Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (PG)                 

Directed by Tim Story
Written by Don Payne and Mark Frost (screenplay), John Turman and Mark Frost (story), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (characters)
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, et al.
Runtime: 92min

This review first appeared on Sci-Fi London
It's summer, and what better place for the sallow comicbook geeks amongst us to hide than in the local cinema – where it's dark and warm, and the nutrient levels in the available foodstuffs are scurvy-inducingly low.  As if that weren't temptation enough, there's a new Fantastic Four movie out, following the, ahem, ‘success’ of the first instalment, this latest episode adapts perhaps the most famous moment in the Four mythology – The Coming Of Galactus!

Except that the coming of the Eater Of Worlds has been curiously sidelined in favour of his herald, the so-kitschin'-he's-bitchin' Silver Surfer.  It's the job of the Four - Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny - to find out what else the Surfer is up to on Earth besides freezing harbours, causing power cuts and digging giant roadworks.  Hopefully Reed and Sue will also manage to tie the knot at some point in the midst of all this chaos.

It is at times hard to tell which is the most important plot strand in this film.  Are the producers trying to capture not only the Comic Book Guy market, but also, absurdly, the Chick Flick market at the same time?  Yes, the Four do have both a familiar nemesis to stop once more, and a world-threatening galactic hyper-menace, but these super-villains often have to fit themselves around a will-they-won’t-they? wedding comedy.  Tsk, geeky Reed's in trouble with his bride-to-be for building a cosmic ray scanner on the day of his nuptials!  Chortle, the boys get caught dancing with some ladies on the stag night!  Ahh, Sue teaches the implacable Surfer a valuable lesson about...oh, I forget exactly what.  Probably the value of love or something.

The FF are pretty unique in comics, as a close family unit instead of persecuted mutants, vengeance-obsessed vigilantes, god-like superbeings, or any of the other more familiar superhero types.  It’s unusual; and it’s their angle as a (super-) family unit that is their unique selling point and supposedly makes them as strong as they are.  It’s a shame then that this closeness only comes across sporadically in the film.  What further weakens the film is that the displays of their power as a superteam - by which I basically mean the great big loud and colourfully destructive superpower action sequences – are also too sporadic for a summer blockbuster.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the shouty-destructo-punchy bits are great fun, but they’re a little too thin on the ground, frankly.  So neither aspect is properly realised, and the film often sputters along, grumbling on just six cylinders, rather than roaring on all eight.

My major character niggle was that the genial Ioan Gruffudd doesn't play Mr Fantastic as clever enough.  Reed Richards is supposed to be a remarkable genius, permanently distracted and distant, but Gruffudd plays him more like a nutty professor.  Still, Chris Evans does an excellent job as the narcissistic but cheekily likeable Human Torch, and Jessica Alba almost convinced me as the more human foil to Reed’s genius, but in the end was just a little too girlie to quite convince that she could be the great love of the smartest man in the world.  And then there’s Galactus – depicted more according to Warren Ellis’ recent Ultimate Extinction reimagining of him than the traditional big guy with the fancy metal hat – but, oh boy, he makes one hell of an entrance and provides a truly menacing climax to the film.

For all my earlier complaints, I didn't dislike Rise of the Silver Surfer, you shouldn’t be bored at any point during its scant 90 minutes, only afterwards might you emerge a touch disappointed because it’s a bit of a mish-mash.  This should be a movie that has your eyes popping out of your head with monotonous regularity, but in the end too much of its brief running time seems to be spent on relatively inconsequential elements rather than clobberin'!
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