- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2007

It’s hard to imagine anyone besides the bean counters at Fox anticipating “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

The 2005 smash bungled the Marvel Comics supergroup, overdosing on juvenile humor and missing the heroism of the squabbling foursome.

Yet director Tim Story must have learned something during the shoot. His follow-up is that rare sequel that leverages the best elements of the original and adds enough new wrinkles to justify the follow-up.

We’re not talking “Godfather II,” mind you, but it’s a stark upgrade all the same.

But could we have a little more action next time around?

“Rise” opens with a series of weather anomalies that for once can’t be pinned on global warming. It’s snowing around the Sphinx, the water off the coast of Japan suddenly turns to ice, and power outages are felt across the globe.

Researcher-superhero Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) doesn’t have enough time to solve the riddle. He’s about to marry Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, as beautiful as she is all wrong for the part) and the wedding day is at hand.

Before the lovebirds can say “I do,” the mysterious Silver Surfer streaks toward them and disrupts the festivities.

He’s the one responsible for the freaky weather, but that’s only part of the bad news. The Surfer’s actions are prepping Earth to be gobbled up by a power-hungry force from outer space.

Now the Fantastic Four must team up with an old enemy, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to prevent Earth from becoming an intergalactic snack.

“Rise of the Silver Surfer” won’t be mistaken for any of the “Spider-Man” installments, but the story by John Turman and Mark Frost is both seamless and simple enough for the youngest viewers to grasp.

The superiority of “Rise” to the first film goes beyond storytelling. Two years ago, Mr. Gruffudd proved as stiff as his Mr. Fantastic was elastic. The actor looks more at ease now, and the group’s family dynamic deepens as a result.

However, most people will leave the theater talking about the Silver Surfer, a conflicted soul whose every flight is a wonder of computer imagery. That’s not including the brilliant sound design that brings him to life. His back story is the hidden gem here, and comic-book fans should lap it all up.

“Surfer” doesn’t nail every detail. Andre Braugher gives a one-note performance as a general trying to outwit the Surfer. Von Doom is a shadow of his comic-book persona, at least in Mr. McMahon’s clumsy hands.

There’s still room for improvement in this budding franchise, but during the wedding sequence, we see the Fantastic Four’s potential. We get powerhouse action, delirious special effects and just the right dollop of humor.

Maybe Mr. Story is still warming up, but in the meantime, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” shows he’s learning on the fly.


TITLE: “Rise of the Silver Surfer”

RATING: PG (Comic-book-style violence, some mild sexual innuendo)

CREDITS: Directed by Tim Story. Screenplay by Don Payne and Mark Frost.

WEB SITE: www.fantasticfourmovie.com


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