Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
4: Rise of the Silver Surfer
starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis
screenplay by Don Payne
directed by Tim Story
starring Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman
screenplay by Steve Oedekerk
directed by Tom Shadyac
by Walter Chaw The question arises as to whether the choice for comic book adaptations has to be between "existentially tortured" and "dumb as a bag of hammers." It's a given on which extreme Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (hereafter FF2), already lauded for being blissfully free of gravitas and subtext, resides; what's troubling is the underlying inference of this philosophy: that people deserve and want entertainment that's beneath them. It's easier by far to condemn the audience as morons, forking over their cash like roughneck flyovers voting for Big Business, but I prefer to look at the situation as a tragedy--a by-product of a generation of fervent anti-intellectualism that's made smart people afraid to question their own judgment. Far from a malady unique to Hollywood, it's more a reflection of the culture that would elect someone most perceive to be, if not outright stupider, then certainly more thoughtless, than themselves to the highest office in the land. Discouraged to exercise the foundational, instinctively American inclination to criticize our leadership, we're left without enough of a nutsack to properly place a work of art in its social context. I'd offer that FF2 is a symptom of a potentially mortal illness, another being the ghettoizing of the idea of "nuance."
What remains of note in this relic--and an instant relic it is--is the faint, onion-skin impression of performances so mechanical that the fact of Jessica Alba finding a lower level to sink to is almost miraculous for the insight it gives us into how far a hot bod and beautiful face can take you in this world. She seems to have her heart in the right place, and it's finally no fault of hers that her stunning ethnicity is lacquered beneath a blonde hooker wig and fright contacts, but I wonder if she wouldn't do more for her cause by not protesting her objectification in magazines that airbrush her into perfection for their covers. Oh, and by learning how to deliver a line like a human being. I lost any respect I might've had for Alba when she agreed to this Aryan-ization of herself. One quarter of the titular four, Alba is Sue Storm, the Invisible one, which strikes me as poignant, too; she also projects an impenetrable defense when threatened. The more you think about it, the better the casting becomes.
Sue's fiancé is made-out-of-taffy Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud), her brother is asshole Johnny (Chris Evans), and their layabout houseguest who wouldn't leave and now they're stuck with him is Thing (Michael Chiklis). Beyond that, there's nothing to be said, so nothing is said. On the eve of Sue and Reed's possibly kinky nuptials (there's a movie I'd like to see--go-go-gadget penis), a dude made out of CGI appears, sowing destruction from atop a silver surfboard. Much time is spent watching him zoom around: the universe's most Zen genocidal maniac, voiced by Laurence Fishburne (were he homey and interested in developing the white male protagonist, it'd be Morgan Freeman; were he the white male protagonist's dad, it'd be James Earl Jones; and were he the white male protagonist's jigaboo sidekick, Cuba Gooding Jr--unless this happened to be a literal cartoon, in which case he'd be Eddie Murphy...I could go on), he's the film's vague brush against global-warming topicality.
Anything more would be cheating the great wide swaths of gibbering no-brow-bia: the baseball-cap-askew-nation, text-messaging their way through the dead spots as the hum of air-conditioning provides sibilant counterpoint to the eternal hunger of the popcorn mob to find sustenance in watching FF2 together. Could there be something in that communal throng that explains the pop cult of God? I bet there could, and I wish that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. were around to articulate it. The best I can come up with is this idea that if a community agrees to believe something no matter how bonzer, it's usually religion; and if you can find something at all worthwhile in ninety minutes of FF2, then, brother, I'm converted to the belief in your belief of the supernatural. Here's what George Lucas said about it:
"Popcorn pictures have always ruled. Why do people go and see these popcorn pictures when they're not good? Why is the public so stupid? That's not my fault. I just understood what people liked to go see, and Steven [Spielberg] has too, and we go for that."
See--he's right. It's why drug dealers stick heroin in packages with little smiley-face stickers on them. (And why George Lucas is the Antichrist.) If it matters to you, FF2 isn't exciting, tense, emotional, about anything, well put together, sexy, mysterious, gripping, cool, innovative, unpredictable, thoughtful, engaging, worthy of Jack Kirby's seriously fucked-up Silver Surfer/Power Cosmic mythos, melancholy, Zen, racist, or misogynistic. It's simply the epitome of one of the giant holes of nothing the Surfer digs into the Earth's surface as herald and beacon for planet-eater Galactus. For something that sucks so much, the biggest miracle is that the movie doesn't also have gravity. A neat trick.
Neat but not, alas, unique, as Evan Almighty, Tom Shadyac's atrocious follow-up to his equally atrocious Bruce Almighty, presents a facile, survey vision of the Old Testament (specifically Gen 6:14, providing the film its stupidest running gag--and that's saying something) while packing as many shit jokes as possible into its running time. I guess that crystallizes the poetry of the Bible, doesn't it? Shit or be shit on. Five minutes in and a dog shits on Evan's (Steve Carell, reprising his role from the first picture) new lawn in his glittering new subdivision, hard won with an inexplicable ascension into Congress for the former anchorman that likely betrays the film as the end product of a script for a completely different piece of crap contorted to support this particular crappy high concept. Waste not, want not. God (Morgan Freeman; if it were a Zen deity it'd be Laurence Fishburne, a sassy deity Queen Latifah (or her heir apparent Wanda Sykes), and so on), cast as a prankster wholly unlike George Burns's God in the suddenly-good-in-comparison Oh God! trilogy, yet not at all unlike Br'er Rabbit, whose amorality and lack of constraint was often a positive force against white masters--and just as often a destructive force against all. Look to the first film for a monsoon that kills presumably hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, in some far off brown land when Jim Carrey's omnipotence-granted schlep decides to re-enact his favourite scene from It's A Wonderful Life so as to better fuck the girl he's recently endowed with bigger knockers. Oh, that God. Look to Evan Almighty as the never-in-question flood (Evan is asked to be Noah, see, which invalidates the title, but who's keeping score?) races like the tidal wave from The Day After Tomorrow through downtown Washington DC, killing, offscreen, what must be dozens, maybe hundreds, of innocents, so that a greasy Kingfish of a congressman (John Goodman, who played the real Kingfish once upon a time) can be publicly censured by his peers for Sideshow Bob'ing a dam.
Evan is the kind of preening idiot Carell has mastered, while Shadyac, the gold-plated asshole behind the soul of mainstream exploitation, Patch Adams (should a cancer ward of children be hauled into court to defend an assclown responsible for practicing medicine without a license and killing at least one person due to his negligence? Evidently), misses no trick in letting Carell replay, in spirit, the chest-waxing sequence from The 40 Year Old Virgin before making a balder reference in a theatre marquee displaying The 40 Year Old Virgin Mary. Aside from the likelihood that Mary was plowed by the time she reached forty, it's not even funny in Shrek's not-funny way. I mean, is the joke commenting on the emptiness of popular religion, the corporate assimilation of the same, or its own flaccid acts of communion cannibalism? Soon, a menagerie of zoo animals appears along with a coterie of media types, opening the door for some good right-wing skewering of the skepticism of the left--or, contrariwise, left-wing skewering of the fundamental batshit insane-ness of the right.
Yet Evan Almighty contents itself to do neither and both, while the real satirical opportunity--i.e., the 67% or so of Americans who believe that Adam & Eve rode a brontosaurus to high school and would thus want to buy a ticket after hearing of a man building an ark at the behest of God on a plot of earth just outside The Beltway--is left foundering in the wake of the picture's unlikely universal skepticism. The first non-family person who cuts in line is, of course, the sassy secretary (Wanda Sykes). Embarrassing? You bet--but not for the right people. This is a nation that pre-empts reports of American soldiers getting murdered for news on the image of the Virgin Mary found on a potato chip, and no one in Evan Almighty is trying to storm the ark in anticipation of God's wrath? Granted, asking for realism in a picture that has, for no reason but the adorable reaction shots, a zillion animals piling onto an ark for a quick ride through DC only to pile off again (granted, once offered, I give thanks for the multitude of excrement jokes that were actually avoided), is a fool's errand.
At the end, the only reason people go to see FF2 or Evan Almighty is the only reason cults are ever spawned in any form (and understand as I'm saying this that I don't hold to the idea that cinema is worse now than it's ever been): the invitation to indulge in something that provides surface cohesion amongst its adherents and doesn't trouble with any lingering aftertaste. It's entertainment that scratches the lowest common bestial tickle and absolves one of the responsibility to make hard choices, work for worthwhile revelations, and carry the burden of better knowing oneself through the works of others. Of course FF2 is good--look at how much money it's making! Just like saintly Haliburton. I was reminded more than once of the evil Democratic father from crazy/beautiful disapproving of his daughter dating a Hispanic lad. As if. It's as likely as Goodman's blustery GOP Rep not somehow flying the banner for Evan's holy quest.
I wrote of Bruce Almighty that the group that should be offended most by it are Christians. I'll say it, too, about Evan Almighty (just as the group most wronged by FF2 are fans of the comic)--but in saying it, I remember the Youth Group leaders who responded to my previous review that they'd taken their whole yearling flock to Bruce Almighty not as a cautionary tale, but as an affirmation of faith. In what? In a God so interested in getting one guy in Buffalo laid by Jennifer Aniston that he'd submerge entire godless nations in that pursuit? Yes, I get it, but Job only lost his own stuff--he didn't inherit the keys to the thunderbolt cabinet and strike down all of Mizpa in a bid to win back his wife (nameless in the Bible, the greatest blow in a book that begins with the Word; in the film, for what it's worth, Evan's wife is played by Lauren Graham, who may as well be nameless since she serves the same function as foil). Here, God's so interested in one shady Congressman's coffer-lining that he'd load a big boat with circus animals and skate it up the stairs of the Capital Building. All that's missing is the image of dozens of tourist corpses, floating facedown in the reflecting pool as Carell does his stuttering-peacock thing and Freeman chortles like a smug idiot.
Good Christ, it actually makes sense now. Originally published: June 22, 2007.