OK, the first Fantastic Four film didn't set the world on fire, although admittedly it was much, much better than the unreleased 1994 Roger Corman version. And while the critics hated it, the public took it to heart and it made oodles of cash at the box office, hence this sequel. Which, fortunately, is an improvement on the original.
On the plus side, there's a lot more action, which will please all those who complained about the fairly dull first film — which, to be fair, did have to get the origin story out of the way. This time round director Story and his cast head back to the comic book and meld a plot involving the marriage of Mr Fantastic (Gruffud) and the Invisible Woman (Alba), and the coming to Earth of the Silver Surfer (enigmatically voiced by Laurence Fishburne) — an intergalactic herald for the planet destroyer Galactus. So poor Sue's wedding gets put on hold as the foursome have to try to figure out a way to save humanity. And gumming up the works is the return of cut-rate villain Doctor Doom (McMahon), who, frankly, should have been left for dead and adds nothing at all to this second outing. As with FF1, Story keeps the film firmly in family-friendly territory, eschewing the darker tones of such fare as the X-Men series and the newly reborn Batman saga, although a little less campy this time. As in the comics (which, I'll admit, I read and enjoyed as a kid), much of the humour comes from the interplay between The Thing (the always excellent Chiklis) and the Human Torch (Evans). And thanks to much online grumbling from the fans, as well as a slight costume tweak for the Thing (ie, a bigger brow), Chiklis gets to play him with a much lighter tone; and despite the cumbersome makeup, you can see he's having heaps of fun with the role.
As far as the special effects go, well, if you've seen the trailer you know just how awesome the Silver Surfer is. This is clearly his film (yes, the character was actually introduced in a Fantastic Four comic — numbers 48-50, to be exact) and I think I can safely say he'll get his own spinoff. The rest of the effects are a fair improvement from the first film — except for Reed Richards' stretching ability, which looked crap then and looks crap now. Nice, the guy has the most naff power, and the FX folks can't even make it look halfway decent. Still, there's plenty here to keep the fans and younger viewers happy, although anyone looking for something meatier might be better off waiting for The Dark Knight.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey
The general defence to Rise of The Silver Surfer seems to be ‘it’s aimed at children’ — which, apparently, translates to ‘we can give ’em any old crap because they’re eight’. Good kids’ movies appeal whether you’re eight, 18 or 88. But this Fantastic Four is incomprehensible for the same range of ages and deathly dull for at least the first one. It’s a strangely uninvolving film, probably due to the utter lack of action. Apart from the impressive arrival of the Surfer himself — which you’ll have seen in the trailer anyway — very little seems to happen. There are a couple of underwhelming fight sequences, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it attack on the London Eye and, er, that’s about it. Actually, it sounds a lot writing it down now, but it didn't feel that way at the time.
The Four have a major mission to contend with: finally sorting the oft-interrupted nuptials between Reed and Sue. However a mysterious energy force has arrived to threaten the planet. The energy force in question is the mysterious Silver Surfer, who’s the ‘emissary’ for the main event: Galactus, a sort-of cosmic storm cloud that eats planets, and Earth is next on the menu. Can the Four stop him / it / them / whoever? Probably. However they also have to contend with the return of Doom, who’s there possibly to help them or, just possibly (nudge nudge wink wink), to nick the all powerful surfboard and conquer the planet himself.
With its heavy-handed moralising — hey, we all have to pull together to save the planet — this does indeed feel like a confection that small children and their lack of critical faculties will appreciate. For the rest of us, the bad jokes, the effects of varying quality — all great except for Richards’ stretchiness, which looks like poor 2D animation — and the by-the-numbers superhero plot makes it a remarkably forgettable affair. There are good things here, such as Chiklis getting to lighten up a little as The Thing and the best Stan Lee cameo to date (he speaks!), but I suspect audiences, for the most part, are going to feel extremely shortchanged.