Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (PG)

IT COULD be the end of the world as we know it in Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer.

Forget global warming, the threat of war or disease.

An all-powerful, cosmic entity called Galactus - the destroyer of worlds' - is heading for Earth, intent on sucking the very life out of the planet.

The Silver Surfer (Jones, voiced by Laurence Fishburne), an inter-galactic herald who prepares each world for Galactus's arrival, descends from the heavens and begins creating mile-long craters.

Gruff army officer General Hager (Andre Braugher) and sidekick Captain Raye (Beau Garrett) implore the Fantastic Four - aka Dr Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), fiancee Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her hothead brother Johnny (Chris Evans) and pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) - to help.

Tracking the herald's path through the solar system, Reed makes a shocking discovery: "Everywhere the Surfer goes, eight days later, the planet dies," he informs the team.

So the super-powered quartet prepare to thwart The Silver Surfer and Galactus, only this time, they are going to need help: from villainous Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), newly revived from his slumber in Latveria.

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is almost half the running time of Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, but ultimately just as fitfully entertaining, striking a pleasing balance between action and comedy. The screenplay, co-written by Don Payne and Mark Frost, is riddled with risible dialogue but pacing has improved greatly since the lacklustre first film, and The Silver Surfer gently tugs the heartstrings. "My service spares my world and the one I love," he reveals, explaining his devotion to Galactus.

Gruffudd and Alba still share no screen chemistry, which undermines scenes of Reed and Susan wrestling with their decision to quit the team and raise a family.

Chiklis is poorly served by the screenplay, reduced to growling Crap!' and a half-hearted It's clobbering time!', while Evans obliges his fans with an obligatory topless shot, emerging from a shower, wearing just a towel and an impish grin.

McMahon is content to amuse himself by disturbing his villain's blank stare with the odd raised eyebrow or sneer.

The profusion of eye-catching visual effects, courtesy of wizards at Weta Digital (The Lord Of The Rings, King Kong), is a marked improvement.

In particular, sequences with The Silver Surfer are beautifully orchestrated, including a breathtaking aerial chase through Manhattan and the climactic showdown with Galactus.

A coda during the end credits blatantly sets up the next film in the series.

If successive sequels improve at a similar rate, Fantastic Four 7 should be unmissable.

  • NO SEX
  • Rating: Three stars.