Saturday, June 16, 2007

I am not the Destroyer...

Fury Fans,
After a year of buildup, and of my excitement waxing and waning moon-style, the time came for me to see the Silver Surfer, in a movie, on the big screen.

I am not dissapointed at all. In fact, I'm actually excited about the prospect of a stand alone Silver Surfer movie which now seems a forgone conclusion. Let's cut to the beans, I liked 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer', and I think most of American moviegoers will agree. Those who know me, know that I can be an awful critical asshole when it comes to movies, ESPECIALLY a movie that examines subject matter near and dear to my heart. This movie is one such 'near and dear' piece of film and I, as you can tell from my most recent posts, went into the movie unsure of what to expect. My biggest hope was that I don't hate the movie, and I had let myself start to think that might be too much to hope for. I was wrong!

Now, don't get me wrong here people, by no means do I think any of you folks reading this post will go see the movie(in fact most of the people who read this, probably won't ever see it) in the theaters, but this is a good enough movie that it will make a pretty decent box office bundle for the studio, and they will most certainly consider this movie, as well as the Fantastic Four franchise a success. As for my friends, if you want to go see a fun movie, that has some very good action sequences, humor, Jessica Alba, and ol' Chrome Dome himself, go see it. To anyone wanting to go see the next 'Shawshank Redemption', skip it.

That being said, here's why I like it, and there will be 'spoilers' in here, but really, unless you can't follow Storytelling 101, there isn't much to 'spoil' in this movie.

The writing was good enough that I had very few cringe moments. In fact, I only remember one rapid fire segement of cringe that involves Dr. Doom, who is unfortunately one of the least impressive characters in this movie. That fact is a shame, because Dr. Doom within the realm of Marvel Comics history is one of the most recognized, and successful 'heels' that ever existed. Unfortunately in both Fantastic Four films, the character just never translates well onto the screen. A big part of that is the dialogue they write for Doom, and the fact that the guy who plays him(I can't remember his name and refuse to IMDB it, he's one of the guys from Nip/Tuck) delivers his lines with the most cliched, 'arrogant bad guy' voice you can imagine. He's one step away from satirising his own roll. Not good.

Back on point, the writing was good enough that it doesn't take away from the movie. There is a lot of room for improvement for sure, but it's not bad, and it's by no means horrible as some out there suggest. One example that sticks out to me is at a point where Sue(Invisble Woman) is upset and explaining to Reed(Mr. Fantastic) that even when they manage to successfully get married, they will never have a normal life, and she was questioning how they could even dream of raising a family in that environment. This is not only straight out of the comic book storyline, but it's an uncommon theme for your typical summer blockbuster comic book movie to address. She raises a good point, and is clearly upset, whereas Reed is understanding but is so wrapped up in his work that he doesn't quite get how upset Sue really is. What bothered me is what happens at the end of that conversation. Sue is frustrated, and pulls the ol 'I'm...I'm going to go check on Johnny' routine and leaves in a huff. Reed watches her walk off, and they don't really resolve that issue until the end, when all is well and Reed just decides to say 'Fuck it' and let's Sue know they should have a family anyway, la la la, happyland. What SHOULD have happened was Sue should've gotten incensed at Reed's complete lack of understanding of just how torn up she is about it, as they would've done in the comic, and she should've left the scene teasing a break-up and sending Reed back to his lab with a sharp, 'Fuck you, dummy' type-line before she storms out(no pun intended).

That's an example, but, in the land of summer blockbuster, I can accept the fact that they want to keep the story moving and end up in la la la, happyland.

So, the writing was good, and much better than the first FF movie. Something else I liked, was the acting. Yep, I said it. We're not talking Oscar here people, but the acting was MUCH better than the first installment, and save for two characters, everybody did a fine job. Mr. Fantastic and Johhny Storm were the standouts here. Johnny Storm was again the funniest character in the movie, and what I especially liked about that fact was, and this ties into the writing as well, that it creates a very good side story for Johnny. As the plot moves along, Johnny is so wrapped up in being a celebrity, and doing his own thing that it eventually leads to Reed, Sue and Thing telling him he better do what they say or people will end up dead. It's serious, he's hurt by it, and it shows a vulnerability that was not present in the first movie. That's called character development, and when it spans over two movies, I consider that a success. At that point in the movie, you have Reed and Sue stressed over their eventual marriage and what their family life will be like. You have The Thing, who is always good for a one-liner while at the same time he struggles constantly with the fact he'll never be a standard, flesh and bone human again, and now you have Johnny feeling very isolated and admittedly sad with the prospect of being alone. Reed and Sue are considering getting out of the Superhero biz once the current threat is over so they can attempt the normal life they want, which obviously leads to some tension with Johnny and Ben. This is good stuff, and everyone in the main four plays their role well. The two characters I alluded to earlier as being 'bad' in their roles were Dr. Doom, and Alicia Masters. Doom, as I said, is played pretty horrifically, and it doesn't help that they write standard, bad guy lines for him such as 'I hate you' and an over the top, 'Let's go for a spin' when he's got a 'whirling' upperhand in a battle with the FF. It's bad. Even though I very much like the fact that Dr. Doom comes back in this film, gets the Power Cosmic at some point, and turns on the FF after he 'helps' them(which is all straight out of the comic books), the acting job, and writing for him specifically, were both bad. The other character on the acting chopping block is Alicia Masters. She is The Thing's main squeeze, and she's blind. The girl who plays her, though smoking hot, doesn't play a blind person well, and it takes away from her scenes tremendously. They either should have not made her blind, or cast a girl who was not so friggin' hot. It is hard to buy she'd date The Thing, I'll leave it at that.

Now the meat and 'taters, the reason I ever went and saw this movie in the theater in the first place. The Silver Surfer. What can I say? I loved the Surfer's place in this movie, and they did a perfect job introducing him to the audience where probably 97% of them had either never heard of him before, or had heard the name but never saw a comic book with him in it. That is a very important point as to why I think this movie successfully translated the Surfer story onto the big screen for the GENERAL audience that it is intended for. So often the world of the 'internet fanboy' who cries 'source material foul' when they see Optimus Prime has flames on his arms, or that the Surfer has eyeballs, forget that they make up about, ohhhhhh, a micro-percentage of the audience these big budget, Hollywood adaptations are meant for. ESPECIALLY Silver Surfer fans, good God, the last Surfer stand along comic was cancelled after 8 issues because no-one but hardcore Surfer fans bought it(it didn't help that story was boring and confusing, BUT it did have a sequence where the story took place in the very village where they filmed 'The Prisoner' show and you know I was in hog heaven for that). Bottom line is, Surfer fans are so few and far between these days that they don't make for enough fans anymore to keep a Surfer comic alive, let alone justify a 100% accurate film adaptation. They are the last people who should complain about this movie not staying completely true to source material, they should be happy with what they get(which will never happen but it must be said).

I am happy with what I got in this movie. The Surfer CG looks great. The dialogue they write for him, is not the brooding 'My life is sad', existential crisis-mode Surfer, but it is fine material that gets the story and his characters out to the audience. Not only that, but Lawrence Fishburne delivers said lines with an underlying current of pain and confusion that successfully channels the conflicted and tortured Norrin Radd. If I were someone who knew nothing of the Surfer, and saw this movie, I would get the feeling that 'there's something else to this guy' when listening to his dialogue and seeing what he does, which is another example of where this movie went right. The scene where Sue is talking to a then captured Surfer(at this point Doom had helped the FF seperate the Surfer from his board and had assumed control of the Power Cosmic[I'm a dweeb here]), sent chills down my spine. I'm not sure non-Surfer comic fans will experience that feeling at this point in the movie because you need to know his origin before he talks about it to really 'feel' it. But when he describes and names Galactus, I was completely attached to the story and at that moment knew even if the rest of the movie stunk up the house, I would always like it for this one scene. Again, I say that as a Surfer fan, I do not think the general audience will feel so attached to that scene.

From there, it leads to the conclusion, the FF use a trick from the comic book to get Doom off the board, and the Surfer gets his board and powers back.
The end, between Galactus and Surfer, many are complaining about. I could even see some of my best friends complaining about it too. There is no crazy battle between a power starved God and his Herald. It's a simple end, but dramatic. This ties into my earlier point that you can't have a direct translation from the comic book here. In the comics, Galactus is a giant human-like God who wears a Purple skirt/kilt, and has a huge, horned purple mask(see above pic). That is NOT going to fly in this day and age on the big screen. In this movie, they don't show you Galactus' true form, he is engulfed in a giant, swirling storm of what you can assume is galactic debris from all the planets he has devoured previously. There are hints of what Galactus looks like. As he approaches Earth, there is a shadow cast onto Jupiter that shows comic book fans the shape of the mask I mentioned ealier. To me, that's enough of a nod to the original comic book version to make me happy. I guess I'm easier to please than others. Also, when the Surfer makes his final stand and flies up into the swirling mess(which also has great CG) you can see amongst the debirs, and firey core, a faint shape of 'something' there, but it's too quick to see anything specific. You just know that there's something there.
After that , the Surfer summons up as much of his Power Cosmic that he can muster and there is a pretty gnarley implosion. The world is saved, Sue and Reed get married, and off go the FF to another crisis before the credits roll.
A minute or two into the credits, they show the Surfer floating in space, unconcious. His board starts to move and flashes towards the camera, and then the credits roll to their conclusion.
That small scene during the credits, as well as the internet buzzing with talk that they are getting a popular comic book writer to pen a Surfer stand alone movie that has already been greenlit, has me excited. This movie was a very good launch pad for a Surfer film, which was it's purpose beyond making a crap ton of money for Fox. Now, you will have millions of people who will have liked this movie, gotten to know the Surfer just enough to see he has badass powers and is unlike any of the other Superheros they've seen on the big screen to date. Fox has dangled a shiny, silver carrot and will hopefully cash in with an even better Surfer movie.

Another quick point before I close, what they did right with the Surfer, they also did right with Galactus, and depending on what happens in the Surfer movie, could be even better when you look back at this movie. They had this storyline that revolved around The Surfer and the FF. And again, you have to look at it from the perspective of the General Audience I mentioned ealier. If they don't know the Surfer, they sure as shit don't know of Galactus. It's not even until this movie is halfway over that the Surfer reveals he is 'Not the Destroyer.' The audience gets a hint of that in the first scene of the movie, but really they have no idea what the fuck he's talking about. Surfer later reveals who Galactus is and that his role as a reluctant herald is only in order to spare his planet the fate that awaits Earth. But, the audience still doesn't know what that means beyond 'There is a giant God-like character out there, strong enough to create Surfer who can beat any Superhero's ass he wants, and it can destroy planets to boot.' You never 'see' Galactus, you never hear him speak, and not once does it make a lick of difference. They save two major reveals for the Surfer movie. That is awesome.

At the end of this movie, people in the theater clapped. I never once heard anybody laugh at a scene because it was 'so bad it was funny', which definitely happened in 'Spider-Man 3'. I saw it with an audience in a half-full theater yesterday afternoon, so I didn't get to see it with a typical opening weekend crowd. But the people in the theater were a mixed bag of ages ranging from single digits with parents to couples in their 30's. If those folks liked it, young and old alike, then The Silver Surfer can certainly be back on the big screen next year or early the following year. I very much look foward to it.


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