Julian McMahon

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007, Tim Story)

The quality of the Fantastic Four franchise (and I hope it’s a franchise, not a duet) is apparently on an exponential growth curve. Rise of the Silver Surfer is, with one exception (Jessica Alba’s straining superpower face is bad), as good as a superhero movie about saving the world while wedding planning could be. It’s a delight, mostly because the first act spends more time having fun with the characters–all four of the main characters, unlike before, turn in great performances. The chemistry is down in this one; without the need to establish anything, it’s just a fun, hanging out time for a half hour. (Again, the “hang out” film being Quentin Tarantino’s term). Then the action starts and… well, apparently Fox threw a bunch of money at Silver Surfer because the action sequences are great… not to mention Tim Story being able to handle them a lot better.

With the movie centering around Alba and Ioan Gruffudd’s wedding, it’s important for Alba to turn in a good performance, instead of an acceptable one. Immediately, she does, but so does Gruffudd. Silver Surfer, for the Fantastic Four, opens in an airport with a family comedy scene… and it sets the tone for the film and indicates the cast is now comfortable in their roles (Gruffudd being the most marked improvement, ably juggling the super-nerd moments with the Alba’s husband-to-be moments).

Somehow, Silver Surfer manages to escape infusing its cartoon set-pieces–whether it’s the chase along the Great Wall or Chris Evans having all four of the Fantastic Four’s powers–with adolescent simplicity. It’s a neat trick–a combination of the performances and those expensive special effects, which integrate really well. Since the performances and the character relationships work so well–perfectly even–everything else falls in to line. The ludicrous things going on–the Silver Surfer being a shiny guy on a flying surfboard and all–fit thanks to Story’s handling of the film’s reality. It’s a familiar reality, one with jokes about coach and a sister running through crowded New York streets to aid her brother, but it’s… oh damn it. It’s a fantastical one too….

Of the cast additions, only Beau Garrett is bad. Andre Braugher is wasted, but he’s not bad (in fact, he’s playing a bad guy, so there’s really no potential–a dumb, torturing U.S. Army general). As the Silver Surfer, Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne do a great job. The combination of Jones’s movements and Fishburne’s vocal performance make the character alien, human and real. It’s something of an achievement, certainly not one I was expecting after the first film.

As usual, Evans is great. Michael Chiklis is either more comfortable under all the makeup as the Thing or writing is just better. Ditto with Kerry Washington, who literally has nothing to do but hang out and she does well at it. Julian McMahon’s a little bit of a disappointment, though he has a couple good moments… most of his scenes are in full makeup and they’re action scenes, so it’s not really his fault. His inclusion in the film is the most contrived and it left me wondering why the producers felt they needed Dr. Doom at all.

I rarely, anymore, hope for sequels, both because I prefer finite filmic narratives and also because there’s almost never anything worth a sequel. But I hope there’s another Fantastic Four, just because Gruffudd, Alba, Evans and Chiklis have created people I want to spend more time around.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Story; written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, based on a story by John Turman and Frost and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Larry Blanford; edited by William Hoy and Peter S. Elliot; music by John Ottman; production designer, Kirk M. Petruccelli; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters), Andre Braugher (General Hager), Beau Garrett (Captain Frankie Raye) and Doug Jones & Laurence Fishburne (The Silver Surfer).


Fantastic Four (2005, Tim Story), the extended cut

I watched Fantastic Four for a number of reasons (really). First, because I liked one of the previews to the second one. Second, there is a recently released on DVD extended cut. Third, I wanted to compare and contrast it to the unreleased 1994 version. Fourth, to give movielens a run for its money (it’s currently predicted at 11⁄2, which is whopping in my opinion). Fifth, as the film’s so hated by comic book fans, I figured–as usual–my response would be somewhat opposite. Finally, because a friend of mine was recommending The Stop Button as a perceptive and effective online film review site and navigated to it and found a review of Ghost Rider, mortifying him. I figured Fantastic Four would be even worse… but, really, it’s quite the reverse.

I’ve had the extended cut for a few days and have been dreading watching it, as I assumed I’d just turn it off after fifteen or twenty minutes (on the outside). I even started it and the first scene–not the rather nice opening credits–did nothing to change that prediction. Ioan Gruffudd seemed ineffectual and Michael Chiklis seemed like he was mugging it a bit heavy. But I stuck through that first awkward scene and when Julian McMahon and Jessica Alba showed up, it got engaging. McMahon is great throughout–except when he’s got on the Doctor Doom mask for the final fight scene. He’s phoning in a voice over performance in that part. Alba’s interesting. I’ve only seen her in Sin City–let me quote that review–and in it, she “was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe.” She starts out in Four mediocre, then she gets good. The age difference between her and Gruffudd disappears. Their romance, which is ludicrous by any reasonable standard, becomes a touching part of the film. Gruffudd’s okay, nothing more. He gives the film’s most unremarkable performance–he’s effective as the romantic lead, as the friend to Chiklis (particularly in the beginning), but as the super-smart scientist, he falls flat. He’s not a believable genius. The script doesn’t really present him as one either, but Gruffudd more plays the role like an eighties teen romantic lead (and not even the kid from Real Genius). Chris Evans has a freaking ball with his role (though he and Alba come across as siblings on paper, not in reality). Still, taking her age at the time (twenty-four) into account, she gives a rather good performance. And I already said McMahon is great.

So what’s wrong with Fantastic Four. First, the easy part. Tim Story can’t compose a Panavision shot. The action scenes are pretty damn neat (though the special effects are terrible), but the other scenes… medium shots, close-ups… Story’s out of his compositional depth. The long shots he tends to be all right with, maybe a C (at best). It depends on the characters interaction in the scene, which might be where Four is so surprisingly effective… because the script, in terms of plot, is terrible. The dialogue’s fine (as it should be, Mark Frost has a lot of experience on fine projects). It makes absolutely no sense with any consideration of reality. I can’t imagine watching this film and thinking about the comic book, because Story spends so much time referencing other films–Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark–the film, with those stylized opening credits, establishes itself on its terms. Ones where common sense and a level of believability don’t exist. And it’s with those terms. It never breaks them, which might be another factor in its (moderate) success. Though it’s really the cast. McMahon, Evans and Alba.

However, I do need to mention one more thing about Tim Story. There’s a scene where the blind sculptor, played with earnest zeal by Kerry Washington–who frequently substitutes vigor for acting talent, to an acceptable degree here–washes rock-encrusted Thing Chiklis. It is the finest, most romantic sex scene I have seen in a long time. There’s a lot of bad editing in Fantastic Four, particularly in the first act (not to mention the extended cut including two versions of the same scene), but that scene is perfect. It’s masterful… something I never thought I’d be saying about this film.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Story; written by Mark Frost, Simon Kinberg and Michael France, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by William Hoy; music by John Ottman; production designer, Bill Boes; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Hamish Linklater (Leonard) and Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters).


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