The Silver Surfer rises, but doesn't shine in this summer sequel

Mr. Clean gets a makeover for the 21st century.

**½ out of *****

I’m pretty big into comic books, but I’ve never been much of a Fantastic Four fan. Their powers are a bit ridiculous, and the over-arching comic “campiness” just doesn’t bode well with me. And I’m well aware that the Fantastic Four, even in their modern incarnation, are remnants of the golden age, retaining their corny banter and far-fetched concepts. So, having not read any Fantastic Four comics, I had almost no preconceptions going into “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” – aside from my dislike for the first film, of course.

I won’t go into my many and varied reasons for loathing 2005’s “Fantastic Four.” I’ll simply say that I thought it was a corny mess (and Dr. Doom was lame). But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy “Rise of the Silver Surfer” for what it was. It’s a film plagued by many of the same problems that sunk the first film, and yet it’s an infinitely better-made movie altogether.

The Fantastic Four are Reed Richards, the intelligent Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd); Sue Storm, the sultry Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba); Ben Grimm, the rampaging Thing (Michael Chiklis); and Johnny Storm, the self-absorbed Human Torch (Chris Evans). As the film opens, the Fantastic Four are struggling with love, commitment, responsibility and each other. Reed and Sue try, in futility, to marry in a normal wedding, while Johnny and Ben deal with the notion of the team splitting up.

But the heroes are forced to push their personal problems aside when the shimmering-skinned Silver Surfer (portrayed excellently by prosthetic-acting master Doug Jones) appears, promising an end to all things. To top things off, the nefarious Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) returns with a plan to steal the Surfer’s cosmic powers.

And all of this is packed into a tight hour and-a-half. As you’d expect, this brisk running time doesn’t allow for much plot or character development – the action starts fast and doesn’t let up ‘till the credits roll. It’s a simple, kid-friendly premise supported – albeit flimsily – by cool action and slick special effects.

The real appeal of this superhero flick lies in the character of the Silver Surfer, a powerful alien being called Norinn Radd. The special effects on the Surfer are phenomenal, and I found myself enjoying the character far more than any of the Fantastic Four combined.

But the sheer coolness of Norinn Radd and his Powers Cosmic can’t overshadow the apparent problems. The writing in this film is laughable, and the dialogue is obviously intended for a much younger target audience than, say, the Spider-Man or X-Men films. The jokes are corny, the banter is silly and mostly unnecessary, and the characters are flimsy at best.

There are a few moments in the movie, such as a dance scene featuring the stretchy-limbed Mr. Fantastic, that feel a little too camp. Throughout the film, I forced myself to remember the concept as a severely faithful comic book adaptation, with all the quirks that come with it.

It’s far-fetched, silly and campy – but hey, then again, so are comic books. “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” is a brisk, fun and instantly forgettable popcorn flick. Worth your admission? I’d say not for the theater. Save yourself a few bucks and check this superhero flick out in a few months on DVD.

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