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Family Values

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I loved Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and here is a list of reasons why:

1. The Effects

I loved the opening shots, letting me surf in outer space. I've dreamed about doing this more times than I can say. I know plenty of other movies have done this. But since their inception, superhero stories have explored a universe full of wonders. So the opening promised that this movie would embrace the best of its source material. And I think it delivered. I liked this movie in the same way and for the same reasons that I liked FF comics in the 1960s.

So yes, this movie brought out the kid in me. It's an ideal kid flick.

The superpower effects were marvelous. It was only during Reed's dance at the club that the effects failed to blend nicely into the live action. And actually, that wasn't such a bad thing. Watching Reed's arms and legs stretch to fantastic lengths, it finally dawned on me just what would make him so appealing to women.

The fluidity of the Silver Surfer's board was unexpected and really beautiful. The absorption of the heat-seeking missile was a great gee-whiz moment, but the chase of the Silver Surfer by the Human Torch was spectacular. The brief shot where Surfer and Torch speed down a broad Manhattan avenue, overturning cars, was done with a deft touch. They kept it short, and they kept it funny.

I loved the choreography of the action scenes. Busting up a dream wedding with a careening helicopter was genius, allowing Grimm one of his finest moments. The fight at the Great Wall was exciting, and mercifully short, and the sight of Doctor Doom at the center of his tornado made me wonder if the production designers had channeled Jack Kirby.

2. The Characters

The film kept things simple by creating the characters with a few easy strokes, and letting the audience enjoy their quirks. Chris Evans is much sexier than he was in the first film, and so much more self-assured in the role. Michael Chiklis got a better suit, the face more malleable, letting him express scorn, disgust, glee, and wry humor in equally convincing measure. Chiklis and Evans gave us most of the genuinely funny moments in the film, with easy confidence in their banter and bickering. Julian McMahon nearly drooled over his evil deeds, Andre Braugher sneered and stomped about, throwing his military weight around without shouting, and Doug Jones' remote elegance brought a surprising level of believability to a favorite alien.

Something seems to be missing from what Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba bring to their roles, but somehow they get the audience to like and trust them, and overlook their weaknesses.

I loved the way Johnny Storm could say "flame on" and Ben Grimm could say "it's clobberin' time" with no posturing. These are links to the comics as essential as the surfer's link to his board, and in all instances, nothing was forced. It all looked and sounded completely natural. Even though fans of the comics never saw the Thing walk or heard him laugh, when he did it in this movie, we knew that was just how it would look and sound.

3. The Values

This movie was the very essence of wholesome family entertainment. It might wind up as the best family film of the summer, since it's not scary, cynical, patronizing, or stupid. Among other excellent messages for kids and their parents:

- Do your homework. Being intelligent and knowledgeable will earn you independence and respect, and probably save your rear end.

- Love your brothers and sisters. When you grow up, you'll find real consolation in the love and loyalty of your siblings. They will be your best friends when the chips are down.

- Everyone has a duty to their family and community, and a calling to share their gifts for the good of everyone. Don't resist the call, because that's how you find out who you really are.

- Selfish and self-interested actions earn their just rewards, as General Hager and Victor Von Doom learned.

- You can stop the bad guys from profiting from their deeds.

- When you work as a team, you can accomplish wonders.

- Treasure your loved ones and the time you have with them.

- Families come in all shapes and sizes.

- You don't have to be normal.

I especially liked that last one, clinched when Reed Richards says, "Who says you have to be normal to have a family?" Every kid in America knows his or her family is not normal. That line is bound to bring many a snicker from the kids, even if they keep it to themselves. I think this movie honored the intelligence of children.

The movie also made much of the claim that we always have a choice -- an argument that resounds in the Spider-Man movies too. Maybe this is Stan Lee's favorite theme. I'm not really sure if it's true or not. But I'd rather struggle against the limits on my choices, then to never dream about my choices at all.

4. A Fantastic Adaptation

While I think the great Andre Braugher's talents were almost entirely untapped in this movie, he appeared to enjoy himself. There's only one change to this movie that I would make, if I could. I wish they had told the Surfer's story in a flashback sequence, to let us see his home world, and see him strike his bargain with Galactus. The shape and size of this movie could have accommodated a Surfer flashback, and I would have loved to see this story brought to live action, same as the first and most adored superhero family.

I've seen this movie twice. Both times, the laughter was lusty and the audiences applauded at the end. Bravo to Tim Story and company for finally making a superhero movie that leaves audiences clamoring for more. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer may not be Donner's Superman, but like Donner's Superman, it did right by our heroes, and the comics that can't contain them.

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