"Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" inspires a superhero embargo

by JD Warnock on June 15, 2007

in Print Reviews

Ah, where to begin.

I can recall around the time of the release of Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” in 1991…I was deeply enthralled with Robert Deniro’s monster performance and thought that Deniro– at that particular moment– would make the perfect Wolverine. I jotted down a few different versions of who I imagined would fill out the cast of the X-Men for the big screen, and tried to figure out which of my favorite directors could make it work. At that time, few superhero films had been made and the only attempts at comic book films that were successful at the box office and in their execution were DC comics universe mainstays Superman and Batman. Marvel Comics had yet to have its day.

As it turns out, director Bryan Singer nailed the first two X-Men movies – casting an equally inspired Wolverine in Hugh Jackman – and Sam Raimi astonished us with the first two Spider-Man films.

Recently, Singer bailed the X-Men for the pathetic “Superman Returns,” Raimi lost his footing on Spider-Man with the overfilled, under-inspired third movie, and now comes the sequel to the Fantastic Four. My thought now, as a comic book fan and an avid film fan is….please stop.

The time may have come for a comic-book superhero movie embargo. Everyone in Hollywood would have to sit on their proverbial hands for the next five years, thus avoiding the current descent into a rapidly growing glut of lackluster and utterly unnecessary superhero films.

The same way Nirvana was the impetus for record company execs swallowing up every Candlebox, Silverchair and Hole they could find in an attempt to get in on the craze, Hollywood just can’t keep its hands out of this all-too-tempting cookie jar. And just look what happened…

Smells Like the Fantastic Four

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” isn’t the worst thing in the world. If “X-Men 2” is a decadent and exciting chocolate-dipped dessert treat, then “Fantastic Four” is a single old low-fat graham cracker at the bottom of the box in the cabinet. It’s better than nothing, although it only serves to remind you of something sweet you simply don’t have at the moment.

Here’s a question. How do you make Jessica Alba – one of the most attractive women in Hollywood – weird looking and distracting in a bad way? You stick some crazy blue contacts in her eyes. Even Marilyn Manson’s optical accessories look more natural than Alba’s bug-eyed Sue Storm, who’s overly accentuate peepers could go toe to toe with Michael Jackson’s yellow werewolf lenses in the “Thriller” video. You’ve cast Jessica Alba against type for the comic book version of Sue Storm – so what? – let her be the lovely girl she is, and stop trying to fake out the audience by clubbing them over the head.

Poor, poor Michael Chiklis. “The Shield” has finally given the Commish a much deserved helping of credibility and notoriety and The Thing is right there to clobber all that work. There are some things that remain “a bridge too far” for Hollywood make-up and effects departments, and clearly The Thing character is one of them. Chiklis looks like he’s been caked in cheese popcorn and circus peanuts, heated, and then touched up with orange spray paint and a Sharpie. This is one step up from the “Saturday Night Live” Gumby costume worn by Eddie Murphy way back when.

Ironically, the pace of the film, it’s hour-and-a-half running time, and compact story are all not that bad. The Fantastic Four find themselves riding high, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Alba) are set to be married, Ben Grimm aka The Thing has found romance with Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), and Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch (Chris Evans), is up to his fratboy-meets-playboy tricks. The mysterious Silver Surfer (Doug Jones), voiced by Lawrence Fishburne, turns up leaving frozen landscapes and giant craters in his wake. The Fantastic Four gang is forcibly distracted from their celebrity long enough to saddle up with the military, tangle once again with a revived Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) and you know… save the planet.

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” isn’t quite scraping the bottom of the barrel, however, it is a harbinger of things to come. While I’m holding out hope for the Jon Favreau-directed “Iron Man” slated for 2008, there is no end in sight for so-so comic-hero films. There are literally thousands of characters to be exploited, and barrels of tacky contacts to thrust on would-be starlets. So, I encourage the quality filmmakers out there to consider a sleepy British period drama, or an espionage thriller in the Australian outback before your next attempt at hurrying a Marvel character to their rightful place in the middle of the pack.

Of course in a post-“Lord of the Rings” world, every Stan Lee character can be made into a movie. Innovations in special effects and technology have made virtually everything possible, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

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