Nerds might have had their hero, if they needed another these days, and comic book movies might have led audiences to new cathartic heights, exaggerating our deepset worldviews into mind-blowing action with awesome effects. But a stretchy man and shortsighted writing relegate the second “Fantastic Four” installment to the category of movies that are good memories for 13-year-olds.
The first problem, the stretchiness, is the tragedy of the Four that will inevitably doom any attempt to rank them among the comic book greats. Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, leader of the Four and one of the self-described greatest minds of the 21st century, has one of the dorkiest super powers in the genre. He’s sort of a human gummy bear.
Richards, played by Ioan Gruffudd, further encapsulates the movie’s failure in an exchange with the grumpy General Hager.When Hager tries to bully him into submission, pulling the nerd card, Richards defends his decision to study in high school rather than play football, pointing out that he is world-renowned and betrothed to the “hottest girl the world” (Sue Storm, played by Jessica Alba). His team of mutated superheroes applauds him, his future trophy wife kisses him and the former-football- star general backs down.
However, in spite of the attempt to give nerds their day, the point is lost because it comes from a tall, dashing man in a skintight super suit who is far more attractive than the frumpy general, not to mention most of us in the audience. Rather than a nerd hero, we are given another smart, handsome white man who makes good.
The second problem – the narrowly conceived plot – squanders what potential remained in an action story that has at its core a Gumby protégé. Frustratingly, that potential was enormous.
In the opening sequence, a planet explodes and the Silver Surfer rides the wave of molten destruction it launches into space, carving through galaxies until he swoops toward Earth to herald our planet’s imminent demise.
His arrival is like the second coming of Christ, replete with kooky atmospheric phenomena and a first line that could have been lifted from Revelations: “All that you know has come to an end,” delivered in a chilling rumble that only Laurence Fishburne, the Surfer’s voice, can muster.
His master is the planet-munching Galactus, a nebulous alien more powerful than anything the comics have ever dished up for the screen (though there is probably a zitfaced fan club of some other comic book critter who will prove me wrong on their blogs during their weekend nights at home).
Unfortunately, the Surfer is easily deterred with platitudes from the admittedly hypnotizing lips of Sue Storm, one of the Four who has a legitimate superpower. Equally unfortunate, the Four fritter away screen time bickering with Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon of “Nip/Tuck”), the same four against-one fight that bulked up the plot of the first movie.
Besides the fact that four against one is unimpressive and, well, unfair, there is another villain in this movie who eats planets. True, Von Doom has a mask that’s kind of scary, but maybe he could be moved down a notch on the to-do list.
The special effects are state-of-the-art, however, and the action is fun to watch in spite of its confinement within the shortcomings of the plot.