Gee, another Fantastic 4 film. I was on the point of digging out my earlier review to remind myself what happened in the first movie
, despite having only watched it a month ago. However then I remembered. Nothing happened in the first movie
. That would be why I didn't remember it. I know I quite liked the four heroes and laughed at Julian McMahon's Dr Doom, albeit not in a good way, but it's a rather astonishing tentpole summer movie in its avoidance of anything that could be taken as a story.
As far as I can tell, this sequel seems to be generally regarded as an improvement. It's a better action movie, I'll give it that. I'm sure I'll remember it for longer, which on that level at least is a mark of success. For one thing it makes good use of Dr Doom, which is a mistake. McMahon still sounds ridiculous when he's behind the iron mask, but once he'd returned to looking human I quite liked him. The plot throws him into alliance with the Four and it's always fun to watch heroes and villains having to work together. Obviously this would have been more effective had he been the real Dr Doom rather than the lame McMahon version, but if you can forget the previous film he's not actually so bad. Taken in isolation, this time he's merely underwhelming, as opposed to being an outright joke as before.
Still more importantly, this film also has an awe-inspiring cosmic threat in Galactus. All films should have a Galactus. Something unimaginably bad is coming and it's going to eat the Earth. The film's climax works pretty well, with cosmic destruction raining down upon us and only the Fantastic 4 standing up to save the world. Admittedly they've changed his appearance from the original comics to be merely a tornado, but he's a really, really big tornado. This is the kind of threat level that was missing last time. However on the downside, I wanted a dude in a purple helmet. That would have been funny. Joel Schumacher would have included the helmet and I think we can safely say it's not a good sign to be making comparisons with Mr Bat-Suit Nipples.
Then there's the Silver Surfer, drilling holes in the planet and irritating the U.S. Army into a frenzy of evil. I'm slightly surprised that Fox made and released this film in Bush-era America. Put all this together and you've got a story with powerful antagonists, a firm direction and occasionally even a bit of action. I liked all that. This is a film that's going places.
Overall, I can see why people think it's better, but that's not the only adjective I'd choose. "More stupid" is a tempting option too.
1. THE ENTIRE PLOT
Let me get this straight. You're this indestructible immortal herald of evil who's been helping Galactus bring doom on countless civilisations. Okay so far. Would it be a spoiler to suggest that he has a change of heart? Does anyone really think Earth is in danger of being destroyed in this PG-13 fluff-fest? Now this is all very well and convenient, but it does beg the question of WHY DIDN'T HE DO IT EARLIER? Like, centuries earlier, saving goodness knows how many entire worlds? Stupid Silver Surfer.
On top of all that, Reed Richards knows Galactus is coming because he's looked through his telescope and seen lots of dead planets! You know, since space doesn't normally contain any of those. We'll overlook the speed of light question, but in addition what kind of lens is he using? Anyone on Earth who can actually see another planet's surface instead of just deducing its existence from the wobble in a star's orbit must have invented a zongium-powered magic-o-scope or something. Maybe mankind in the Fantastic 4 movies has already made contact with the Marvel universe's extraterrestrials?
Then there's Doom. Wow, does he pick a stupid time to turn villainous again. Meanwhile the difference between him and the army is that he's evil and dumb, while they're dumb and evil. Torture? As your first option? Why?
2. SUE STORM
You know, I quite liked Jessica Alba last time. She wasn't brilliant or anything, but I thought she more or less reached the required level. Here? Nope. Admittedly it doesn't help that this time she's being written as a cretin, but even so Alba isn't saving the material. She's on a par with Halle Berry in X-Men. She snaps at Richards for not pulling his head out of the science books, then turns around and snaps at him for letting his hair down and dancing at his batchelor party. That's an eye-roller of a scene, by the way, and even the script seems to realise it. Almost no sooner has it happened than she's getting apologetic dialogue to explain why she isn't actually annoyed at all. This could perhaps have been made to work, but Alba doesn't sell it.
Richards and Sue are getting married, by the way. This is the cue for yet more false jeopardy, this time Sue's fear that they'd be better off single because who could contemplate family life if it meant juggling children, supervillains and saving the world. This probably doesn't sound ridiculous, but the film immediately takes it to the most groanworthy conclusion imaginable. You see, Richards is trying to please Sue. When she's nagging him to be less of a science geek, he turns around and tells the U.S. Army he's not going to build a gadget to, um, save the world. When she starts wibbling about a normal life, he promises to give up being a superhero and settle down in a quiet teaching post somewhere. Will this ever happen? Will 20th Century Fox allow the destruction of their franchise? Anyone who believes this even for a moment has never seen a film before.
The strange thing is that Sue's been given a huge story role, arguably bigger than anyone else's. Some of it's even good. She gets some praiseworthy scenes with the Silver Surfer, for instance, but after the real film's over it's back to the eye-rolling with cornball morals and a cringeworthy wedding ceremony in Japan. Suffice to say that I cheered when we were supposed to believe that she'd just sacrificed her life and booed when she turned out not to be dead after all.
"In Japan, some are suggesting the solidification of the bay was due to underwater volcanic activity, although no such activity has ever been reported in the area."
Eh? Japan? The country that's at the intersection of three tectonic plates known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, more famous for its earthquakes and occasional volcanoes than anywhere else on Earth (except California)?
All that said, I did quite enjoy the film. The four heroes are entertaining to watch, with Chris Evans having lots of shallow fun as the Human Torch even if I personally prefer Chiklis's Thing. The sibling moments between Johnny and Sue are about a billion times more effective than they should have been. Crucially the comedy can be funny, even if it's also often lazy and/or dumb. Gags are a great way to introduce superpowers at the beginning, mind you. However the odd thing about all this relationship stuff is that it feels as if we've skipped a sequel. If this were a book, you'd be thinking you'd turned a few pages too many by accident or something. Reed's marrying Sue? Ben's in a stable relationship with whatshername? You'd expect a superhero series these days to wring a full movie out of all these emotional transitions and save the marriage and so on for the third film.
I also liked the power-swapping. It's an obvious thing to do with a superhero team, but it's fun and not taken too seriously. It also might have made for a more interesting film had they taken this even further and had the Silver Surfer's board turning Dr Doom into the next Silver Surfer.
Other good things include some impressive cleavage at Reed's batchelor party and a smidgin of discreet Alba nudity. Gruffudd manages to be nerdy without being nerdy, although the aforementioned Sue Storm factor also makes him a bit of a twat. I liked the country-hopping. London and Japan! I'm so there. Overall, I suppose I'd reluctantly have to agree with the consensus that this is a better film than its predecessor. Galactus, Dr Doom, the U.S Army and the Silver Surfer make for a reasonably dynamic story. Sue Storm is an appalling drag factor and the plot's held together entirely by stupidity, but it's not as if anyone's going to watch this with any expectations. Ugly CGI on the Silver Surfer, mind you.