" Oh come come now. Just because you sold your soul to the devil, that needn’t make you a teetotaler. "
— Edward Arnold, The Devil and Daniel Webster

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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The most amazing thing about Rise of the Silver Surfer is that a movie about four scientists can come up so short in chemistry and logic.

Surf’s Up

The Silver Surfer alludes to his own back story -- why he's destroying planets around the universe
The Silver Surfer alludes to his own back story — why he’s destroying planets around the universe

What is it about a movie that can make palms sweat and get the heart racing? What is that X factor? Perhaps some scientist somewhere can explain the psycho-physiological interaction between the human mind and the movie screen that makes an audience want to cheer when the good guys defeat the bad guys. Or maybe that would take the fun out of the magical mystery that movies can be.

In any case, this movie doesn’t have the X factor. The palms don’t sweat and not many people cheer while watching Rise of the Silver Surfer, even with Earth milli-nanoseconds away from total, complete and utter destruction.

Why?

The movie looks like a million bucks (well, 130 million). And the story has potential. It’s a globetrotting action piece that takes the Fantastic Four to locales such as London, the Black Forest, and Shanghai (or at least somebody’s back lot version of Shanghai).

Nonetheless, not much tension is generated by this suitably over-the-top situation. Perhaps that’s because the Fantastic Four are prone to in-fighting and, even as they face the annihilation of the entire planet, arguing about who’s going to drive the spiffy new Fantasticar, fully loaded and sporting a HEMI, which was apparently made by Mr. Fantastic — with the cooperation of Dodge — under the secretive cloak of a white bed sheet in the foursome’s slick New York City lab to the complete surprise of the rest of the team.

Quiksilver

It doesn’t help matters any that the movie tries to paint the foursome as prominent world-renowned celebrities with all eyes eagerly watching their every move and anticipating the marriage between Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, King Arthur) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, Into the Blue) as if they were global royalty (one talking airhead dubs the event the “wedding of the century”).

But that doesn’t explain why in one scene, when they’re forced to fly coach, nobody on the plane seems to realize they’re the Fantastic Four. Instead, passengers give what are supposed to be humorous, quizzical looks at the misfits as if they’ve never seen them before.

Then again, exactly why the Fantastic Four would even be in a situation where they’d be forced to fly coach to begin with is never really clear. After all, they’ve totally decked out the Baxter Building in midtown Manhattan with all sorts of Fantastic Four logos, including a spectacular “four-themed” rooftop, and their penthouse studio laboratory sports all the latest technology. Maybe they should splurge on a private jet and some carbon offsets.

The story has a couple other plot holes that are — no offense to the rubbery Mr. Fantastic — a bit of a stretch. The most glaring one involves the return of Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon, Premonition). As the mysterious Silver Surfer flies around the world wreaking havoc, his flyby over Doom’s Latverian homeland reawakens the man of metal from his cryogenic slumber. Once Doom is somehow able to get a crony to release him from his chamber, he instantly knows exactly what is happening and where to find the Silver Surfer, meet the shiny one face-to-face, and get it all recorded on Doom’s helicopter camera.

Perhaps that’s one more reason why the fantastic ones should invest in a private jet; they’d have an easier time getting a jump on the competition.

Silver Screen

It’s not all bad, though.

The Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix) does look cool and he alludes to his own interesting back story while explaining why he’s going around the universe destroying planets. That’s a storyline that will no doubt be exploited further in a rumored spin-off.

Some of the ideas bouncing around are also kind of interesting, albeit not entirely well done. As the movie begins, a Japanese bay freezes over, the Sphinx gets frostbite, and Los Angeles goes dark all thanks to the Silver Surfer’s flyby escapades. That’s a promising start.

Unfortunately, director Tim Story fails to generate chemistry between the characters and the audience. The end result is a challenge to sit still through, even though the movie’s a scant 90+ minutes. The bulk of the problem can be attributed to a lack of concern about the lead characters and their dilemmas; they simply don’t have the X factor of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man or Christian Bale’s Batman.

It’s hard to empathize with Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, TV’s The Shield), the man of rock known as The Thing, who still manages to swig down the pints (er, pitchers). Mr. Fantastic himself is annoying because he perpetually lives in Geekville. Sweet, sexy Sue looks positively bored.

Thankfully, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, London) is somewhat less obnoxious and a little more palatable this time around. But he’s still a jerk who’s anxious to load the foursome’s uniforms with NASCAR-like product endorsement patches. And Johnny says he now wants to be called “John” because “Johnny” skews too young, according to market research. Earth to Johnny! Have you seen the movie you’re in?