Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
If the first screen version of Marvel Comic's fabled First Family is a half-baked but passably edible adventure, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer turns out to be a little tastier but still far from a gourmet feast.
The Incredibles had nothing on the hip, snappy, neurotic FF depicted in over 100 issues of co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original, wildly inventive '60s era comic books. Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) is still an absent-minded genius who mildly neglects his loved ones but with more of a mild, Tim Allen sitcom dad-type quirkiness; the Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba) is still the team's mother hen but frets less over her man's workaholic tendancies; the Human Torch (Chris Evans) is still a flaming id but he's trying to ease out of his arrested adolescence; and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is far less tortured over his freakish, rocky form now that he's got a steady date in the blind Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). And yes, someone does wonder aloud exactly how the Thing gets his freak on. A few soft sex jokes aside, this ride is aimed far more squarely for a younger audience, as well as those moviegoers who long for the glory days of the f/x-filled disaster films of the late '90s, when any recognizable tourist landmark depicted is sure to be blown to bits. The threat on this go-round is Galactus, a cosmic, planet-eating menace who has sent his herald, the sleek Silver Surfer (a CGI creation given movement by Doug Jones of Hellboy and voiced by Laurence Fishburne). The Silver Surfer wreaks havoc on places like London and Japan before the Four takes him on, playfully squabbling along the way, like the cosmic-powered leads of a new Vacation film.
The leads are more comfortable and try to notch up the comedic possibilities: Evans' brash, Vince Vaughn-ish portrayal of the Torch was a highlight of the first film but feels far more forced this time around; the great but ultimately handicapped Chiklis does what he can through latex and a silly gravel voice but isn't given much to do; Alba continues to gradually grow as an actress but this film accomplishes the seemingly impossible by making her look as unattractive as she's ever likely to appear with bad, apparently irritating blue contacts, a distracting fake blonde wig and a makeup job that makes her look more like a plastic action figure than a real superhero; but Gruffudd comes through with more distracted charm than in his first turn. Poor Julian McMahon, an actor with an avowed fondness for the comic book source material, is again miscast as Dr. Doom. He has even less to work with this time around in a part that should ideally be part-ham, part-Hitler and part-Eurotrash, coming of instead a snarky playboy in armor. The most interesting acting, save for a tasty cameo performance by Stan Lee himself, comes from the CGI Surfer, but despite his silvery sheen and clear intention to be spun off into his own film franchise, is still a colorless personality, character-wise.
Aided and abetted by generally great-looking special effects from New Zealand's Weta Workshop, writer-director Tim Story moves past some of the awkward meet-and-greet of the first film, but this time he's dropped much of the intended pathos. Story's visual style is far more polished and appealing this time around, but the helmer still lacks the fully-fledged senses of the cosmic, the cinematic, the mind-blowing, the genuinely human and the downright funny to fully convey the true head trippy-ness that defined the original comic book and launched a whole Marvel Universe of superheroes with flawed but lovable personalities. Even with all of the characters' origins out of the storytelling way, Story can't quite equal Bryan Singer's X-Men trick or Sam Raimi's Spider-Man successes to radically outdo the original. Still, there's plenty of eye-candy from the end-of-the-world f/x to Alba and Evans in spandex and the proceedings are mercifully fast-paced, making for a mildly enthralling day at the multiplex for the whole family.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.