Wednesday, September 14, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

I remarked in my review of the 2015 FANTASTIC FOUR that it was so bad that the films by director Tim Story and his scripters looked good by comparison. Therefore I decided that I should examine them once more.

Both films are, as I said, pedestrian affairs, particularly given the great strengths of the original Lee-Kirby comics. I have not read the ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR reboot on which the first film was originally based, but it may be the source of the adequate chemistry between the foursome. At the same time, UFF may be the source of the film's worst mistake: making Doctor Doom a modern financial wizard, to whom Reed Richards must come begging to facilitate his new project. One shouldn't expect total faithfulness to the original versions of the 1960s, but Story's Doom is nothing but an empty shell, in which all the elements-- his rivalry with Richards, his reason for donning his signature armor-- are stunningly tedious.

The early sections, in which the irradiated foursome became acquainted with their new capacities, and more or less luck out, becoming popular celebrities at the same time. At the same time, Doom's fortunes fall as the foursome's rise, and so he turns into a super-villain, with no real purpose beyond attacking his super-powered foes.

There are some decent character moments scattered throughout the meandering script, but even the strongest arc-- the romance of Reed and Sue-- fails to prove compelling, since it depends on a conception of Richards as a typical absent-minded professor-type. Ben Grimm, prior to becoming the Thing, is given a girlfriend named Debbie, who has no purpose in the story except to reject him instantly when he becomes monsterized, thus conveniently setting up the monster-hero's encounter with his prospective new girlfriend, the blind-- and black-- Alicia. The Human Torch, who tended to be somewhat negligible in the comics, becomes an egotistical "player," but although he gets many of the best lines, advocating the fun of being a superhero, his character too comes off as somewhat hollow.

RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER has the advantage of  not having to establish the primary heroes and their villain Doom (who makes a return appearance). However, its attempt to translate the mythic charms of Lee and Kirby's so-called Galactus Trilogy is almost a total wash. Again, I don't mind the judicious excision of elements that wouldn't have worked on the screen, such as the appearance of the Watcher and the visual conception of Galactus as a giant guy with a big helmet. But the fact that the world-devourer Galactus is given no compensating visual depiction speaks to the poverty of imagination here.

The Silver Surfer's arc is curiously inert and unimpressive. In the original Lee-Kirby story, the Surfer is an alien being who simply does not comprehend why organic beings should mind being devoured by his planet-eating master. (Later Stan Lee backed off on this depiction, depicting the Surfer as a more rational humanoid alien, transformed into his space-surfing form by his master, though he never actually guides Galactus to any worlds with life on them.) The movie's Surfer borrows from both origins: he tells Sue Storm that he became the Surfer so that his world would be spared by Galactus, but there seems to be no question that he has indeed sacrificed other living worlds to his master. The director and writers utterly fail to put across the alien's conversion to the importance of humanity, giving him a banal reason: that Sue reminds him of his lost love back on his homeworld.

Doom provides a secondary menace while the characters try to prepare for the advent of Galactus, and he's no more interesting this time around, except in one scene. The scripters evidently read a sequence from the comics in which Doom sought to steal the Surfer's power, and adapted this basic idea. This engenders the film's only mythic moment in terms of visuals: Doom approaches the Surfer and seeks to persuade the alien to serve his evil purposes. Because Story keeps Doom's familiar metallic visage hidden by his hood, he projects a more Satanic aura here, not least because the action is set upon a "high place," such as is suggested by Satan's final temptation of Jesus. However, after this one intriguing moment, Doom simply becomes a standard badguy once more, and the heroes' exploits are rendered ludicrous by a sitcom-like plot-line in which the characters start assuming one another's powers.

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