Review: 'Fantastic Four' sequel problematic

Those who have eagerly awaited “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” hoping for a sequel superior to 2005’s sloppily thrown-together original, can breathe a partial sigh of relief. Although “Silver Surfer” is hardly a sophisticated enough fantasy to be mentioned in the same breath as movies like “Spider-Man 2” or “Hellboy,” it is far closer to the vibrant, imaginative adventure fans ofthe Stan Lee comics have long craved. Yet problems remain.

For starters, the Thing (Michael Chiklis, of “The Shield”), whose coarse skin resembles a rusty climbing wall, still looks like a guy in a cheap Halloween costume. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) remains a woefully underdeveloped villain, defined only by his cartoonish sneer and murky motives. And the script, courtesy of Mark Frost and “Simpsons” writer Don Payne, is once again burdened with too many corny one-liners and humor aimed almost exclusively at children.

Still, there have been marked improvements, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne), whose presence injects a much-needed dose of mystery. Soaring gracefully through the sky, a shimmering boogeyman wreaking havoc on all he surveys, the Surfer presents the Four with a worthy, seemingly invincible adversary.

Watching him lay waste to London, in fine CGI form, is entertaining enough, though perhaps not as rewarding as the moment, early on, when he effortlessly overmatches the Human Torch (Chris Evans). It is a tense showdown, one that “Fantastic Four” fans will undoubtedly relish, and it sends a clear message — this is one intergalactic traveler who won’t pack up his board without an epic fight.

The threat presented by the Surfer and his enigmatic handler, the planet-eating Galactus, lends some dramatic weight to the film, even as director Tim Story attempts to lighten the mood with an interminable stream of easy jokes and needless footage of Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) dancing the night away at his bachelor party.

The result, despite some narrative inconsistencies and an unabashedly lightweight approach, is a more polished take on the “Fantastic Four” lore, one that provides a grand spectacle without bothering to challenge the imagination. It is sufficiently diverting, but there’s still work to be done.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer **½

Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon

Written by Mark Frost and Don Payne

Directed by Tim Story

Rated PG

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

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