Hollywood Product - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Globe-trotting plot and cosmic threat give superhero sequel sense of purpose

Genre: Superhero sequel

The pitch: The wedding of stretchable Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) gets interrupted by the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones, with Laurence Fishburne providing the voice), the herald of an outer-space entity that devours worlds.

Money shots: The Human Torch (Chris Evans) chases the Surfer from New York to Washington, D.C., to the upper stratosphere. When attacked by Army guys, the Silver Surfer’s board absorbs a missile with no ill effects. Spectacular action scenes involve such landmarks as the Great Wall of China, London’s Millennium Wheel and the Thames River, which runs dry. There’s also a nice little touch when the rock-covered Thing (Michael Chiklis), in lieu of signing an autograph, grinds his thumb against his forefinger to give a fan the sandy grit that rubs off.

Body count: One planet collapses and caves in. So does a hapless human who runs afoul of a bad guy with the Power Cosmic.

Worst line: “A pulse. A tachyon pulse! I love you!” Mr. Fantastic declares, after the Invisible Woman unwittingly inspires a “Eureka!” moment. The right actors can sell such cornball scenes. Gruffudd and Alba can’t.

Flesh factor: Like the previous film, Silver Surfer features a gag about the Invisible Woman losing her clothes in public, but we see nothing of Alba to jeopardize the film’s PG rating. Resembling a chrome hood ornament, the Silver Surfer appears to have no clothes, and no, uh, package either.

Product placement: In one of the best jokes, the Human Torch shows off a NASCAR-style Fantastic Four uniform covered with corporate logos, including Dos Equis (and, by some coincidence, he drinks a Dos Equis later in the film). Nevertheless, the film whores unironically for corporate sponsorship: The airborne Fantasticar is a Dodge.

Cameo: Stan Lee, who created Fantastic Four with pioneering artist Jack Kirby, appears in a wedding scene as himself. Now can he stop turning up in every one of the Marvel Comics movies? Please?

Hey, wait a minute: At one point, the Surfer reveals his origin by showing video-style images on his abdomen. Could the Silver Surfer in reality be the awesomest Teletubby ever?

Online controversy: Fantastic Four fans cried “Flame on!” upon learning that the planet-eating Galactus, drawn in the comics as a giant with a metallic, horned helmet and purple kilt (and appearing in Savage Pizza ads in this newspaper), looks merely like a big cloud in Rise. Still, the conception of Gothic archnemesis Doctor Doom (“Nip/Tuck’s” Julian McMahon) as a sneering corporate smarm-bag seems like the worse violation of comic-book canon.

Better than the first one? Yes. The globe-trotting plot and cosmic threat give Silver Surfer a scope and sense of purpose that feels faithful to the classic original comics, and was completely absent in the previous film. The Silver Surfer and Chiklis’ Thing have a pathos that’s paradoxically absent from the human-looking roles.

The bottom line: Still a less-than-fantastic film. Director Tim Story continues to put far too much emphasis on humor, even though his only superpower is the ability to turn jokes into lead. With bad casting, bad dialogue and bad direction, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is more of a wipeout.

2 stars