Dir: Tim Story. US. 2007. 92mins.
The sequel to unexpected summer 2005 smash Fantastic Four adds a major new Marvel character to the action and aims for a broader audience with a slightly younger skew than the first film. In essence, though, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is the same kind of lightweight but well executed comic book-based romp as its predecessor, suggesting a global box office take at least as big as the original's $330m and another powerful DVD performance. The only question is how many hardcore comic book fans will be alienated by the softer tone.
The sequel, again produced by Marvel and distributed worldwide by Fox, opens wide in North America this weekend. With its PG rating the new film will be aiming to surpass the $154.7m domestic total of the original (which was rated PG-13), though it will be at a bit of a disadvantage coming into the marketplace in the wake of several family-oriented blockbusters (including, of course, Marvel's Spider-Man 3).
The film opens day-and-date with the US in Italy, the UK and a handful of smaller territories and then surfs into most other markets later this month or in July or August. Heavily promoted outside the US and featuring a couple of big international locations, the sequel should be capable of beating the first film's $175.4m international take.
Returning screenwriter Mark Frost (Twin Peaks) is teamed for the sequel with The Simpsons writer Don Payne, and the new scribe's presence is felt in the film's jokey opening scenes.
Brilliant scientist Dr Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, last seen in Amazing Grace), aka Mister Fantastic, is about to wed Sue Storm (Alba), aka Invisible Woman. The New York tabloid press is all over the celebrity couple, leaving Sue's brother Johnny Storm (Evans), aka The Human Torch, and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), aka The Thing, feeling a bit left out.
The wedding is interrupted by the Silver Surfer, a mysterious intergalactic herald whose arrival wreaks global havoc and has the US military calling on the Fantastic Four for assistance. The Surfer, it turns out, is the reluctant servant of Galactus, a giant, planet-devouring entity that has its sights set on Earth.
Beloved by Marvel fans, the Surfer has been more prominently featured in the film's advertising campaign than the Fantastic Four themselves. And though he doesn't actually do a lot in the film he is, as computer generated by Weta Digital and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, a very cool addition to the cast.
His spooky appearance and Zen-like pronouncements - plus the occasional glimpses of the approaching Galactus - give the film a dark edge that sometimes contrasts oddly with the otherwise playful feel. But for the most part returning director Tim Story (who also made Barbershop) manages to balance the different tones.
The original title characters get a little squeezed out because of the Surfer's presence, so there's less of Johnny Storm's cocky humour and The Thing's trademark clobberin'. The Four's nemesis Dr Doom (Julian McMahon, from TV's Nip/Tuck) also gets a reduced and less villainous role.
Aside from the Surfer, the effects are adequate but never really astounding, in spite of the fact that the sequel's budget was boosted to a reported $130m. Big set pieces take place in London - where the Surfer manages to drain the Thames and almost bring down the London Eye - and Shanghai. The sequel also introduces the Fantasticar, the Four's flying vehicle from the comic book stories.
Not surprisingly, the door is clearly left open for another Fantastic Four sequel. And the film's final frame provides a tease for the Silver Surfer spin-off feature that Fox is reportedly developing.
Twentieth Century Fox
Kirk M Petruccelli
Peter S Elliot