Preparations for the celebrity superhero wedding of Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards (Gruffudd) and Invisible Woman/Sue Storm (Alba) are at fever pitch when, wouldn't you know it, inconveniently devastating climatic phenomena herald a new nemesis.
The instant that earnest, workaholic Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) promises his ravishing scientista soulmate Sue (Jessica Alba) that nothing is going to interfere with their wedding, “not even the transformation of matter on a sub-atomic level”, you know he’s totally gone and jinxed the impending nuptials. It’s amazing, in a continuing saga centred on super brainy physicists, how damn silly they can be.
But it’s a big dumb movie, as juvenile as — but decidedly an improvement on — the 2005 hit that did more impressive business than it deserved. Instalment Two goes global, a tad galactic even, but takes its time before tackling the planetary peril bit so we can delight — or not — in character refreshers, individual personality schtick and Fan 4 humour: rubbery Reed/Mr. Fantastic encouraged to “loosen up” on the dance floor at his stag party and getting high, wide and jiggly; not-too-bright Human Torch/ Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) continuing his loudly laddish exploitation of superherodom; The Thing/Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) acting mushy over his girl; and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee making a cute cameo as himself (in a scene that specifically pays homage to the final frame of Fantastic Four Special King Size Annual #3 of 1965 for those who care passionately about such detail).
In a story structure standard to all disaster adventures the endearing — or not — comic colour is intercut with portents: in this case mysterious weather anomalies occurring due to equally mysterious cosmic radiation blasts. One of these, unbeknownst to the Fan 4, by chance defrosts supervillain Victor Von Doom (McMahon) in his packing crate back at the ancestral lair in Latveria. Dun-da-dun-d’oh! The noble refusal of comics goodies to actually kill arch-no-goodniks is what keeps franchises going in that this-is-going-to-come-back-to–bite-you-in-the-ass tradition. And it sets the stage here for plenty of testy confrontations and SFX-enabled super-spats down the line, after Doom steps forth with an I-hate-you-but-we’ve-got-to-work-together-to-save-the-planet rap.
So even as the wedding’s being ruined in a spectacular electro-magnetic fiasco, Dr. Doom is taking a keen interest in the not-a-meteor that appears to have been responsible. This in turn proves to be the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, with the CG character digitally worked up at Weta around the movement references of cult figure Doug Jones, the Pan in Pan’s Labyrinth and Abe Sapien in Hellboy), a Fan 4 comics fave who is doing a world tour blasting craters near identifiable landmarks — the Pyramids, the Washington Memorial, the London Eye, that tall thingie with the round top in Shanghai — preparatory to the arrival of The Destroyer, Galactus, the devourer of worlds, who looks a lot like a very, very large swirly storm.
The plot draws on storylines pursued in many Fan 4 comic books, from the vintage ’60s classics, which introduced counterculture icon the Silver Surfer, to the recent Ultimate Extinction series. The surfer dude of the cosmos is a nicely tormented figure whose abilities we don’t pretend to understand but whose presence makes this movie, whether provoking the involvement of the military (enter the obligatory, launch-missiles-and-ask-questions-later General Hager, played by Andre Braugher), doing terrible things to Central London, making doomy pronouncements (“Take joy in the few hours you have left. HE is near”) or bonding with sympathetic superheroine Sue (he, at least, is not stupid).
The coolest highlight, however, is a speech Reed gets to sass the general, a monologue every geek will love. Having dissed our heroes as “freaks”, the general is reminded that, while he may have been the hotshot high-school quarterback who laughed at the science nerds, nerdery gave Reed one of the finest minds in the world and the love of the hottest woman on earth, so nyah nyah.
Of course, there are mysteries remaining here which those of us not steeped in the comics’ lore will never quite be able to get our heads around. Like how come The Thing doesn’t break through floors and stuff when he’s so densely substantial, or how can all Reed’s clothes stretch with him? That was probably explained in the first movie while we were dozing. But a reliable authority (Kim Newman, for it is he) holds that of all the comic-book movies about, the Fantastic Fours are most faithful to their comics origins. So there is that.
More polished than the first, with a decent ratio of action set-pieces and a lot of juvenile japery.