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Marvel Movies Project: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Movie poster for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).

Well, this is something of a milestone in the Marvel Movies Project: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) is the first one of these movies I had never seen before. I’m not sure why I didn’t go see it at the time, but it’s possible my disappointment with Spider-Man 3, released just a month earlier, had something to do with it.

We rejoin the FF an unspecified amount of time after the first film. The people all seem much the same, but relationships have progressed: Reed and Sue are trying (repeatedly) to get married, Ben and Alicia have become a serious couple, and Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny have settled into the routine of being the Fantastic Four and saving the world on a regular basis. They are truly a team now; even Johnny, once the rebel of the bunch, is committed to the group identity.

When Johnny overhears Reed and Sue talking about giving up the superhero life after their wedding to try to raise a family, he takes it hard. There isn’t much by way of character development in this movie, but Johnny has the closest thing to a character arc as we see some cracks in his bravado and get indications that the Torch may actually be growing up. Although this is somewhat interesting, the downside is that it makes him a bit less funny. His humour was Fantastic Four‘s main asset and Rise of the Silver Surfer suffers from a lack of it.

The film’s plot sees the Fantastic Four recruited by the government to help deal with the threat posed by the mysterious Silver Surfer, who is flying around the planet creating bizarre weather and giant craters and also making Johnny’s molecules unstable, causing him to swap powers hilariously with other team members when he touches them. The team eventually discovers that, despite all the chaos he causes, the Surfer is not himself the threat: he is merely the herald of Galactus, the devourer of worlds, who is on his way to consume planet Earth.

In the movie, Galactus is portrayed as a sort of giant cloud-like thing. Comic book readers may be familiar with him in a rather different form. Apparently, the filmmakers made him this way to preserve the impact of revealing Galactus’ true appearance for a future Silver Surfer spinoff movie, which of course never happened — at least, not yet. J. Michael Straczynski had written a script at one point, but it was abandoned, and as far as I can tell there’s nothing concrete in the works in terms of a Silver Surfer movie right now. However, we know from reading the Marvel Movies Project post about Daredevil that Fox declined to trade the rights to the Surfer and Galactus back to Marvel in exchange for keeping the rights to Daredevil, so it seems a future Silver Surfer movie shouldn’t be ruled out.

Anyway, the Surfer, who never tried to stop Galactus before but wants to this time because Sue reminds him of his one true love, turns out to be an ally against Galactus. Unfortunately, Victor von Doom does not: after shocking the FF by being still alive, Doom completes the evil comeback by stealing the surfboard which is the source of much of the Surfer’s power. The only way the Fantastic Four can defeat Doom is by taking advantage of Johnny’s unstable molecules and giving him all their combined powers. With that boost, Johnny takes Victor down, thus paradoxically demonstrating the power of teamwork through solo action. The Surfer gets his board back and defeats Galactus, and Sue and Reed finally have their wedding.

I didn’t dislike this movie, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I did the first one. The humour is not as strong and the team doesn’t have quite the same dysfunctional energy that made them so fun to watch the first time around.

It seems this was the last big screen go-round for this particular Fantastic Four team; Chris Evans has obviously moved on to bigger and way better Marvel pursuits, and Fox’s so far castless upcoming Fantastic Four franchise reboot is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2015. That one’s been in the news lately: last week it was reported that Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has completed a “polish” of the film’s script. Mark Millar, who is working on the reboot as a consultant, has been hyping the project:

“What I wasn’t expecting actually was just how funny and likeable he could make this as well as getting the more awesome moments on screen — I use awesome in the traditional British sense and not the California sense awesome, you know? The Ridley Scott moments, and the Fantastic Four really are jaw-dropping in the same way you feel when you saw Alien for the first time. There’s some moments in this — not to be specific — that are actually gonna be phenomenal on screen and stuff you haven’t seen in a superhero movie before.”

He probably doesn’t mean the Fantastic Four reboot is going to be a terrifying space horror movie featuring a pointy-toothed alien monster and creatures bursting from the FF’s chests, but that’s all I can imagine now.

Marvel Movies Project: Ghost Rider (and Half-Way Roundup!)

Movie poster for Ghost Rider (2007).

Ghost Rider (2007) is the story of stunt motorcycle rider and monkey documentary devotee Johnny Blaze, who sells his soul to the devil, here named Mephistopheles, in order to cure his father’s cancer. To work off his debt, Johnny is forced to become the “Ghost Rider,” which involves being the devil’s bounty hunter. Then there is some deal about a contract so evil that another Ghost Rider hid it, and now Mephistopheles’ son, whose name is Blackheart, wants to used it to show his father up … or something. Meanwhile, Johnny reunites with Roxanne, the love of his teen years. Eventually, Blackheart threatens Roxanne and Johnny has to save her.

Nicolas Cage is a fun actor and he seems to enjoy being Johnny Blaze, who is an offbeat character with some absurd quirks. The whole movie, really, is odd and cannot be taken seriously, with its paper thin plot and the cheesetastic delivery of lines like “I am speaking to the fire element within me” and “My name is leeeeeeeeegion. For we are maaaaaaaaaaany.” Most of the cast give silly performances to match the movie’s tone. Peter Fonda hams it up as Mephistopheles. Sam Elliott, making his second Marvel movie appearance after playing General Ross in Hulk, is in full mysterious stranger mode as a former Ghost Rider named Carter Slade.

Eva Mendes plays Roxanne. It’s not much of a role; she wears tight, low-cut clothes and looks pretty — as if to drive home the point, Roxy even desperately asks a waiter at one point if he think she’s pretty — and gets rescued after making ineffectual attempts to help Johnny. Ghost Rider is probably the worst movie so far in terms of female representation.

Ghost Rider also marks the half-way point of this Marvel Movies Project, being the 14th of 27 films! To celebrate this milestone, here’s a quick look back on some of what we’ve seen so far.

Origin Stories

Blade, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, The Punisher, Fantastic Four, and Ghost Rider all show us how the heroes got their powers. All of these except Blade and Daredevil, which pick up the action with the protagonist already in evil-fighting mode, also show the characters’ transitions from normal person to something more.

In every case but Fantastic Four, the hero’s story involves the death of a parent or loved one — several loved ones in poor Frank Castle’s case. Castle, Matt Murdock, Peter Parker, and Johnny Blaze have all lost their fathers, while Bruce Banner is haunted by the sudden reappearance of his. Castle, Blade, and Banner’s stories are different enough that you almost don’t notice the similarity, but I think Daredevil and Ghost Rider probably suffer from being too similar to Spider-Man, which is the original and still the best dead father figure story in the Marvel Universe.

It’s also worth noting that Daredevil acts as an origin story for Elektra in some ways, and it’s the death of her father that prompts her to put all her martial arts training to use.

Sequels & Spinoffs

Blade, the X-Men, and Spider-Man all feature in more than one film. I’ve watched three sequels and two threequels so far. The X-Men films rely strongly on continuity, with developments that take place in the earlier films affecting the later ones. The Blade movies are less continuity-based: there are very few references to the earlier films in the sequels; it would be pretty easy to follow Blade: Trinity without having seen Blade. Spider-Man 2 most definitely builds on a foundation established in Spider-Man, and in my opinion the two movies work best when seen in relation to each other. The core characters are all the same and many scenes in Spider-Man 2 call back directly to scenes from the first movie.

Elektra is the lone spinoff so far. The link to Daredevil exists but the filmmakers obviously intended Elektra to be a standalone movie.

Villains

Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the Green Goblin (sort of) are the only villains who appear in sequels. Every other villain appears in one movie only. Most of the main villains have personal connections to their adversaries: either they’ve known each other for a long time, or the villain was involved in the murder of someone close to the hero. The exceptions are the Blade sequels, where the villains want to kill Blade mostly because he’s a pain in the butt.

My picks for standout villains are probably Magneto and Mystique from the X-Men series, as well as Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2. Doctor Doom was unfortunately disappointing; I was all ready for him to be awesome after I saw the first photos of his costume, but then he pretty much just relived Norman Osborn’s arc from Spider-Man.

Romance & Love Interests

Doomed pairings (Bruce and Betty, Daredevil and Elektra), token love interests (Eva Mendes in Ghost Rider, Goran Visnjic in Elektra), some extremely disinterested heroes (The Punisher, Blade — no woman in the Blade trilogy even makes it into more than one film), and one love triangle which turns into a doomed pairing (Wolverine-Jean-Cyclops) add up to not much in the way of heartwarming romance in the Marvel movies. There are a few bright spots, though. In the X-Men trilogy, Bobby and Rogue’s young love is very sweet. In Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm meets the kind-hearted Alicia after being dumped by his horrible wife. Reed’s hilariously inept attempts to woo Sue are also enjoyable, and their story ends well.

The one epic love story to be found is Peter and Mary Jane’s. Their courtship plays out over the course of the first two films and Peter’s love for Mary Jane drives a lot of the action. They’re both fully-developed characters who know each other well and support each other, even though their actual relationship has its fair share of bumps. By the end of Spider-Man 2, Mary Jane is aware of Peter’s secret identity and has made the choice to be with him anyway. The final shot of the movie is a closeup of her worried face, setting up their relationship to continue as a major source of drama in Spider-Man 3.

Best & Worst

Spider-Man 2 is possibly my favourite movie of all-time, so obviously I’m sticking with that as my choice for the best film so far. X2, Spider-Man, and X-Men are also a cut above the rest. Blade and Fantastic Four stand out as very enjoyable, too.

I’d probably place Blade: Trinity, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Hulk, and Daredevil in the bottom five.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I haven’t found some of the movies I thought were awful the first time around as painful this time. Even Daredevil and Hulk, though I still don’t think they’re good, don’t seem quite as bad now that my expectations are lower. Elektra is probably the movie that benefited most from this “adjusted expectations” effect: I remembered it being terrible, but this time it seemed ok. On the other hand, I remembered thinking Ghost Rider was ok at the time, and when I watched it again I was disappointed.

My opinion of Blade: Trinity hasn’t changed. It sucked then and it still sucks now.

Marvel Movies Project: Fantastic Four

Poster for Fantastic Four (2005)

This movie has a 5.7 rating on IMDb, a lowly 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a slightly better 40 on Metacritic. But I can’t help it … I like it. A brilliant cinematic achievement? Well, no. But it’s light and funny and it does a fairly good job of bringing the FF and their dysfunctional family dynamic to life.

Fantastic Four (2005) stars Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards, Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm, and Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. The FF’s archnemesis, Victor Von Doom, is played by Julian McMahon. (In some dark corner of the internet I’m sure there’s a Nip/Tuck-Fantastic Four mashup in which Dr. Christian Troy asks Doctor Doom what he doesn’t like about himself and Doctor Doom says he needs to do something about that scar, but I haven’t found it yet.) The great thing about this cast is that they have chemistry. I thought about the problems I had with Blade: Trinity a lot while I was watching Fantastic Four this time around. While Blade and Hannibal King butting heads in Blade: Trinity leads to nothing but painfully unfunny awkwardness, the tensions between team members in Fantastic Four drive the story and make the movie fun to watch. Ben’s paranoia about Reed putting his feelings for Sue ahead of everything else allows Doom to manipulate him and bring on the final showdown. Johnny’s brash personality leads to a lot of conflict, as well as some very funny moments as he drives Ben crazy. Sue’s frustration with Reed’s constant focus on science is also amusing.

This is probably the funniest of the Marvel movies so far. The FF have pretty good lives compared to certain other Marvel heroes — somewhere, Spider-Man watches the media and public fawning over them and cries — so the mostly comedic tone of this movie is appropriate. The script is quippy, with lots of puntastic and silly dialogue: Reed is said to be “always stretching,” Ben feels “solid,” and just after Victor tells Sue he has four little words that will change their lives forever, Reed rushes in to announce that “the cloud is accelerating!”

Much of the humour comes thanks to Chris Evans’ hilarious performance. Johnny is egotistical, mischievous, and totally unfazed by going to space and coming back with superpowers. Evans, who gets almost all the best lines, plays him with lots of energy and a great sense of fun, not to mention perfect comic timing. Who’d have thought he’d go on to do an equally good job playing the rather more straight-laced Captain America? Chris Evans is truly one of the Marvel Movies MVPs.

Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, greeting his adoring public.

Michael Chiklis is also very well cast as Ben Grimm, a role he’d apparently always wanted to play. (He later played a similar character in No Ordinary Family, the short-lived, fairly FF-ish TV series about a family who develop superpowers after a plane crash.) I like the fact that they didn’t use CGI to create The Thing, even if I’m not totally sold on the actual costume and makeup job that appear in the film. It looks a little awkward to me, but the face is well done: Chiklis’ expressions come through vividly.

I’ve never been convinced that Jessica Alba was the right choice to play Sue Storm, but she does a decent job with the role as it’s written and works well with the rest of the cast. Ioan Gruffudd is good, but Reed is not a standout character here: he’s mostly playing straight man to everyone else. I think one problem with putting Reed Richards in a movie is that when you see them in “reality” as opposed to on the pages of a comic book, his stretch powers really are, as Johnny says, kind of gross. Ultimately, Gruffudd and Alba both are just plain overshadowed by Chiklis and Evans. Alba and Gruffudd’s romantic chemistry is just okay; on the other hand, Chiklis and Evans are, well, fantastic together. Ben and Johnny’s rivalry and the larger group dynamic make much more of an impression than Sue and Reed’s love story.

I can’t say that this is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly entertaining: something to put on when the weather is bad and you want some brainless fun. If nothing else, it’s worth watching just for Chris Evans.