'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer'


It's clobberin' time! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Well, maybe not clobberin'. Maybe yawnin' would be a more appropriate response to "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."

The superpowered quartet's second big-screen adventure, inspired by the Marvel Comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, lives up -- or, more precisely, down -- to its 2005 predecessor.

And that means it definitely has trouble living up to its title adjective; it's more adequate than fantastic.

Part of the problem centers on the title four's opposition. Last time around, they battled billionaire industrialist turned titanium-plated nemesis Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who was dispatched at the first movie's conclusion.

Fortunately, Victor's so vengeful he figures out a way to resurrect himself, thereby giving the smirking McMahon an excuse to live again -- and liven up the proceedings.

Unfortunately, he's not the only bad guy in the movie. (That's a problem afflicting another, better comic book adaptation now in theaters: "Spider-Man 3.")

Joining him on the bad-guy roster: the title character, a metallic menace (embodied by Doug Jones, voiced by the stentorian Laurence Fishburne) capable of covering the Sphinx with snow, triggering a West Coast power blackout -- and, most ominously, leading an energy-gobbling interplanetary entity toward Earth, where the planet will serve as a supersize snack for said entity's supersize appetite. (But abandon all hope, all ye longtime "Fantastic Four" fans who enter here: The comic book's towering, planet-munching Galactus is a virtual afterthought.)

Clearly, this is a job for our valiant title characters. But they're a bit distracted these days, what with scientist Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue "Invisible Woman" Storm (Jessica Alba) planning the wedding of the century. Assuming, of course, they can survive the resulting tabloid frenzy -- and that Sue can tear Reed away from his superpowered PDA long enough to recite his vows.

With the Silver Surfer wreaking havoc, however, the wedding will have to wait -- especially after a close encounter with the sky shredder puts a damper on the Human Torch, Sue's showboat brother Johnny (Chris Evans). And a happy relationship with blind sculptress Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington) has definitely mellowed Ben "The Thing" Grimm (Michael Chiklis) to the point where he's dispensing more punch lines than punches.

Once imperious Army Gen. Hager (Andre Braugher) demands their involvement, however, the fearless four find themselves under the gun. In more ways than one.

As you might expect, there's a lot going on in "Rise of the Silver Surfer" -- too much, at times. And that doesn't always play to the strengths of screenwriters Don Payne and Mark Frost.

As you can tell by comparing their slyly satirical TV work (Payne with "The Simpsons" and Frost with "Twin Peaks") and their considerably less edgy big-screen credits ("My Super Ex-Girlfriend" and "The Believers," respectively), Payne and Simpson have definite sarcastic streaks that surface whenever "Fantastic Four" addresses the title quartet's status as media magnets -- or, more specifically, Johnny's never-ending attempts to cash in on his superhero status.

Those mercenary impulses provide this "Fantastic Four" with sporadic, but welcome, doses of sly humor. (I especially enjoyed the triumph-of-the-nerds dressing-down Reed delivers to power-crazed Gen. Hager at a crucial moment.)

Most of the time, however, there's no time to linger on such niceties.

That in turn forces returning director Tim Story to keep things in gear as the movie zips from one world-threatening crisis to the next.

And "zip" is the operative word. At a brisk 89 minutes, there's no danger of "Fantastic Four" bogging down in the doldrums that have marked such overlong summer behemoths as "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

With such an abbreviated running time, however, something's gotta give -- and, in "Fantastic Four," it's the characters.

Not that they're overendowed in the personality department to begin with, but there's no time for any of them to do more than pause for a moment to ponder Life's Essential Questions before it's time for Sue to generate yet another force field, Ben to flex his rock-hard muscles, Reed to tie himself into knots or Johnny to take off in a fiery blaze of speed.

Then again, it's probably just as well. Between the movie's special-effects set pieces and its multiple antagonists competing for their (and our) attention, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" doesn't have that much room for -- or interest in -- its title characters anyway.

 

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