Saturday, June 23, 2007

FanBoyWonder, Kemosabe and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer--SPOILERS

FanBoyWonder and our best pal and Kemosabe John Micek liked our “At The Movies” bit that we did last month for Spider-Man 3 so much that we’ve done it again in attending and commenting on “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

Here’s the upshot on the movie from 20th Century Fox: Marvel's first family of superheroes, The Fantastic Four, meets their greatest challenge yet in "Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer" as the enigmatic, intergalactic herald, The Silver Surfer, comes to Earth to prepare it for destruction. As the Silver Surfer races around the globe wreaking havoc, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben must unravel the mystery of the Silver Surfer and confront the surprising return of their mortal enemy, Dr. Doom, before all hope is lost.

Check out the official website for more details.

Following our screening of the movie on opening weekend, FanBoyWonder and Kemosabe repaired to a nearby Borders Books & Music Café and recorded our thoughts below. BEWARE MEGA SPOILERS!!! Read below freely and at your own risk.

FanBoyWonder: You know, I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. I really didn’t like the first movie [Fantastic Four] but this one was really good. I think the critics have savaged this movie because they had a hard time with the first one.

Kemosabe: I think I’m the only one on the face of the earth who actually likes the first movie.

I thought [the first movie] was just kind of fun and a neat little romp. Yes, there wasn’t a lot of ‘there’ there but it sort of established the dysfunctional group dynamic of the Fantastic Four and the way things work and it sort of built that with the tension over Reed [Richards/Mr. Fantastic played by Ioan Gruffudd] and Sue [Storm/Invisible Woman played by Jessica Alba] getting married -- what they were going to do with the future of the team.

I thought it was a necessary grounding for the set up and the surprise coming back of Victor Von Doom [“Dr. Doom”/ Julian McMahon]. More on that later.

Overall, I thought the movie was a bit slow out of the block. But once they got over the hump there about a third of the way through, about 45-50 minutes in, it’s a really good romp. And pretty darn faithful to the Marvel mythology overall.

FBW: It was slow in the beginning but I think it was a necessary build up.

I think everything that makes a comic book movie is about the villain. What I didn’t like about the first movie was that Dr. Doom, at least the way he was played by Julian McMahon, didn’t work for me.

This time there was Doom, plus the Silver Surfer [played by Doug Jones but voiced by Lawrence Fishburne] plus the world-eating Galactus, there was an actual sense of—pardon the pun—doom.

KS: I’m still trying to figure out what purpose that Victor Von Doom serves in this -- except to come back and rub Reed’s and Sue’s face in the face of Karma. It seems like he was sort of an afterthought to have the ‘ha-ha-ha cackling villain guy’ in the movie, which frankly I think they could have done without.

I think there could have been a way to solve the Galactus conundrum and get to know the Silver Surfer without having to bring in this tired plot device of Victor Von Doom.

FBW: You’re right, I agree with what you’re saying. Doom in a way was used, he wasn’t vital to the plot but I don’t think he hurt it either.

KS: He advanced it but if you think about it—if Julian McMahon is not there, does the movie stand or fall without him? It could have been solved easily without him.

FBW: You’re right. In the battle scenes, he very easily could have been Silver Surfer instead of Doom who hijacked the Surfer’s power.

KS: Okay, for about 10 minutes, it was harder for them to get to the board [the source of the Surfer’s Power Cosmic] so the Silver Surfer could save the planet. It could have been them [the Four] fighting the U.S. Army or trying to convince a skeptical Andre Braugher of the wisdom of their ways.

Andre Braugher by the way is a U.S. Army General who, for some inexplicable reason, is bossing the Fantastic Four around.

FBW: One last thing about Doom—Julian McMahon, to me, has just never been able to convey that sense of gravitas, that kind of Doom…too much being smarmy and not enough being evil.

For just a little bit of the movie we get to see [Von Doom] as Reed Richard’s opposite number—he’s what Reed Richard’s could be if he didn’t use his powers for good kind of thing.

On Andre Braugher, he’s a great actor but just once in a movie, I want to see the military guy be part of the solution, not part of the problem. It’s a stereotype.

KS: But putting that aside, he’s just the kind of gruff, barky General, bossy dude that shows up so often in movies.

I’ll tell you what I thought was intriguing though was the allusion to the contemporary circumstances where they captured the Silver Surfer, rendered him to Siberia and then began using … dubious interrogation techniques to get the secrets out of him.

I thought that was a nice little nod to the post-Geneva Convention environment to which we find ourselves.

FBW: I know it was a comic book movie but the back half of my mind was working and asking ‘How is America doing this? Where’s NATO [America’s European military allies the North Atlantic Treaty Organization]? They go to Siberia, where’s the Russian government? But suspend your disbelief.

KS: To backtrack to the beginning of the movie, I thought it was a nice poke also at our celebrity tabloid culture to have Reed and Sue as the stand-ins for Brad and Angelina or Ben and Jennifer or whoever—just constantly getting gate-crashed by the entertainment press as they try to hold just a simple wedding.

Also, I realize this was a Fox movie, but if I see product placement for Fox News in a [20th Century] Fox movie, I’m going to barf.

FBW: And the folks at Dodge must be very happy [with the Dodge motors symbol and grill branded on the newly unveiled ‘Fantasticar’].

KS: I’m sure they are. That by the way is the ‘Fantasticar’ that appears in the back half of the movie to spirit our heroes along.

FBW: I wanted to say that there was definitely a sense of realism as far as there are four different folks with superpowers and they meshed them very nicely. There was a very X-Men type feel that there are people with powers in the real world kind of thing.

KS: loan Gruffudd the Welsh actor who plays Reed is really believable. He’s very much nailed that kind of—I’m a science geek, I can’t believe I have superpowers, I really don’t have that much of a clue how to operate in the real world kind of thing.

FBW: I can’t believe I’m scoring Jessica Alba.

KS: That too.

And you’ve got Michael Chiklis who I’ve loved for years first as “The Commish” and now in “The Shield.” He’s a great actor. And you’ve got the young actor who plays Johnny Storm [the Human Torch], his name escapes me [Chris Evans] is pretty good and I’d watch Jessica Alba read the Yellow Pages.

She was criticized by a couple of the movie critics for being pretty and not doing much of anything else, but I think all of them contribute to the group dynamic and they definitely give that feel of four people who are thrown together in reasonably dysfunctional circumstances and of course like any family, they have to work it out.

FBW: There was a little bit of the bubble-headed blond thing going on there with Jessica Alba but there was a scene with Sue and Doom where she really showed her iron when she was face to face with Doom and she told him that she could use her power to put a force field inside his body and expand it until you explode. That was right out of John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four.

KS: I think her lines with Norin the Silver Surfer were pretty heartfelt. The Surfer, by the way, was voiced by Lawrence Fishburne. He’s got a wonderfully mellifluous, deep-speaking voice.

FBW: I was reading how they were looking for a new generation James Earl Jones.

KS: And they did it.

FBW: Yeah.

KS: I was wondering how they were going to pull off Galactus—if it was going to be a 900-foot-tall guy with a Moose Lodge hat on his head. But Galactus turned out to be a giant cosmic cloud thingy.

FBW: And that’s the way it should have been actually. I liked it. It gave that sense of mystery. A giant guy in a costume would look kind of silly but this way they gave it a sense of menace.

KS: That’s the one thing was I never able to buy in the comics. The whole Watcher/Galactus deal with again the Moose Lodge hat and the purple tights. That was kind of goofy.

FBW: That’s what I liked about the story. For the fanboys who knew the history, you kind of could see it all out there and imagine it but they didn’t directly reference it [in the film] so anybody just going in didn’t have to get it or know it.

Going back, I liked the very beginning of the film where you think it’s the Planet Earth you are looking at, but then you can tell it’s not and then it blows up. You immediately get a sense of the stakes.

KS: Other highlights for me, the fight scene London where they are going to contain the Surfer.

Neat little plot point here, the Human Torch [Evans] gets too close to the Surfer, gets his molecules all scrambled and throughout the movie whenever he touches another of the Four, absorbs their powers.

FBW: And also a power-swap.

KS: So you have Reed temporarily absorbing the Torch’s powers as the Millennium Wheel [the giant Ferris Wheel also known as the London Eye] falls over, and he engages in a heroic act of welding and saves the Wheel.

FBW: It was a very understated thing but Reed instantly uses Johnny’s flame powers better than Johnny does. I liked that kind of beat.

KS: Yes. That was the adult realizing what needed to be done, whereas Johnny would have tried to use brute force.

I gotta say also that Michael Chiklis is The Thing as far as I’m concerned. He has just nailed his spirit and his gruffness with that soft core. And the young woman who plays Alicia [Masters, The Thing’s love interest, played by Kerry Washington] she’s good.

FBW: And General Andre Braugher’s assistant, the [U.S. Army] Captain…..

KS: A young actress named Beau Garrett from “Turistas”…..

FBW: The character’s name was Frankie Raye, who in the Byrne-era comics was Johnny Storm’s girlfriend and she later gained Torch-like powers and briefly became the other Human Torch and eventually became another herald of Galactus called Nova.

KS: So there you go. You see I didn’t know that.

FBW: Thank you Kirk Gartside wherever you are for letting me read your Fantastic Four collection when we were kids.

But I liked at the end where the Torch touched and absorbed all of the Four’s powers to battle Doom, he had a Super Skrull [] thing going on there.

KS: Yes that was a neat touch.

FBW: Except for Mr. Fantastic stretching all over the dance floor during his bachelor party, there was not a cringe moment in the movie, which you had missed.

KS: Yeah. Lame old guy thing, I was out late last night playing with my band Finks Constant [] and actually dozed off for that part of the movie. It’s something that I wish I had actually dozed off during the “Jazz Hands” scenes in Spider-Man 3.

FBW: Yes. I was TRYING to sleep through that too.

KS: The less said about that the better.

FBW: But the fight scenes were great. They were very well choreographed and the beats were right where they should be.

KS: This wouldn’t be a Marvel movie of course without the obligatory Stan Lee cameo.

FBW: Yes. Stan Lee has his best cameo ever during the wedding scene where the guests were filing in, the usher with clipboard in hand couldn’t find Stan’s name on the guest list, and where he goes something to the effect of ‘I have to be on there, I’m Stan Lee.’ And he was turned away at the door.

For Stan, it was brilliant but I wish they had found a more direct homage to [Fantastic Four co-creator and all around comic book legend, the late] Jack Kirby []. Maybe naming a street after him, Jack Kirby Blvd. or something.

KS: He was mentioned in the credits as having been created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and of course those of us familiar with the back story know the spotted history that Jack Kirby often gets the short shrift in the creation of what has come to be known as the Classic Marvel Universe. At least in films anyway.

FBW: But the story I heard….even Stan Lee has acknowledged that the Silver Surfer was all Kirby’s creation. Lee wanted an alien in a Fantastic Four story and Kirby had said he was tired of drawing flying saucers so he created a guy on a surfboard, and there you go. Thank you Jack Kirby wherever you are.

KS: We should add however that the Surfer was a guy in the sort of technical back lot filming but beautifully CGI rendered in the film. I don’t know quite how they pulled it off in the sequences where they were helping him around and that kind of stuff but it was incredibly convincing.

You got the sense that there was just some sort of other-worldly creature with enormous power that you just couldn’t understand or stop. And with that classic tortured Silver Surfer existential thing that he’s known for.

FBW: And I think the guy who plays Johnny Storm, I forgot the name [Chris Evans], he is totally the Torch. He’s such a tool.

KS: Yes he is. That’s why I’ve always preferred the classic 1939 [original] android Human Torch.

FBW: Wizard magazine all those years ago did their Casting Call wish list feature on a Fantastic Four movie and they cast Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Zach from Saved by the Bell as the Human Torch. Why? Because who else could you picture saying “Flame On” with a straight face

KS: So parting shot?

FBW: I liked this movie a lot. And I’m kind of wary. If they go for three, how are they going to top this?

KS: A worthy successor to the first movie, which built on the foundation it established.

FBW: Definitely worth seeing in the theatre and you can even take the kids. This is a film for the whole family.

KS: But get the matinee rate if you can.

FBW: Yes.

Now nearly a week later after we’ve both had time to think and really process the film (and allow FBW to transcribe the audio tape) FanBoyWonder and Kemosabe give our Jerry Springer-like Final Thoughts to Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

FanBoyWonder’s Final Thought:

When all is said and done, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will be remembered favorably as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Why? Because it’s fun, the way comic books used to be. The film takes its premise, but not itself, too seriously while it decidedly does NOT veer off into a self-important “message” to the audience.

Earlier I expressed my wariness at the prospect of a third Fantastic Four movie given how well they pulled off this one and fear of being disappointed. But upon reflection, it’s clear the filmmakers sought to learn from the mistake made during the first movie.

We hope they take their time, get the story right but the Fantastic Four should definitely go for three.

Kemosabe’s Final Thoughts:

Fantastic Four” may not carry the Gothic weight of “Batman Begins,” or the tortured-hero ethos of the “Spider-Man” movies, but in its own way, it’s the purest realization of a comic-book movie. The film’s bright colors, over the top antics and deft characterizations perfectly evoke the four-color world of the comics.

The film also captures what makes The Four so accessible: the fact that they are very different people who have been thrown together by circumstances utterly beyond their control, and who are trying to make the best of their amazing gifts. They’re also a family, and as we all know, families argue. So, in that sense, they’re a reflection of the rest of us.

As I noted above, the movie takes a while to find its feet, but when it hits its groove, it keeps moving. And in that way, it’s the perfect Saturday matinee diversion. And, after all, what’s so bad about that?

FBW Note: Kemosabe’s band Milkshake Jones has just released its second studio album Gala Days. For purchase information, check out MJ's record label site at Thanks pal for playing along.


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