Just as Jaws remade the modern blockbuster and kick-started
an era of imitators who frequently tried to cop its moves via a
misapplication of its lessons, so too has the overwhelming commercial
success and (only recently mitigated) critical embrace of the Spider-Man and X-Men films changed both the way that cinematic comic book adaptations are shepherded to the big screen and taken in by audiences.
In the summer of 2005, Fantastic Four
debuted to $56 million, en route to a $154 million tally domestically.
It was mostly reamed by critics, however, rightly derided as simple-minded,
bland and lacking in its execution. Fan-boys, meanwhile, as is their wont, nit-picked the movie
to death, carping over everything from the casting and costumes to its
storyline and effects work. When everyone finally pushed away from the
table, the result was a theatrical haul of more than $330 worldwide.
Still, there didn’t seem to be much happiness about the final product,
either amongst cast or audiences. Fantastic Four was an almost anonymous, flavorless hit, like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or Van Helsing, each of which pulled comparable box office numbers.
A lot is riding on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,
then. And so it’s no coincidence that the sequel sort of circles the
narrative wagon, plays up some of the same thematic elements that the
character of Spider-Man has grappled with (a superhero’s place in the
world, trying to find some sense of normalcy in one’s private life),
and goes to painstaking lengths to plumb a tale that not just sets up
another installment but in fact actively flows to a third film.
Leaner than its predecessor, almost too much so, and also, to much derisive gossip, rated PG to the original’s
PG-13, Rise of the Silver Surfer will suffer the slings and
arrows of not being perceived as hip enough to qualify as a truly
“good” or substantial comic book film. And is there some truth to that?
Possibly, though I read precisely two Fantastic Four comics as
a kid, remember very little about them, and therefore feel no
duty-bound sense of outraged betrayal over any alleged pillaging or
besmirching of the source material.
It is true that Rise of the Silver Surfer is a relatively
streamlined movie of primary colors and emotions, and unmuddled motivations. It’s flip, and light of foot. But
every adolescent generation needs those sorts of pictures, right? And whereas the
first Fantastic Four didn’t really succeed in establishing a
compelling backdrop of heightened (or, on the other hand, hyper-)
reality, this iteration feels a lot more comfortable in its skin. Even
if that skin is of a children’s size. For the full review, from FilmStew, click here. For an interview with co-screenwriter Don Payne, meanwhile, click here.