Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fantastic Four and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Comic book movies are all the rage these days, from the terrific universe that Marvel has been putting together since 2008 to the X-Men series that Fox has got their death grip on and won’t ever let go, and the Spider-Man franchise that Sony is whoring out (parts three and four with two spin-off movies???  Come on!)…the films are being churned out almost yearly.  And speaking of Fox owning the X-Men movie rights, they’ve also own the rights to another comic book franchise from Marvel Comics, finally adapting a film from the series in 2005…Fantastic Four.

Now, 2005 wasn’t the first attempt of adapting the comic book superheroes…back in 1994, a film adaptation was produced by Roger Corman, but never released…and that was the intention right from the beginning.  The short of it was that in order to retain the rights to make movies out of the comic book characters, a movie had to be made by that year.  However, unbeknownst to the cast and crew (including Mr. Corman), the film was never intended to be released.  If you watch any of this film—which you can on YouTube—you see right away that the production values, the acting, the writing…everything about this movie is terrible.  An actual documentary, called Doomed, is available, telling the story of these shenanigans and you can find info on that here.

Anyway, cut to 11 years later and we get a decent production of the film. 

Fantastic Four
The film opens with Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and his friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) going to Reed’s former college classmate, Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon), who is now a wealthy CEO of his own company, to try and convince him to fund a space expedition.   Reed has calculated a cloud of cosmic energy will be passing near Earth soon and wants to run experiments to prove the energy has something to do with evolution.  Von Doom agrees in exchange for control of the experiment and for a majority of the profits benefitted from it.  They gather a team together, including Reed’s former girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba)—who is now an assistant for von Doom—along with her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), a rebellious girl-chasing pilot, and set up the mission.  Upon getting near the energy cloud, Reed discovers that he’d miscalculated the distance and the ship is inundated with the energy, irradiating all of them to the force of it.  Later, after getting back to Earth and seeming okay, each of them discover they have otherworldly powers:  Victor von Doom can consume and disperse energy as he begins to become metallic-like (Dr. Doom), Sue can turn invisible and create force field shields (Invisible Girl), Reed can stretch his body and contort it in any shape (Mr. Fantastic), Johnny can produce fire and even engulf his body to supernova temperatures (Human Torch), and Ben becomes transformed into a monstrous stone creature and has exceptional strength (The Thing).  Soon, they become at odds with Dr. Doom, as he blames Richards for the failed expedition that left him and his company in ruins, and the Fantastic Four must battle with him to keep the people of New York safe.

Where should I start?  How about the director?

Fox hired Tim Story to direct this big budget comic book action film.  Who is Tim Story, you might ask?  Well, at that time, he’d directed a couple of forgettable films, one hit comedy, and one terrible comedy.  So, with that résumé of work, why would Fox hire him to helm an anticipated and potential blockbuster adaptation?  Who knows?  It’s so typical of a studio to try to save money and thumb their noses at us comic book fans, obviously not caring about the film.  Story noticeably has some good directing chops when it comes to comedy (he most recently directed the hit comedy,Ride Along), but he definitely doesn’t have what it takes to pull off a special-effects-driven action piece that this film could’ve been.

And the cast?

The casting of the characters was fine and I had no problem with any of them.  They all played their parts well, with Chiklis and Evans being the exceptional actors of this film.  Both of them seemed to really embody the characters and channel them as they’re portrayed in the comics.  Gruffudd seemed to be a little flat at times, but I sort of attributed it to the fact that he had to hide his Wales accent.  But he had the look and was able to convey the idea that he was a brainy scientist, so I was okay with him.  Jessica Alba didn’t fit the part, in my opinion, and I thought they should’ve cast someone different in the role.  But she did have pretty good chemistry with Gruffudd, so I can forgive the miscasting.  McMahon as Dr. Doom didn’t seem to fit as well, since I had someone else in mind to play the iron-masked evil-doer.  I’ve always pictured a deeper-voiced actor to play the role, especially after his character has to wear the metal mask.

In the special effects department, I think the film features some very spectacular scenes…but some of them weren’t so well done.  Every scene featuring The Human Torch was nice with terrific fire effects showing him flying around and being able to create flames.  The Invisible Girl’s scenes were well done as well.  However, Mr. Fantastic’s stretching ability was hit-and-miss, sometimes looking okay when featured in long shots, but looking hokey when close-ups were filmed.  Now, the most aggressively done effect is the costume made for Chiklis as The Thing.  The detail on the prosthetics around his face and body was amazing, looking like real stone and rock.  I found it hard to find any seams or see any wrinkles or creases when he moved around in the suit.  The bad thing about his portrayal is that Chiklis is not a very tall man and he made a puny Thing.  In the comic books, The Thing is supposed to be as big as The Hulk, with them sometimes battling.  In this film, there were times when he was standing next to Jessica Alba and they were eye-to-eye.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the prosthetic effects on his outfit, but I was left a little disappointed.

The biggest problem of this film is that it really doesn’t have much of a story.  Most of the time we see Victor von Doom angry that he lost control of his company and Reed Richards trying to figure out how to cure themselves of their predicaments.  It’s so thin that they included a ridiculous montage of how they get along living in the Baxter Building—the dumbest part showing Reed using his stretching ability to grab another roll of toilet paper from a supply room while he’s sitting in the bathroom.  Most of the film is a waste and a missed opportunity, highlighting the group as a bunch of misfits who are boring and don’t do much throughout the story until the very end.

My final “bit” on Fantastic Four?

The only interesting parts of this movie are the beginning and end.  It starts with the origin of how the group gets their individual powers and what they do when they finally discover them, then there’s over an hour of boring exposition until the final ten minutes where the foursome comes together to battle their foe—that’s it.  However, it’s still enjoyable, but the useless filler that’s peppered throughout the middle of this film might drag a bit.

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
So…two years later, Fox decided to green light a sequel to the 2005 film.  Again, with Tim Story behind the camera and in the director’s chair, and that was a surprise to me, the cast returned to do the sequel and gave it a little more effort.  In my opinion, I thought Fox would’ve realized that the first film might’ve been a little boring and would’ve stepped it up with another director known for helming action-packed films.  But, alas, maybe Story pitched them a good idea (which turned out to be pretty decent) and fooled Fox into keeping him around for the sequel. 

Going into this, I had my doubts about it being any better than the first.  But with a better story and an added character to focus the movie on,Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer definitely improved upon the predecessor and gave the heroes something to do without any lull time illustrated with corny montages.  Though the film still has many faults—some of the same ones that I’d just pointed out in the first film of this two-film series—I found it more entertaining and enjoyed the merits it did display in this follow-up.

Opening with a distant planet being eaten away and imploding, an entity is seen flying away from the destruction and is soon shown soaring towards Earth.  Strange occurrences start happening around the planet, like the sea around Asia freezing solid and snow beginning to fall in the deserts of Egypt.  As a result, the military asks for help from The Fantastic Four to trace and to try and capture the being—dubbed by them as The Silver Surfer—seen in areas of Earth.  Before long, however, they realize there’s a much greater danger coming to Earth.

Back are Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, and Chris Evans as Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, respectively.  Also back in the mix of things is Julian McMahon as Victor von Doom.  But the star of this vehicle is definitely The Silver Surfer—embodied by Doug Jones but voiced by Laurence Fishburne.  I was never really a reader of The Silver Surfer comic books, so I’m not really familiar about him, besides his shiny chrome look.  But the film does a marvelous job at displaying him and it’s probably what’s best about this film.

Now the special effects were pretty good, as I’d mentioned about the representation of The Silver Surfer, but there’s one thing that bugged me throughout this film and that was Reed Richards’ stretching abilities.  In the first film, when displaying the power—as terrible as some of those effects were—it was established that only the suit he wore when the disaster happened could stretch with his body, not his normal clothes.  But in this sequel, whenever he stretches his arms or legs, his clothes stretch along with him.  They had never established that he’d invented a fabric that stretched with his body, so it just gave the film effects a lazy feel to it.  But everything else makes up for that little nitpick, so it doesn’t really play into my critique of the movie.  Sue Storm’s invisibility and Johnny’s flame-on powers look just a good from the first film.  But, however, the character of The Thing is still Chiklis in a faux rock suit, looking as short as before, but still putting on a good performance as the rock-strewn superhero. 

Overall, I do like that they’d stayed true to the comic books and used a storyline from it, regarding The Human Torch’s helpless ability to switch powers with his counterparts when touching them.   It gave the ending the climactic feel the film needed to make the audience cheer on the heroes.

Certainly the best thing about this film is The Silver Surfer.  The CGI rendering centered on Doug Jones’s frame was spectacular and perfectly fashioned from the illustrations in the comic books.  Some of the best parts in this film includes the character, like the chase scene between hi m and The Human Torch or when the military is firing missiles at him.  Fox once talked about making a standalone film about The Silver Surfer, but they’ve since been silent.

When the group gets together as heroes, to fight off threats or to save people, I loved it.  The team is now established and takes on a more serious tone, even involving a subplot about Johnny Storm needing to step up and take responsibility for his actions.  Gone are the goofy montages and useless fillers.  Instead, we have some added side narratives that are substantial to the whole storyline.  Even the characters are represented like they’ve been at this hero gig for years now and show that they have accepted who they are. 

Tim Story had definitely done his homework with the comic book characters, adding stories and concepts straight from the pages.  The wedding (both the attempted and actual one) of Reed and Sue was cool, incorporating the Fantasticar was actually a surprise and I didn’t see it coming (until the cat was out of the bag when the media leaked pictures of it before the movie was released)—man, it looked awesome.  Yes, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer was definitely a better movie than the original, hands down.

Not too much bothered me about this sequel, except for the inclusion of Dr. Doom.  I know, principally, the story needed the character to make the whole movie work.  But maybe they should’ve made this movie with more of the team going up against The Silver Surfer, dealing with the bigger threat, to have the world saved with a cliffhanger involving Doom at the end, setting it up for a sequel.  It just felt like we’d seen this before in the first movie, so why bring Doom in again for nearly the exact same battle?

One final thing, without spoiling any aspect of the story, the representation of Galactus in this film was done right, in my opinion.  I know a lot of fanboys felt that the filmmakers made a mistake in deciding to depict him as a space cloud of particles, but I don’t think it would’ve worked if they showed him the way he looks in the comic books.  Essentially, he’s a giant dressed in purple clothing and armor…do you really think that would’ve played out well in this film?  People would’ve laughed at it and ridiculed this movie to the moon.  But…who knows?  Maybe they’ll try it in the reboot.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer?

It’s a much better film than the first part, with a better story and more action.  Our heroes have a lot more to do and take initiative—even having Reed Richards put a general of the military in his place.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from start to finish and I think you will as well.

So, one more thing about the franchise…it was announced earlier this year that Fox is going to (wait for it…wait for it…) reboot the series with a whole new cast and director.  In fact, one such cast member is getting a lot of mentions throughout the internet world because of his race.  You see, Michael B. Jordan has been cast as Johnny Storm and the fanboys are going apeshit (in a bad way) because the guy is black.  Now, I thought it was a little strange, but I’m willing to wait and see what he’ll bring to the movie.  I mean, look at Samuel L. Jackson.  He, himself, was cast in a role for in theAvengers film—as well as a lot of the films that are tied into that same universe—as Nick Fury…a character who’d been illustrated in the comic books as a white man.  But SamJack kicks ass in those films and I think it was a great move.

So…my advice to the fanboys:  Just wait and see.

Okay, I’m out of here…going to check the local movie times and see what’s playing.  It’s summer blockbuster season, so there’s got to be something.

Thanks and I welcome any comments!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

No comments: