FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer turns to one of the most fascinating superheroes in the Marvel canon The Silver Surfer. The Silver Surfer was a co-creation of Marvel godfather Stan Lee and cult comic-book artist/writer Jack Kirby. The Silver Surfer first appeared in Fantastic Four #48 (1966), before gaining his own title The Silver Surfer (1968-70) and going onto become a major character in the Marvel universe. (The idea of the Silver Surfer and his surfboard apparently came about because Jack Kirby was sick of drawing spaceships). According to Marvel canon, The Silver Surfer is Norrin Radd, an astronomer from the planet Zenn-La, who makes a deal with the intergalactic world destroyer Galactus to save his own world by acting as a and scouting out the habitable planets that Galactus needs to devour as food. After his encounter with the Fantastic Four and in particular Ben Grimms girlfriend Alicia Masters, The Silver Surfer was moved to stand up against Galactus and prevent the Earths destruction. For doing so, Galactus exiled The Surfer, imprisoning him inside a barrier that prevented him from travelling beyond The Earth.
The Silver Surfer has appeared on screen a number of times. He turned up in episodes of both of the Fantastic Four animated tv series The Fantastic Four (1967) and The Fantastic Four (1994). There was then an original animated tv series spun off from the latter show with The Silver Surfer (1998) where the Surfer was voiced by Paul Essiembre, although this only lasted for 13 episodes. In 1980, there was the announcement of a live-action Silver Surfer film, which was reportedly to star Olivia Newton-John, although this never emerged.
While Fantastic Four was undemandingly likeable, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ends up in being a considerable disappointment. One had a sinking feeling about Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer when the script was announced as from former The Simpsons (1989 ) writer Don Payne whose previous venture into superheroics was the ultra-lame My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) and who would go onto co-write Thor. In the first film, Tim Story, the writers and the cast did a worthwhile job in crafting the characters of the Fantastic Four and their various tensions. Most of that feels like it is delivered on autopilot by the time of Rise of the Silver Surfer. Most notable is Michael Chikliss performance as Ben Grimm, which was one of the high points of the first film. Here Ben lacks the pathos Michael Chiklis brought first time around and looks no more than a big lugubrious, gruff-voiced truck driver with a soft heart whose only purpose in the film is as a lunkheaded comic prop. Jessica Alba is again badly miscast in the role of Susan Storm and does little to animate the part. Julian McMahon returns as Victor Von Doom and in the few scenes when he appears, particularly one where Jessica Alba confronts him, manages to look calculatingly evil but is relegated to little more than a supporting character this time around. The only character who presents any life is Chris Evans who again plays Johnny Storms cocksure self-certainty with an appealing swagger. (Stan Lee also makes an amusing cameo as himself, being turned away from trying to gatecrash the wedding ceremony).
Particularly irritating this time around is Tim Storys substitution of awkward lowbrow comedy in lieu of anything that approaches character development Reed Richards is dragged off on a bachelor party and we see him twisting his limbs on the dancefloor; there is a good deal of not particularly funny humour centred around a plot device that requires the various principals to swap superpowers and with Ben constantly trying to hug a scared Johnny. (Usually when a science-fiction tv series has an episode with the continuing characters swapping bodies/powers or encountering evil or alternate world versions of themselves, it is the sign that it has run out of creative energy).
Probably the most disappointing aspect of the film is its handling of such a wonderfully original character as The Silver Surfer. Although we get mention of Norinn Radd, his deal with Galactus and the unnamed girlfriend and homeworld that he tries to protect, The Silver Surfer here is lacking in any of the cosmic grandeur he had in the comic-books. The comic-book Surfer stood outside humanity and above notions like good and evil but also felt compassion and acted according to a nobility the comic-books were frequently memorable for their haunting soliloquies and observations on the human condition. More disappointing on a physical level, The Silver Surfer here looks like no more than a primitive CGI effect circa 1989-91, not 2007 and the era of a digitally created Gollum and motion capture animation.
Even more disappointing is the depiction of Galactus who comes bereft of any but the most minimal explanation as to what it is. Tim Story made the deliberate (and probably correct) decision not to show Galactus as the giant galactic robot he was in the comic-books. All that we get instead is a big sinister cloud heading towards Earth for all the world just like VGer from Star Trek The Motion Picture (1979). The biggest disappointment is how Galactuss threatening of The Earth and the Silver Surfers mutiny and climactic saving of The Earth are sketched in the most routine and minimalist terms. If only Tim Story and Don Payne could have imbued these scenes with something of the poetry of a Jack Kirby comic-strip, we could have had a classic. (Still there is some hope in that within a matter of days of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfers release, Marvel Entertainment announced a stand-alone Silver Surfer film, purportedly with Alex Proyas directing, although this was subsequently been dropped).
The Fantastic Four were cinematically rebooted with Fantastic Four (2015).