Thursday, 14 June 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the silver surfer (2007)

Sci-fi's Ursula Andress moment

Perhaps the reason to rave about the Fantastic Four movies are the same reason why others might decry the Fantastic Four movies. Made in a decade where the superhero genre has shifted to a dark, epic, and serious tone, the Fantastic Four movies of 2005 and 2007 either stick out like a sore thumb or illuminate in the darkness like a diamond (depending on your tastes in superhero movies), marked by an unserious, jokey, even irreverent approach to storytelling. That's not to say that Fantastic Four is a spoof of the genre (like how the Scary Movies are a spoof of the horror genre), but rather a legitimate if slightly out of step with modern fashion member of the genre (like how NEXT or Ghost Rider were honorable outliers of the superhero genre).

Understanding this minute but profound truth can lead to greater realisations to one of the great questions that have plagued movie reviewers for 3 years now: why on earth did the critically reviled Fantastic Four movie become a smash hit? Perhaps it's a matter of choice and difference - not everyone is convinced that the only way to be a good superhero movie is to produce a 2-3 hour long epic that takes itself so seriously it has to involve some diatribe about the nature of the human condition, the responsibility that comes with power, the darkness that lies in our hearts, or even racial/gender discrimination. Sometimes, you know, we just want to watch a superhero movie that doesn't take itself seriously while we devour fistful of popcorns as we chew with our mouths open while smacking our lips audibly - just like how the gentleman who sat next to me genuinely enjoyed this movie - and how I still managed to walk out of the cinema smiling even after sitting next to him for 92 minutes.

I applaud the foresight of director Tim Story to make an unserious, lightweight superhero movie in 2005 and applaud him for sticking to his artistic vision in this sequel. The Fantastic Four are back with more misadventures than adventures (a large part of the comedy derives from the wedding preparation hijinks of the soon-to-be-wedded Mr Fantastic and Invisible Woman), which provide excuses for very cheesy and comical special effects, which one would expect to see employed in more typical rescuing the planet scenarios. Another comic thread to look out for is this movie's treatment of the Fantastic Four as celebrity superheroes, and its depiction of the group as a bunch of squabbling, bumbling bunch. Note that the issues of celebrity, growing too big for one's head, and failure are classic superhero themes (last seen in the preachy Spiderman trilogy), and then note how the same issue are given the most comic and agreeably popcorn spin here.

Now, the only problem with this movie is that its central plot doesn't quite gel together with the director's style. The planet is visited by a mysterious Silver Surfer, a herald of the planet-destroying Galactus (who doesn't turn up at all until the final 3 minutes!). It's a rather heavy existentialist theme here, one that is somewhat out of sync with the general levity of the Fantastic Four movie concept. For one, we're anticipating the most god-like villain of the Marvel comics universe, and that tends to dull the humour appreciation. I'm sure it's possible for Tim Story and Don Payne to have written a matchup between the bumbling celebrity superhero group and the near omnipotent villain and his messenger in a way that would preserve the humorous tone of the rest of the movie - but they seem to have elected to take the story in a more conventional direction instead.

All in all, Fantastic Four: the rise of the silver surfer is an interesting alternative to the psychologically realistic and dark epic model of the modern superhero movie and comic genre, and a good introduction for the masses and new comic fans to the sensibilities of the Silver Age superhero comic genre.

First published at incinemas on 21 June 2007

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