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Director Tim Story’s original Fantastic Four movie received a critical crapping, and the second one is fairing no better. That’s not an indictment of his movies, it’s just the way things turn out. The Fantastic Four gets no respect for the same reason comedies don’t win Oscars and Michael Bay gets treated like the anti-christ. In their rush to justify their profession by setting film up as a penultimate art form, most critics have no room for movies as entertainment. Art they may be, but the ability to deliver pure, light-hearted fun is an underrated talent. It’s not as easy as it seems, and so many movies get it completely wrong. Say what you want about the Fantastic Four, but Tim Story’s movies get fun right.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is as energetic and full of pep as the original, and if you liked that one then you’re going to love this. Frankly, I think we need a superhero franchise like the Fantastic Four, if only to break up the angsty, uber-serious, heavy drama so prevalent in all the others. These are men in tights after all, there’s nothing wrong with ditching the tears once in awhile for a simple romp through the clouds with a guy who can light himself on fire. That’s what Fantastic Four is all about and Rise of the Silver Surfer delivers in precisely the same way as the original by refusing to take itself too seriously.
The film picks up a little down the road from the last outing. Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s relationship has progressed, and we pop back into their lives on the eve of their wedding. Before their nuptials can be completed, the strange ecological disturbances which have precluded their ceremony come crashing down on top of them, stalling their marriage and forcing the Fantastic Four to come together to save Earth.
At the center of the mysterious upheavals plaguing the planet is an alien being, which the team comes to call the Silver Surfer, because… well… he’s silver and he’s riding a surf board. The name is pretty descriptive. Voiced by Laurence Fishburne and rendered mostly in Terminator 2-era CGI, the Surfer is a striking visual effect on his board, if not a particularly realistic looking one. That’s alright this is the Fantastic Four, remember, realism isn’t the point. The Surfer looks really cool, and that’s what the movie is all about. As a bonus, he has a fairly interesting back story, which the movie touches on just enough to give him personality, but not enough to drag the film down in out of place melodramatics.
Fans may be unhappy with the portrayal of some of their favorite characters from the comics here. As great as the Surfer is, his boss sort of gets the shaft. If you haven’t read the comics I’ll do my best to avoid ruining it for you, but suffice to say the Silver Surfer works for someone. In the comics that someone is a giant, in the movie he’s more of a galactic rain cloud. As much as I’d have loved to see superheroes fighting a purple giant Godzilla style, I’m willing to admit that maybe it wouldn’t have fit in this movie. The focus here is on the Silver Surfer, and by making Surfer’s boss more a force of nature than yet another character to be added into the script, the movie avoids the multiple-villain problem that has ruined so many other films. Besides, the space-cloud’s effects are actually really cool.
The real heart of the movie, as it was with the last one, continues to be the relationship between our four hero characters. Michael Chiklis is still near perfect as Ben Grimm, Chris Evans continues to capture the devil-may-care, celebrity crazed personality, Ioan Gruffudd is nerdier than ever, and Jessica Alba is still sort of a blank which is alright since she’s supposed to be invisible anyway. She looks fine in a wedding dress, which is the sort of thing they cast her for in the first place.
It would be easy to pick Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer apart bit by bit, to criticize it for its over the top antics and its big-budget flair, but anyone who does that is utterly missing the point. As a whole, Fantastic Four really works. Not as an art project, but as a well put together, entertaining summer blockbuster. If you’re looking for superhero melodrama, you’ve plenty of other options. Leave this franchise alone and let it keep blasting the kapow! back into the superhero genre. Tim Story knows what he’s doing. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the most flat out fun you’ll have watching any superhero movie this year.