The fantastic bore

A man who worked at a cinema in the United States was fired because he’d watched Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer at a sneak preview and then written a review of it for Ain’t It Cool, the movie website. Fox, the company behind the film, apparently put pressure on the theatre’s management to fire the guy, the official reason being that he reviewed the movie too long before its release date.

No one seems to believe that party line, though. Had he written a glowing review of the film, argue net chatters, Fox is unlikely to have minded.
This is plausible. After all, every movie company wants good word of mouth and complimentary reviews, and they usually don’t mind if they are somewhat ahead of time. Everyone knows how some net discussion of a movie, ahead of its release date, can build interest in it. The dismissal must have been because the review in question told us how disappointing the film is.

I can’t say I was disappointed in the second Fantastic Four movie. But that’s because I didn’t have terribly high expectations in the first place. The original Fantastic Four was dull; the second is mind-numbingly boring.

It’s not that it’s incompetent, or that the special effects don’t do what special effects usually do—which is allow superheroes to fly and burst into flames and so on. Rise of the Silver Surfer is just so bland, so airbrushed into anonymity, that it might as well have been made by soulless computers relentlessly shuffling all the old plot devices we’ve seen a thousand times.

Reed Richards, also known as Captain Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) is the leader of the foursome; his superpower is to be able to stretch his elastic body at will. This makes him look particularly silly, but then he also has a brain to make that of Stephen Hawking look peanut-sized. He’s about to get married to his fellow superhero, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), otherwise known as the Invisible Woman. As her name indicates, she can vanish from sight at will. She can also throw up force fields when she wants to.

The other two are the Human Torch, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), who can combust spontaneously, and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), who transforms into a rocky creature called The Thing. By the time he arrived on the scene, presumably, the people who think these things up had run out of interesting names for their superheroes.

The imminent-marriage theme dominates the first third of the movie, as if this were an interesting emotional issue. Flicking her blonde wig and batting her blue contact lenses, Sue goes on and on about her Special Day. Reed pays nervous lip service to the idea that it must not be spoilt in any way, while secretly proceeding with some high-tech research. He has to do this research because a mysterious being called the Silver Surfer has surfed in from outer space. He is played by Doug Jones, but not so as you’d know it: he has been CGI’d into inhumanity and revoiced by Laurence Fishburne. At any rate, his appearance heralds the Total Destruction of Planet Earth.

And just when Reed and Sue are about to get hitched, and the audience is breathing a sigh of relief that at last this plot-stream can come to an end, lo! the Silver Surfer glides into view and Sue’s Special Day is spoilt anyway. I thought that was really funny, but no one else was laughing.

After that, we must focus on the Four’s attempts to prevent the Total Destruction of Planet Earth. It’s going to be consumed by Galactus, a big woolly cloud thing. Complications also arise because Dr Doom, who died at the end of the last movie, is back: played by Julian McMahon, he wasn’t dead, he was just starring in Nip/Tuck and, while dead, was also busy in the parallel universe of another of this week’s movies, Premonition, where he repeats the trick of dying, coming back to life, dying, coming back to life, dying ...

By this point, I was trying to go to sleep, but unfortunately I had had a good night’s rest the night before. It remained only to see how many old clichés the filmmakers could cram into Rise of the Silver Surfer. Yes, the Human Torch has to learn a moral lesson, and, yes, one of the characters will die and then (practically before you can feel anything) be brought back to life. Another will make the supreme sacrifice to save the others. And then, oh God, Reed and Sue have to get married, properly this time. And in Japan, nogal.

I daresay I am the wrong reviewer for this kind of movie, but unfortunately we do not have on our staff a film critic from the relevant target market. He or she would have to be no older than 12.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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