The NBA hands out a Most Improved Player Award at the end of each season. Hollywood does not have an equivalent distinction, though Fantastic Four director Tim Story
would be a worthy candidate for this year's prize if it did.
Story's name was attached to the original Four film in 2005, but that discombobulated blockbuster based on the classic Marvel Comic books felt like meddling producers suggested the film to pieces before the finished product reached theaters. Critics and comic fans responded in kind with opinions that were not so kind, but Four turned a large enough profit to secure a punched ticket to sequel land for Story and his cast. Article continues below
Retaining the creative team was the right move on 20th Century Fox
's part. Story's second chance trumps his first effort, as everything about this superhero sequel surpasses the original by a long shot. The special effects -- spotty in the earlier film -- take huge leaps forward. Mr. Fantastic's flexible skin is far more convincing this time around, and the Thing suit Michael Chiklis
wears somehow looks more natural. Even jokes that fell flat in the movie's marketing campaign (like the Human Torch's "I just bought this tux" line) are swapped out for funnier alternates in the finished movie.
The Thing? The Human Torch? I'm getting ahead of myself, but that's primarily because screenwriters Don Payne and Mark Frost waste no time on backstories at the onset of Rise of the Silver Surfer. The sequel hits the ground sprinting and crams a lot of story into its trim 90-minute run time. For the benefit of potential newbies, let's fill in some gaps.
The Fantastic Four received their superpowers -- in the comics and on film -- when their space mission interacted with a freak cosmic storm. Siblings Sue (Jessica Alba
) and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans
) woke up with the ability to turn invisible and burst into flames, respectively. Genius scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd
) realized that his body could stretch like taffy, while burly Ben Grimm (Chiklis) morphed into a moving mountain of orange rock. Together they fought off former colleague Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon
), who accompanied the team on their ill-fated rocket trip and became the vengeful Dr. Doom in the process.
Surfer begins as Reed and Sue are planning their wedding, a task made difficult by the team's newfound celebrity status. Disgruntled General Hager (Andre Braugher
) postpones the couple's pending nuptials with disturbing news: Satellites have photographed a silver anomaly hovering near our planet. The unidentified flying object's presence causes massive power outages, strange mechanical occurrences, and the creation of huge craters in the Earth's surface. The military recruits the Fantastic Four to determine the identity of this alien visitor before irreparable damage is caused.
Comic devotees already know the origin of the mysterious visitor. The Silver Surfer's introduction remains one of the most acclaimed plotlines in Fantastic Four history and Story handles the complicated narrative well. The Surfer is a herald for Galactus, a cosmic force that devours planets for their energy and matter. The Surfer has come to Earth to sprinkle metaphorical spices on us before Galactus' feast. As the Fantastic Four band together to halt his celestial snack, a resuscitated Doom devises his own plan to separate the Surfer from his board and harness the alienís impressive power.
Surfer moves like a comet, whizzing through set pieces and stodgy passages of scientific explanation. Gruffudd gains the most ground, as the bookish and brilliant Reed struggles with his fame. Evans and Chiklis expand on the playful comedic chemistry they tapped into in the first Four. Alba has no range, though, and her deficiencies hurt when Sue has to grapple with some genuine emotional conflicts.
Continuity errors exist, though they are much smaller than the gaffes that finished off the first film. Doom is underused, as time is wisely allotted to the Surfer's origin. Offhanded contemporary references to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay are blink-and-you-missed-it subtle. And yes, the legendary FantastiCar bears a Dodge logo, but that is part of a larger joke on how Johnny wants to exploit the team's celebrity for endorsement deals -- he actually has a redesigned costume with patches all over it, which made me laugh in a NASCAR kind of way.
Surfer carries a PG rating, which means softer violence, and the action stays pretty light until the film's conclusion. But Story has a stronger vision in this installment, and the thought of him signing up for a third adventure is... well, I wouldn't say "fantastic," but I'd definitely go with "encouraging."