Screen image from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer topped the U.S. box office during the past week, performing very well at the box office while garnering generally negative reviews.

The audiences are right on this one (as usual).

One, at 92 minutes, the film doesn’t drag on and on as most of these CGI-superhero movies tend to do, and indeed as most films tend to do these days. There’s one main plot, one subplot, and that’s about it. That’s the way movies typically work best. We don’t need to know everything that ever happened in the characters’ histories, told at length in flashbacks or boring conversations full of back-story exposition. We can accept them for what they are, thank you very much, if you’re capable of motivating their choices within the present action.

Image from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer film 

The creation of tons of back story in these films inevitably betrays a lack of ability to understand and express characters’ choices through their direct actions.

Movies used to avoid this kinds of dwelling on the past. In Rio Bravo, to take just example from among literally hundreds, we don’t need to know why John Chance (John Wayne) is devoted to his duty and is shy in showing his affection for Feathers (Angie Dickinson). We understand the choices he makes by seeing him in action in the present. That is to say, we are not stupid, and the film does not treat us as such.

Returning to the present film, positive element number two is that the central characters, while far from perfection, are appealingly good-natured and thoroughly committed to benevolence toward their fellow human beings. There are no doubts or conflicts in their minds regarding this devotion.

Although this type of straightforward, positive commitment to helping others directly and without desiring compensation is highly realistic and plausible, as it is actually quite common in the real world, it is of course precisely the kind of attitude that latitudinarian modern-day film critics despise.

Audiences, however, respond more sensibly and positively to this approach. Hence the bad reviews and good audience numbers.

Three, the biblical implications and allusions in the film are plentiful and presented in a sensible way that gives the story greater importance through the use of symbolism and analogy. Particularly strong is the film’s observation that the doings of powerful angels in our world would easily make us wonder whether a particular being’s intent is good or evil.

Other apocalyptical allusions add to the film’s thematic treatment of religious issues. The ideas thus expressed are neither too obvious nor too obscure, and the filmmakers clearly take these underlying themes seriously.

A film that does this many things right is almost guaranteed to get poor reviews. Sad, isn’t it?