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Fantastic Four:
Rise of the Silver Surfer

Let's get the bad out of the way. Director Tim Story didn't exactly lie to fans, but Galactus ended up being little more than clouds, though hints of something larger keep peeking through. Though Doctor Doom returns, Julian McMahon really ratchets up the preening nancy boy side of his personality, and that just doesn't gibe with the Von Doom we've been hearing in our heads all these decades.

Believe it or not, those things can be put aside, and should be. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the superhero movie of the summer. Appropriately enough for Marvel's First Family, it's fun for the whole family in a way that, sorry, the Spider-Man movies haven't been, nor the previous Fantastic Four. In short, we're finally getting the Fantastic Four movie we wanted.

Director Tim Story finally seems comfortable handling the big action sequences, which all grow logically out of the story instead of just appearing. No "Sue, turn invisible and walk over there for no reason other than we'll see your underwear" gags this time around. (Though Jessica Alba does end up having a PG nude scene, it's for art. Or at least, it's a logical payoff to a previous set-up.)

Maybe the previous film's flaws were inherent in its setting up everything. This time around, Story and his story men Mark Frost, John Turman and Don Payne can get right into the action and have given into the truth of its comic book origins. Not everything is going to have a logical explanation; just dust it with a bit of pseudo-science if you must but keep the fun going. They do.

When we encounter the team, they're stuck flying coach - such a Lee/Kirby touch - back to New York in time for Reed and Sue's fourth attempt at a wedding. It's a nice touch that somehow escapes other franchises, actively reminding us that these characters' lives and adventures have gone on without us (just ripe for some fanfic or - gasp - comic books).

Everyone's in a more comfortable place. Wisely, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) seems content in his rocky orange skin, happy in his relationship with Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). Even Reed (Ioan Gruffuds) loosens up, gets down and gets long at his bachelor party. The obvious jokes about his pliability never occur because, let's face it, the audience members that would appreciate it already muttered them to their buddies.

Of course, we need conflict, and the resurrection of Doom isn't enough. The film begins with a planet dying, and strange climate events have begun occurring on Earth. When General Hager (Andre Braugher) shows up looking for Reed's help in tracking these disturbances, the plot gets underway in earnest, leading to that confrontation with a strange guy covered in silver and sort of surfing - a silver surfer, if you will.

The script bleeps over the silliness of that, and for any groaning at home, shut up and admit that it is a silly concept. So when Reed dubs him the Silver Surfer, it's no worse than Lois Lane saying "what a super man…", and actually, it makes more sense here.

True to comics history, though, Doom gets into the act, as the movie combines the Surfer's first two important storylines into one. Here, Doom comes back to life after the Surfer soars over Latveria, and seeks his savior out in the Arctic with one goal in mind - power. To salve McMahon's ego, perhaps, or pull in his fans, somehow the Surfer's power cosmic reshapes Doom into his former unscarred glory. Now it's his choice to start looking more like the comic book character, and thanks to a better design, he finally does.

Clearly, Tim Story works hard to really please the fans. It's not just Dr. Doom finally looking like Dr. Doom; it's an overall vibe and yes, oh yes, a Fantasticar. Story still has violence, but it's done in a restrained way that keeps the movie at a PG. I'll make my stand here and say thanks, because that's where superhero movies should be - accessible to kids without boring adults. Sorry, but this is supposed to reawaken our sense of wonder, not satisfy our darker urges.

That's true especially when dealing with the Silver Surfer, and Story and company have done the character right. As the Surfer's body, Doug Jones performs in a way that speaks volumes without him ever opening his mouth. You can see the connection being made between the Surfer and Sue without him having to spell it out. Though later an explanation does have to be made, it's still played beautifully, and echoed by a mightily restrained vocal performance from Laurence Fishburne.

Ultimately, it's about family and heroism, a theme most sharply focused on Chris Evans' Human Torch. The script doesn't beat us over the heads with it, but Evans, one of the bright spots of the first film, definitely plays the growth of the character. As the film goes on, it takes more than calling yourself John to be a responsible grown-up, and his pursuit of military attaché Frankie Raye (Beau Garrett) doesn't go where we'd expect until, perhaps, one final gag.

It's hard to categorize Rise of the Silver Surfer. Somewhere between comedy and adventure, it's just fun. And right now, I'll take that.


Derek McCaw

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