In this Fantastic follow-up, director Tim Story plays it safe but satisfying

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer

on June 15, 2007 by Wade Major
It's par for the course that film adaptations of superhero comics return freer and looser in their second installments, unburdened of the inaugural films' dutiful responsibility to layer clumsy origin myths on top of each film's primary narrative. That holds as true with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer as it did with the franchise follow-ups for Spider-Man and X-Men . But for those who recall just how dismally uninteresting the original Fantastic Four was, that's not exactly raising the bar that much higher.

The new film has a few interesting things on its mind at the outset as the once anonymous foursome is now struggling to adjust to the rigors of 24/7 celebrity. Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm/Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) try to plan a wedding in the glare of the spotlight while Sue's brother Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Chris Evans) is eating up every glorious minute of it, even working a whole slew of endorsement deals. Ben Grimm/Thing (Michael Chiklis), meanwhile, finally seems to be getting comfortable in his own gravel, secure in his work and his relationship.

But trouble's a-brewin'—giant craters are appearing all over the planet, seemingly the work of a strange, silver-toned alien being who careens around space on a kind of silver surfboard (Doug Jones with voice by Laurence Fishburne). Adding to these troubles is the resurrection of the team's arch-nemesis Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) who's fast on the mend and itching for a comeback.

There are some clear points of comparison between Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Spider-Man 3 —both films aim to create drama and heightened tension by stirring the pot with multiple nemeses and forcing their heroes into uncomfortable alliances and ethical compromises. They also strive to remain faithful to established comic lore while compressing and abridging far too much of that lore to conveniently fit inside a feature-length movie. But while Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is by no means a particularly good film, it manages that tricky task far more satisfyingly than Spider-Man 3 , in part because the franchise really had nowhere to go but up, but also because director Tim Story seems to have learned a few lessons from his missteps the first time around.

The Silver Surfer is, indeed, one of the great icons of Marvel Comicdom—equally as iconic as the Fantastic Four themselves—and there's a clear intent to set the stage for the already-announced spinoff, relieving Story and his collaborators of having to tie up too many loose ends. The result is a merciful dearth of plot in favor of mindless set pieces, so-so effects work and passable PG-rated humor, enabling the film to come in at a favorable 90 minutes (as opposed to Spider-Man 3 's bloated 140 minutes).

The trade-off, as always, is that Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is substantially more juvenile than most other comic adaptations—unlike the original comics, which treated children as if they were adults, the movies insist on treating adults as if they were children. While that by no means makes for successful storytelling, it worked well enough in the first film to generate a healthy global profit—something which this very safe, if unimaginative sequel, seems destined to replicate.
Distributor: Fox
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne
Director: Tim Story
Screenwriters: Don Payne and Mark Frost
Producers: Bernd Eichinger, Avid Arad and Ralph Winter
Genre: Science-fiction action
Rating: PG for sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: June 15, 2007
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