herald for manages to … nevermind). The characters do all the things you expect the Fantastic Four to do, though “characters” isn’t quite the same as “well characterized.”

In other words, the tone was right, the execution was off. In short, the movie didn’t have the decency to truly suck thus making it a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of entertainment (and give me the opportunity to really rip into it). Mind you, this is seen through the eyes of a comic book nerd/quasi-adult. Kids will see this movie totally differently. The Incredibles was more of an intense, dark movie than this was. If safe family fare is what you are after, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer delivers.

It’s a big dumb movie that appeals to young children, but it still manages to improve on the first. But the Silver Surfer himself was cool and I hope this serves as the springboard for his own movie.