Superhero Saturday: Better villain, bigger stakes make ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ (2007) a superior sequel (Movie review)

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he “Fantastic Four” franchise steps it up a notch for “Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007), which many superhero genre observers point to as 1) the best “Fantastic Four” movie and 2) evidence that the “Fantastic Four” franchise is pretty darn weak, if this is the best entry. The titular Oscar-statuette-looking demigod, performed by genre regular Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, has pathos: He must create craters in the Earth to destroy it, because it’s what he was made to do by his planet-eating creator, Galactus. But he doesn’t like doing it.

I appreciate that “Silver Surfer” is only 90 minutes long. There’s something to be said about this straightforward plot from Mark Frost (who returns from the first entry) and Don Payne: Our heroes must grab the surfboard or convince the Surfer to stop what he’s doing. Still, if I had my druthers, I would’ve cut more stuff and beefed up other threads.

Again, the highlights are the special effects. “Silver Surfer” introduces a contrived but fun conceit where when Johnny touches someone, they trade powers.

Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon), on the short list of the worst superhero movie villains ever, pops up again to basically say “Nah-nah-na-boo-boo” when Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) asks him to please turn over the Surfboard since the fate of the Earth is at stake. I could’ve done without Doctor Doom.

Again directed by Tim Story, the sequel squanders what could’ve been a cute relationship between Johnny (Chris Evans) and an initially uptight Army Captain Raye (Beau Garrett). She spurns his advances, but at the end she’s his date at the wedding of Reed and Sue (Jessica Alba). I would’ve liked at least one scene where she warms up to him.

As with the 2005 film, the personal drama is light, with obvious solutions. Reed keeps getting distracted from his wedding by work, but since that work involves saving the human race, Sue can’t be too hard on him. Ben (Michael Chiklis) is doing fine now, having embraced his identity as The Thing with help from his loving, blind girlfriend Alicia (Kerry Washington).

(There might be something to dig into about how only a blind woman could love a man with that face, but she does feel his features upon meeting him, so it’s more of a case of two people from minority groups getting together. But like everything in these films, it’s all rather fluffy.)

Again, the highlights are the special effects and the occasional quip. “Silver Surfer” introduces a contrived but fun conceit where when Johnny touches someone, they trade powers. So at various points, he uses the invisibility of his sister, the stretchiness of Reed and the rockiness of Ben. The big set piece here is a Ferris wheel that’s about to fall into a river that’s being drained by one of the Surfer-created craters (don’t think too hard about the science). It shows the F4’s teamwork and it is neat how Reed wraps himself around the wheel to hold it together.

Jones and Fishburne give gravitas to the Silver Surfer, a villain who doesn’t want to be a villain. “Silver Surfer” only touches on the idea of galactic stakes (although this extreme is arguably preferable than the other extreme – for example, Thanos’ speechifying in “Avengers: Infinity War”). And it’s not interested in fleshing out the crowd-pleasing Johnny-and-Raye relationship. The overall lightness and predictability makes me resist dwelling too much on “Silver Surfer,” but at 90 minutes, it’s easy and painless to watch.

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