Warning! This site contains satire, cynical adult humor, celebrity gossip, and an occasional peanut by-product or two!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fantastic Four ~ Rise of the Silver Surfer

When I was growing up I wanted to be Lois Lane more than anything else. Well, actually, I thought Lana Lang was prettier with her long red hair, but it was just so obvious that Superman really loved Lois that wishing to be Lana was like striving for second place in a beauty pageant and that wasn’t any fun. I wanted be loved by the guy in the blue suit with the red cape. Who wouldn’t want to be flown over the city with a hunk’s arm wrapped around their waist?

Yeah, it was in ancient times, before Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine. It never occurred to me that I could be a superhero. I was prepared to wear a pearl choker with matching earrings, my hair in a perky banged flip, while I clutched a notebook in my hand forever if it meant I could at least stand close to a man who was ~ well ~ Super. But, truthfully, it wasn’t Gloria Steinem who changed my life and brought me feminist enlightenment. It was Stan Lee.

It took many years because I lived in a DC household and Stan Lee was part of the Marvel universe. My older brother, Anthony, only bought DC comics like Superman (sigh), Batman, Green Lantern, and even that soggy loser of a super-hero, Aquaman. Occasionally he would buy Wonder Woman too, but he kept those under his mattress for “personal reasons” so I never learned about female heroines until I was hauled off against my will to join the singing group “Lil’ Republican Patriots In Concert” by my father when I was 13.

I hated the “Lil’ PRICs” as we were known. We were forced to sing patriotic songs in middle and high schools all over the US. We traveled in a bright red, white and blue bus and were “home schooled’ by a tutor on board. At night, though, we stayed in cheesy motels with 8 girls per room and 8 boys in another. Somewhere during this period, my first crush, the now-so-repulsive-mentioning-his-name-even-after-all-these-years-makes-my-mouth-fill-with-a-little-vomit, loaned me some of his cast-off Marvel Comics to read as the bus dragged its way across the Nevada desert. It was there that I discovered my inner super-heroine, Sue Storm.

I loved Stan Lee’s The Fantastic Four! The very fact that they were eclipsed by the other Marvel heroes like Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk made me want to root for them all the more. Well, and the fact that they had a cool girl super-heroine. She had the best powers too. She could turn invisible and create huge powerful force-fields. The invisible part is what I loved the most though. Believe me, if you were 13 and trapped on a bus with a bunch of “Lil’ PRICs”, forced to promote the Republican agenda at the same time as you are trying to learn to use Tampons with nobody around to explain puberty to you, you’d wish you were invisible too, but I digress as usual.

I always wondered why the other heroes got movies made about them and my beloved Fantastic Four were ignored, and then, finally, in 2005, came the self-titled movie Fantastic Four. A lot of critics called it “fantastic bore” and Roger Ebert even called it “so bad it should be ashamed to be shown in the same theaters as Superman, Spiderman 2, and Batman Begins.” Harsh, Roger! I mean, it wasn’t that bad. It was good enough for the studio make a sequel, and a pretty fun one at that.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a whole lot more fun that the original, just like Superman 2 and Spiderman 2 surpassed their first attempts to bring their heroes to the big screen. Why? Well, for one thing, we’ve gotten past the long-winded origins story that each felt obliged to tell for the novices in the audience, so in the second outings the heroes always have the opportunity to immediately pick up from where they left off and be full-on heroic and comfortable within their characters. In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, we skip ahead a tiny bit from the end of the original and find Sue Storm (Jessica Alba; Into the Blue) and Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd; Amazing Grace) preparing for their wedding. I know it sounds girlie and the mostly male audience who come to these kinds of movies is going to hate this part, but, I love giving good nuptials, so this was like Nirvana to me. After all, even an invisible bride should have a beautiful gown. Now if only the bride’s brother, aka The Human Torch, could get a tuxedo that was fireproof.

As with all things fantastic, it’s inevitable that the wedding of the year between Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Girl has to be the exact moment when the world’s crisis du jour erupts, this time in the persona of The Silver Surfer.

The Silver Surfer reminded me of one of DC’s old comic book archetypes, Metal Men, a group of hapless guys made out of various metals, each with traits specific to the ore they represented. The
Surfer seems to be made out of mercury, sometimes fluid, often flexible, but downright hunky in his human-like form, complete with abs that came from more than 8 minutes a day of exercise. Doug Jones, who starred (as Pan and the Pale Man) in last year’s acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth provides the body and movements for the Surfer, which were then digitally “coated” in CGI “molten” silver. His voice was then dubbed in by Lawrence Fishburne (Bobby), though I could barely recognize it as his because the usually passionate and dramatic Fishburne has been reduced by director Tim Story (Taxi) to reciting his lines in a monotonous coma-producing tone that sounds patronizing in temperament, as if his every word is costing him patience and energy. I don’t really recall much about the Silver Surfer from the comics, so I can’t comment on how well he measures up to the expectations of the hard-core fans. From what little I do remember, he was an on-going villain, but then had his own comic book as a hero of some sort. I never read it because by then I had moved on to flesh-and-blood supermen and never looked back (until they began showing up on the silver screen, of course).

In this incarnation, the Surfer is actually the forced-into-service-henchman of a planet-eating gas-bag called Galacticus. The Surfer’s job is to cause chaos across an oncoming planet by drilling enormous holes into its core, disrupting the environment and misdirecting the militaries of the world so that Galacticus can feast while the population is preoccupied with their environmental distractions. Perhaps it fears that a nuclear bomb or two going off during its planet-swallowing might cause a smidge of agita.

In the midst of the Surfer’s appearance, the energy he seems to excrete manages to somehow revive the frozen metal carcass of Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon; tv’s “Nip/Tuck"), who was dispatched into oblivion in the original film. Now the FF are bizarrely thrust into an unwilling alliance with Dr. Doom to fight the alien presence, thanks to the strong-arming of General Hager, played by Andre Braugher (Poseidon). Poor Andre. I remember when he had an actual career. He was hot stuff on “Homicide: Life on the Streets”, and then he had his own tv show “Gideon’s Crossing” for a year. Since then, it’s been a downhill slide into little more than supporting roles that make you go “Huh?” because he could be so much more than what he is playing in whatever movie he’s in. You’ll know what I mean when you see this one or if you’ve seen Poseidon, and if you’ve seen Poseidon, my sympathies go out to you over the loss of that 99 minutes of your life you’ll never be able to get back.

So basically there’s a whole lot of high drama going on as the Surfer flies around destroying things and the quartet follows him trying to stop him, then help him once they realize the sucky truth that he is a slave to the creepy cosmic cloud. Big deal. The real fun is in the dysfunctional family the Fantastic Four represent. Besides the about-to-be newlyweds, who have about as much chemistry together as George Bush and Hilary Clinton, there is Sue’s younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans; TMNT), who is not nearly naked enough, long enough or naked enough to satisfy fans from the first Fantastic Four. He may be The Human Torch, but, Honey, when he’s around, I’m the one who gets hot. And then there’s Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, star of tv’s “The Shield”), who is better known in this world as The Thing. Unfortunately for Ben, the radiation cloud that gave the Four their various powers also altered his physical appearance and he is not just super-strong, but he is super-coated with orange plating that gives him the appearance of a walking rock garden. Ben and Johnny bicker more than two old queens celebrating their thirtieth anniversary together on Fire Island with a second jumbo pitcher of margaritas and a dvd showing of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? If not for their antics, the rest of movie would be more shallow than a promise by Lindsay Lohan never to drink again. Fortunately, Mark Frost, who wrote the original, realized the popularity of Ben and Johnny’s bitchy shtick in the first movie, and so this time around he hired “The Simpsons” writer Don Payne to help goose up the comedy angle, and it works beautifully.

There’s nothing fantastically boring in this installment of what I hope will be a continuing series. I thought it was such more fun than the first time around, and I think it would be a blast to see how married life affects Dr. & Mrs. Richards. The offspring alone would to tantalizing to envision. If Shrek’s sidekick Donkey and his bride, Dragon, can create a flock of little dronkeys, can you imagine the fun of invisible elastic babies around the house? Just as long as they don’t grow up to be singing Republicans everything will be fine.

No comments: