|Barely two years after their cinematic
debut, the Fantastic Four are back on the screen in a new adventure
that, while sticking to the commercial formula that worked so well at
the box office in their first outing, tries to widen the scope and enhances
the action but is still light years away from the grandeur of the imaginative
pages of the original comics.
A silver streak approaches Earth from a distant exploding planet, while Reed Richards and Susan Storm are planning their wedding, Johnny the Human Torch is enjoying the fame and Ben, the Thing, is now living happily in his rocky hide thanks to the love of blind sculptress Alicia.
The silver alien seems to wreak havoc generating wide craters in various locations on Earth, and a desperate General Hager is forced to ask the aid of our Reed Richards, one of the two most intelligent men of the planet. The other one, the evil Victor Von Doom, left apparently dead in a metal case at the end of the first movie, gets revived by the passage of the alien, who's later revealed to be the Silver Surfer, a nearly omnipotent being. According to Reed's studies, eight days after the Surfer arrives on a planet, the same planet dies. So the Four must team-up with the army and the revived Doom to stop the Surfer. But who's the real bad guy? Will they stop the destruction of Earth?
Silver Surfer was created nearly by chance by artist supreme Jack Kirby, the graphic creator of nearly all of the classic Marvel characters, as a small sketch drawn near the concept of Galactus, the destroyer god who was planned to come to eat our planet in a story that started on issue 48 of the series. Both Galactus and the Surfer became so successful among the readers that they were brought back in several issues and later in a solo book starring the tragic silvery alien, now exiled on Earth. The Silver Surfer series was graced by the wonderful art of John Buscema and the pompous but fitting prose of Stan Lee, that described perfectly the torments of the rebellious herald, adopted in the late sixties as a symbol by many political protesters worldwide.
So, when planning a sequel to the Fantastic Four movie, it was a no-brainer for the production/creative team to introduce the silvery alien, providing both a new visually exciting character, an interesting story premise and a launching pad for a solo movie of the Surfer.
The alien, brought to life thanks to a combination of a make up suit worn by character actor Doug Jones and the visual wizardry of the Weta team, looks astounding and his scenes are probably the best thing about the movie.
Which, all things considered, is superior to the first one, with a more straightforward story, with two nearly non existent subplots (the wedding and the growth of the bratty playboy Johnny) used more to insert comedy moments in the story than for an effective character development. Some may be baffled by the fact that our superheroes seem to prefer using their powers for practical jokes or family discussions and not in their heroic missions. The action scenes feature a better handling of the special effects and thanks to their settings in various locations worldwide, the Four are closer to the status of interdimensional adventurers they have in the comics.
But the movie suffers in several departments; Doctor Doom still is a pale reflection of the villain of the comics, an authoritative but fascinating monarch, which became the template for Darth Vader. His motivations are still unclear and the not so subtle acting by Julian McMahon keeps our cinematic Doom to the level of a B-movie villain. Even the Fantastic Four can't reach the bidimensional depth of their counterparts on the books; while some improvements are made, like in the characterization of Reed Richards, they still seem paper-thin. Thankfully, the energy and natural likability of both Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis succeed, unlike Jessica Alba, in balancing the weakness of the script.
That probably for a productive mandate has to stick to the formula of the first movie, with the Chris Evans naked scene to please the female teenagers, the naked Jessica one for the male ones, the childish joke for the younger audience, all in the name of the family entertainment, never trying to elevating the product to something more. The Incredibles which should have been taken instead as a model for this movie, succeeded in being a more clever and entertaining movie, without having to rely on cheap tricks.
Following the same philosophy, thinking that the fantastic visual invention of Jack Kirby would have alienated the mainstream audience, Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, takes a more mundane and boring appearance, still effective in the economy of the movie, but far less exciting. At least we're rewarded with a full two minutes of the Fantasticar, the aerial vehicle of the Four, that like some of the other gadgets in the movie sports a recognizable brand, another seemingly unavoidable characteristic of the franchise.
The visual fx quality isn't consistent, some look great or keep the same quality of the first movie (like the Human Torch ones), others like Mr. Fantastic stretching still look cartoonish and improvable.
So, if you enjoyed the first chapter, you will this one too, probably even more. If you were a fan deluded by the too mundane representation of the Fantastic Four in that movie, consider this as a small step towards a future, more satisfying movie of the quartet.