Tim Story returns to direct the sequel to 2005’s Fantastic Four, a story focusing on the mysterious Silver Surfer, an alien being that appears just as strange occurances begin around the globe.

Reed Richards (Ioan Grufford) stands on top of a beautifuly decorated New York City skyscraper waiting for his bride-to-be, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba). Suddenly a specially built PDA in Reed’s pocket begins to beep, alerting him to some pending disaster and catching both Reed and Ben Grimm’s (Michael Chiklis) attention. Something is on its way to New York. A moment later, the music cues, Susan appears looking devastatingly beautiful in her wedding dress, and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) walks her down the aile. As the preacher begins the ceremony, Reed’s PDA begins beeping in earnest once more, much to Susan’s dismay. Reed asks for the ceremony to be hurried along, but moments later NYC loses power, a news chopper covering the wedding nearly crashes into the rooftop, and a mysterious Silver entity whisks by in a heartbeat. Reed turns to Johnny, who transforms into the Human Torch and begins a dazzling aerial pursuit of the Silver Surfer.

After a nearly fatal encounter with the Surfer, Johnny’s cosmic molecules are unstable, and he can inadvertingly swap powers with any of his teammates with a single touch. To make matters worse, is Johnny’s ever growing feeling of isolation within the team and his longing for companionship like his other teammates have. Adding to the tension is Reed and Susan’s desire for a normal life away from being a superhero. So, when the team is assigned by a top ranked U.S. General (Andre Braugher) to track the Surfer’s movements and help stop him, the descention within the team, specifically Johnny, proves to be too much for them to overcome and with serious consequences. Feeling that the teamĀ is no longer trustworthy alone, the General brings in Victor Von Doom, a.k.a. Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon), recently revived by the appearance of the Surfer and the high cosmic energy within his board. Despite the team’s objections, Reed agrees to share information and work with Doom to formulate a plan to bring down the Surfer and save the world from pending destruction.

As a sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer has all the ingredients to be successful. For one thing, it’s a lot shorter than the original (clocking in at around 90 minutes), mostly thanks to having the origin story out of the way. It has great action set pieces, and the visual effects have definetly improved upon the original. The characters have grown up a bit since the orginal film too. Ben is in a serious relationship. Susan isn’t quite so bossy all the time, and is more forgiving of Reed’s experiments. Reed himself is looking for a way to balance his work and the need to start a family with Susan.

Beyond having the characters grow, where the film succeeds is also mixing things up, the characters aren’t always seeing eye to eye, and the internal conflicts within the group are more the focus of much of the film, rather than the Surfer or Galactus , an alien super-being coming to destroy the planet, who the Surfer works for. That is possibly the only thing I can really say they may have done wrong, or maybe not “wrong” but not as well as some people would expect. The balance needed between the group and the super-looming threat isn’t quite there at times. While I liked the conflict within the group, it did take away from the overall plot of the film. For a large chunk of the movie, you may even forget the Surfer or Galactus exist. The chemistry between the cast is great and very natural, but the level of action could’ve been upped a bit.

I do very much like the focus being on Johnny though. He is the hot-head, the rebel and he now finds himself alone, and unhappy with the playboy lifestyle. Around him, his teammates…his family, are all settling down and being happy. All he has is the Fantastic Four, and his abilities that make him the Torch. He is confident as the Torch and thrives under the pressures of being a superhero. When the Surfer effectively takes that away from him, he looses all his confidence and questions himself and his place in the world. It forces him to be humble, and realize whats important. In a tender scene with Ben, Johnny begins to show his changed nature, as the two discuss the possible ending of the world, and Johnny asks Ben how he’d want to spend his last few minutes. Ben expresses a partial need to go down fighting, but ultimately confesses that he’d want to spend it holding his girlfriend, Alicia (Kerry Washington), in his arms. Chris Evans does a wonderful job expressing Johnny’s longing as Ben tells him this, and his response is very touching, admitting that it sounds nice to have someone. Ben raises a glass to Johnny, and tenderly assures him “well, you got me pal.”

That is what makes the movie(s) ultimately successful. Beyond its simple charm, which allows the audience to forgive the occassional bad line of dialogue or the fact the ultimate villian of the film is nothing more than a nasty storm cloud, the feeling of family and the bond these four people share is both real and heartwarming and uncommon in superhero groups. It’s what has always seperated the Fantastic Four from the X-Men or the Avengers or the Justice League. The F.F. are, first and foremost, a family and depend on one another to survive. Not only in superhero battles with super-villians, but in everyday life. They’re there for one another, no matter what and they always stand by one another in the end. It is what makes the conflicts that arise in the group so threatning, and why we know if they can survive that, and come together as a group once more, that they can surely survive a little thing like the end of the world.