The Fantastic Four is back -- returning with the same creative team that delivered the lukewarm first film, though thankfully they got it a bit more right this time, despite the appearance of some of the same hiccups that will continue to plague the series. What the sequel does right is bring with it an air of fun that families and uncritical fans can sit back and enjoy after suffering through far too many mega-serious comic adaptations (Superman Returns) or commercial junk that somehow earned money despite its high reading on the junk meter (Ghost Rider -- you're it). Sometimes tone is everything, and that's really what saves Rise of the Silver Surfer from its obvious blemishes. There's a buoyant air to the flick, made even more amusing since the plot is basically "the end of the world if saved by a dysfunctional superhero unit." New to the series is the title's main character -- The Silver Surfer, who though voiced by Laurence Fishburne, is brought to life with grace by performance actor and frequent Guillermo del Toro collaborator Doug Jones. Just watching this shiny alien being is a big-screen wonder, which, thanks to the seamless FX, makes this a mighty marvel to behold indeed. As far as the story is concerned, the film is thankfully not weighed down by any kind of origin tale, which adds much to the overall product.
Sadly, there are just some things that this series cannot live down -- the biggest problem being the casting. Though Ioan Gruffudd fares better this time as the brainy man of rubber Reed Richards (he gets extra points for the ultra-silly dance scene -- not unlike Spider-Man 3's from the same year), as his wife, Jessica Alba is just as invisible as her character's superpowers. Additionally, Julian McMahon continues to weird audiences out with his plucked eyebrows and inability to bring a true menace to the character of Dr. Doom. And the less said about Kerry Washington and her annoying blind-person acting, the better. Rounding out the gang, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans trump much of the rest of the cast, with Evans once again stealing the spotlight and actually accepting a bit of the dramatic weight that Chiklis hefted in the first film.
Of course, questions about the production still persist -- something that comic fans will no doubt be scratching their heads over. As usual, director Tim Story doesn't go all the way with the adaptation, disappointing anyone looking for an actual physical appearance of the planet-eating Galactus. One gets the feeling that by trying to appeal to the smallest audience member and by not going the extra mile with the budget, the film ends up being a bit too accepting of its middle-of-the-roadness -- which can be said about its comedy as well as its action. One thing is for sure, though, a bit of lightness and spectacle can go a long way, and for that, Rise of the Silver Surfer gets a passing grade, even if it comes with a resigned sigh for what the franchise could still be.