Friday, June 15, 2007

The best sequels are the ones where you go in with no expectations whatsoever. Spidey 3 and Pirates: World's End were so hyped, they fizzled in their actual delivery. But Rise of the Silver Surfer was such a fun thrill ride in comparison. Considering I don't much like the Surfer to begin with -- too powerful, too naive, too um... retro -- RotSS may just be the summer sequel I enjoyed the most.

What I didn't like were the CGI effects, particularly of Mr Fantastic, that were just too cartoony. Him using his stretchy powers at his bachelor party was unbelievable and ridiculous but, ok, he does have a ridiculous power to begin with. And Julian McMahon's Doom was once again more comparable to the sophomoric Human Torch than the much-feared iron-fisted ruler of a small Eastern European country that he is supposed to be. Doom has the potential to be a memorable screen villain, but this incarnation will never make it.

But RotSS never does take itself seriously. It doesn't get dark, it doesn't get draggy and long-drawn, and it doesn't try to outdo itself in effects or twisted sub-plots. It's a straightforward save-the-world story while arranging an impossibly difficult wedding in the meantime. So while the calamity is of a cosmic nature, the more difficult crisis is the human one: will the Invisible Woman ever become Mrs Fantastic? And that's what keeps the movie's legs firmly planted on the ground.

Also, the relationship between the Thing and the Torch is well-balanced. While Johnny has the looks and the enviable power of flame, flight, freedom and floozy attraction, Ben is horribly disfigured, solidly earth-bound, but has the love of a single good woman who is good enough for him. While Ben is secure in his relationship with the blind Alicia Masters, it's ironic that Johnny is the lonely one underneath it all.

Like the Fantasticar action sequence, the movie's pace just keeps pushing forward. Never a slow, dull moment, the movie accelerates until the final, climactic confrontation between the Surfer and the Devourer of Worlds. I'm glad we never get to see what Galactus looks like beyond the vague shadow he(?) casts on Saturn. There's more credibility to Galactus as a malevolent cosmic thundercloud than the Jack Kirby designed personification in the comic books.

And that's what the movies are good for. Focus on believable characters, focus on a tight plot, and especially important for blockbuster sequels: keep it fun, keep it fast, and don't try to make the audience think too much. Of the movies released so far this summer, RotSS made me happy.

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