If not exactly meriting the term “fantastic” yet, this second installment is a slight improvement over the “first” film. (“First” is in quotes because there was a legendary 1994 never-released quickie made only to preserve the studio’s rights to the characters.) This is the sequel to the 2005 major release, which spent too much time on the origins of the characters’ superpowers (we get it, they got gamma-rayed and now one can stretch, one can flame and fly, one is invisible, and one looks like he is made of rock and is super-strong). Superhero movies are all about the bad guys, and the 2005 film’s Dr. Doom just didn’t seem very doom-y.
This time, things take off more quickly, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is less dour and the villain is the Silver Surfer, cooler and more intruiging. The premise is more involving and the action scenes more organic. Dr. Doom shows up, too, but no one pays much attention to him.
The FF are all aflutter as the “wedding of the century” is about to take place. Richards and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are getting married. They’ve tried three times before and been interrupted by world-in-the-balance emergencies, but this time Reed has promised nothing can get in their way. And you know what that means. Enter, Silver Surfer, looking like a hood ornament made from mercury, creating massive pock-marky round caverns around the globe.
Sue is fretting about a skin break-out on the big day and wondering whether they can ever have a “normal” life, John (Chris Evans) (“Focus testing showed that ‘Johnny’ skewed a little young”) wants so many endorsement deals that their uniforms will look like something from NASCAR, and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is playing kissy-poo with Alicia (Kerry Washington). Then General Hager (Andre Braugher) shows up to say that the world just might explode if Reed can’t figure out what Silvy is up to and how to stop him.
Time to reschedule for wedding-of-the-century attempt number five.
In 1961, the Fantastic Four shattered superhero traditions. No secret identities. No sidekicks. And most important, no perfection. The Fantastic Four were a deliciously dysfunctional family. They might take their job of saving the world seriously, but they did not take themselves seriously. Their success led to a new generation of angsty, edgy, well, adolescent-y superheroes who have so dominated the genre that the FF seem a little, well, old.
This is in part because it has cardboard dialogue that often sounds like a parody of a 50’s cheapie: “As you may know, there have been recent unusual occurances all over the world.” And when Reed taunts Doom that he is “about to marry the hottest girl on the planet,” he sounds like a 7th grader, not a guy who squints intently at equations with little Greek letters in them all day. The “jokes” are just as weak: “My lips would be sealed if I had them.” We expect more from the “clobberin’ time” guy. And what is the deal with dance numbers in superhero movies this summer? Please, stop.
But when the action comes, it is fun, especially after one of the FF temporarily gets to try on all the powers at once, so he coils around the villain like a python at the same time that pounds him with rocky Thing-fists and goes in and out of visibility and flame. And Silvy turns out to have some depth and complexity (and the voice of Laurence Fishburne) that strengthens the story. It is good to have a PG action film for that most-neglected of audiences, kids who are getting too old for kiddie fare but are still too young for PG-13s. And at this pace, by number 5 or 6, they just might make it all the way to “Fantastic” after all.
Parents should know that a character is incinerated in this film and we see his ashy remains. There is also a reference to torture (offscreen). Other than that, we see mostly “action violence,” with a lot of peril but very few injuries. Characters use brief language (“crap,” “screwed up”) and there is some drinking. There are brief mild sexual references, but the movie makes it clear that what matters is having a committed relationship.
Families who see this movie should talk about why the FF might sometimes want to be “normal.” Which of their superpowers would you most like to have and why? What makes the Silver Surfer change his mind?