With mega-millions on the line and a couple of years between each entry, comic-book characters grow up faster in movie series than they do between soft covers. At the end of 2005's Fantastic Four, the off-center charisma of super-geek Reed Richards, better known as Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), won the heart of Sue Storm's Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba). But at the start of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, angst has already crept in, and not merely because Sue is worried about whether they can pull off their fifth attempt to get married without a global catastrophe.
Alba, usually a game and funny actress (but not now), furrows her pretty brow and grows a zit over the question of whether the members of a famous superhero group can ever have a normal life. While she does, audiences may wonder whether they can ever have a good time at a comic-book movie again. What made Fantastic Four effervescent was its amiable, satiric take on valor and catastrophe. But director Tim Story, who navigated that film to its lighthearted success, loses his soft touch for the first half-hour of Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (20th Century Fox) Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Andre Braugher, Beau Garrett. Directed by Tim Story. Rated PG. Time 92 minutes.