I must admit that the Silver Surfer is my favourite Marvel superhero of all, so when I heard that a) they were putting him in a movie and b) it was to be a sequel to the utterly underwhelming Fantastic Four, I was deeply suspicious. Still, I’m better than most at separating print from celluloid and, as long as a movie works in its own right, you won’t catch my making “but it didn’t happen like that in the comic!” remarks. Indeed, I enjoyed the recent Ghost Rider film, to put it in perspective for you. In the end, I was happy to go into this with an open mind.
The film’s story is loosely adapted from the classic Coming of Galactus story arc, in which the Fantastic Four find themselves up against an omnipotent cosmic force. This force has a name – Galactus – and a herald, in the form of a flying silver alien. In the film, the alien comes to the heroes’ attention when he starts transforming matter all over Earth and leaving great craters everywhere from New York to the Thames. More scarily, every other planet he’s done this on before has been destroyed within eight days …*SPOILERS*
The plot reveals itself quite nicely for the first half and moves at a fair pace. The mystery of the Surfer’s purpose is presented intriguingly enough to hold the attention, there’s plenty of city-trashin’ action to satisfy my desire for wanton destruction and it’s all interspersed with some quality humour to boot (I bet you always wondered just how Mr Fantastic laid his rubber-limbed moves down on a dancefloor?). That said, my attention wandered a little with the re-introduction of an utterly pointless Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) and, by the end, I was clutching my head in despair at what an absolute scrambled mess they made of the final reel.
It was as though every open story arc was closed in thirty seconds when it should’ve been at least fifteen minutes. I am THE LAST PERSON who would ordinarily cry out for a longer running time (my crusade against ass-numbing overindulgences has resulted in my active avoidance of almost anything beyond 100 minutes) but really – this is perplexing. Admittedly some of this is minor, like Frankie and Johnny’s relationship which goes from icy pseudo-flirting to a loved-up appearance together in the wedding epilogue. This seemed to missing a vital “we’re about to die together, let’s kiss” scene and the earlier conversation between Ben and Johnny which talked about having someone to hold at the end of the world would’ve set that up beautifully. Has there been a hatchet job here?
There must’ve been. Surely overzealous re-editing is the only excuse I can imagine for how Galactus is destroyed. Far from being an all-powerful being, it seems all you have to is randomly fly a surfboard up him, look constipated and explode. Yes. For all the explanation we get offered (ie: none), it looks as though Galactus is destroyed with a gigantic fart; the most ludicrous, baffling anti-climax in recent memory.
Ideally they should have cut Doctor Doom out altogether and replaced his footage with more stuff about the Surfer and Galactus. The story as presented in the second half is almost incomprehensibly thin and needs way more context, whereas Doom is entirely superfluous. A pint to anyone who can tell me what he does in the plot that couldn’t’ve been done by someone else? Rubbing his hands together constantly and being sleazy doesn’t count. You can watch Nip/Tuck if you want to see him doing that.*END SPOILERS*
It’s such a shame that this ridiculous race to the finish line ruins what could otherwise have been a first class Summer Blockbuster. The script is often very careful, especially with the dialogue, which makes a conscious effort to emulate proper comic book style (not as easy as it sounds but accomplished with rare perfection here). There are some wonderful interractions between characters where you can almost SEE the speech bubbles, and even one customary swipe at DC (yay). Additionally, the action scenes are breathtaking. There are one or two bits of well dodgy CGI but it still can’t hamper the sheer inventiveness of certain set-pieces. The sky collision between the Surfer and the Human Torch is a thing of beauty. As is Doug Jones in general, for that matter. Whilst all the cast (bar Jessica Alba – WHY WHY WHY is she making movies?!) do admirably in their roles, Jones excels as the alien. His facial expressions are so impeccably Norin Radd, I could honestly believe him to be from another planet. It’s uncanny.
So yeah, there’s tons and tons to love about this film, contrary to my initial fears. All the things I thought they’d fail at were fine (I feared the Surfer would look like toss for a start) and yet the easy bit, the no-brainer (ie: telling a pre-existing story with a coherent ending), they screwed up monumentally. My only hope is that a Director’s Cut DVD might contain the missing fifteen minutes where everything logical happened.