By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Although at times it felt like a made-for-TV movie, a far better film than the first and more entertaining than the super-serious Spider-man 3.
So it's possible.
Not only can a sequel be better than the original, but it can be done with the same director and writer. By process of elimination, it would seem that the blame for how bad the first film was can perhaps be laid at the feet of the one guy missing from the new production crew: writer Michael France. I can't say for sure, but at the top level it seems like pretty much everyone from the first film was still there for the second one. Pure speculation on my part, of course.
Anyway, on to the review...
It seems that expectations were all over the place for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - The first one was pretty awful, would this one be any better? Rumors of Galactus being portrayed as a giant cloud, Laurence Fishburne's voice not fitting the CGI Silver Surfer, etc., etc. However I posted about the first whiffs of possibility that this sequel might be better than the first about a month ago. And guess what? It is better.
Much better, in fact.
The film opens with a shot of a planet being destroyed and then a look at the Silver Surfer, albeit only identifiable as a comet-like projection zooming through space. We're re-introduced to our heroes, and their individual personality quirks are all still there. Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) have apparently tried multiple times to get married, but some emergency/disaster always seems to pop up to keep them from exchanging their vows. To complicate things they are now very popular celebrities, whose lives seem to be in the spotlight as much as Paris Hilton's.
Reed vows that this time the wedding will happen and although he still has a bit of the "Absent Minded Professor" vibe, in his heart he's committed to making Sue happy. Of course despite his best intentions, the military wants him to build a device to detect the Silver Surfer, and our silver friend zooms right past the Baxter Building as the wedding is in progress. Also alerted to the arrival of this alien presence is Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon), who was last seen stored as cargo on a ship bound for Latveria. Doom meets up with the Silver Surfer and the result of his encounter is that he is no longer horribly scarred.
After Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) comes in contact with the Silver Surfer, the team discovers that he can now switch powers with other members of the team. There's a funny moment when Sue absorbs his ability to burst into flame, and when the ever vain Johnny takes on Ben Grimm's (Michael Chiklis) appearance.
A military general that Reed has had dealings with in the past grudgingly turns to the team for help, and after they flub an incident with the Surfer in London pretty badly, the general decides to bring in Doom to work with Reed despite the warnings the Fantastic Four give him that Doom cannot be trusted.
Along the way Reed determines that planets visited by the Surfer are destroyed within a matter of days of his arrival and sets about coming up with a way to separate the Surfer from his cosmic surfboard, apparently the source of his power. Of course as you can imagine Dr Doom (aka Victor) wants to get his hands on such a powerful device.
Enough about the story... is the movie any good? Yeah, it is. Overall I hate to admit that for the most part I found it a more enjoyable experience than Spider-Man 3. Granted, it may not be fair to compare the two... despite the fact that they're both in the superhero genre, they are as fundamentally different in their approach as Batman Begins was to Superman Returns. While Spidey 3 was heavy and overall pretty much a downer (not a criticism in and of itself), despite it's end of the world storyline Rise of the Silver Surfer was a much more fun movie to sit through. The interactions between members of the team seemed much more natural and indeed like that of a bickering family and I really liked the change in Reed's character from the first film: Here he actually seemed like the Reed Richards of the comics - more mature, confident and secure in his genius. One scene in particular where he puts the general in his place put a huge grin on my face. I also liked that they added some depth to Johnny Storm this time around.
Ben Grimm was pretty much the same, although the prosthetics did give him more subtlety of expression, which was appreciated. However Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, while exceedingly pleasant to look at, just did not generate much depth no matter how hard she tried. I don't know, maybe her beauty is too distracting? One thing I found quite funny in particular was director Tim Story's decision to have her wear glasses in many of the scenes in the film. Can you get a more classic (or cliche) method of trying to make someone seem intelligent than slapping a pair of black framed glasses on their face? :-)
And yes folks, Galactus is indeed basically a giant, planet-sized storm cloud. I'm not a purist when it comes to Fantastic Four and I do believe that some things in comics would just seem absurd in a live action big screen movie, so it didn't bother me much. Perhaps they could have come up with some other solution, but honestly I think they did pretty well with the concept of a giant planet eating entity.
As to the PG rating, I can see why it was not given a PG-13 with what passes for PG-13 these days, but for those of you with little ones, it does push the PG envelope pretty hard. There were some moments in the film that may be pretty intense and scary for little kids. Just don't go into this expecting Shrek.
Overall, while certainly not a great movie, I thought it was pretty good and very entertaining. I would be more likely to watch this one again than I would Spider-Man 3, if that means anything to you. :-)