There is no movie here.
The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer does many things most movies do in that it features a variety of characters striving to attain a variety of objectives, many of which are in direct opposition to one another. This is called conflict, and, in a classical narrative motion picture, conflict keeps the audience from bolting the theater after the first act. It is wise to have conflict in one’s movie.
It is also wise to have a point. That’s where this sequel comes up disastrously short – i.e. "disastrously" for those who aren’t obediently sated by a handful of pre-vis’d set pieces broken up by the appearance of character development. In one lazily written stock scene after another, 20th Century Fox exhibits a stunning contempt for ticket buyers willing to line up for a second go-round with Reed Richards and the gang after getting what they wanted out of the first movie (which I have not seen). "This movie doesn’t have to be good or clever or even appealing," they seem to be saying. "It just has to be."
But it isn’t. Yes, it’s opening in thousands of theaters around the country, and, yes, it will make a good deal of money over the next month, but, in lieu of engaging its audience, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer will merely induce a trance state for ninety minutes. Spectacle will occasionally fill the screen accompanied by loud explosions and whirrs and whooshes, a "character" will sacrifice their life to save the world (ain’t that always the way), and, then, it will end. And its viewers, held captive by the promise of a good time at the movies, will be returned to the world they left ninety minutes earlier as if nothing had happened.
And this is actually the goal of 20th Century Fox’s inert $100 million-plus investment. Tom Rothman and his development execs are counting on the audience’s willingness to accept this synthetic agglomeration of sturm und drang mit Alba as a substitute for a genuinely involving motion picture. That they will doubtless be proven right this weekend makes the release of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer far more thrilling than the experience of communing with its cacophonous nothingness for the length of a vigorous workout at the gym. If ticket buyers are willing to accept this movie substitute, the day of the temperamental, quality-obsessed director is at an end. Finally, Rothman will have his revenge; it will be enough to pay a couple of above-average screenwriters a tidy sum to pen 100 pages of stock scenes and corny dialogue, and then hand the pile of paper over to an easily controlled director who has no ambition other than the next gig. Who needs troublemakers when you have a city full of pliant dupes eager to do the company’s bidding in exchange for a house in the hills and a fleet of Bentleys?
But be not mistaken: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is not merely white noise. It comes equipped with attractive elements. There is the lovely and untalented Alba, who squeezes pleasingly into an assortment of formfitting wear; there is the joshing camaraderie of the team, which at times evokes one’s fondness for the comic books (while reminding one that Peyton Reed could’ve done something truly special with this material); and there is the Silver Surfer, a triumph a design and a failure of writing (his tête-à-têtes with Sue Storm elicited gales of mocking laughter from my midnight-screening audience).
Tonally, 20th Century Fox’s product gives off glimmers of what might’ve been had they tried to make a movie, but to engage the viewer means to risk losing them. Placating is so much easier. Welcome to the anti-movie. And get used to it.