"The world is literally at stake!" says Chris Evans' Human Torch in this follow-up to 2005's superhero scene-setter. Yes, and not only that. After an original that was a damp squib at best and a travesty at worst, it's not a stretch to say the entire cinematic future of Marvel's first family hangs on whether Fantastic 2 can deliver the goods. So does it? Just about, though it's a close-run Thing. With the backstory covered in Fantastic 1, Rise can at least start with a bang: literally in fact - planet-munching cloud-creature Galactus reducing one hapless orb to rubble before the opening credits. Back on Earth, though, our mutated heroes have other fish to fry. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) have celebrity nuptials to arrange; Evans' Johnny Storm is juggling endorsement deals; while rock-man Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) has finally warmed to his orange carapace with the help of conveniently blind girlfriend Alicia (Kerry Washington).
The comic books' strength was always the characters' dysfunctional dynamic, something writers Don Payne and Mark Frost exploit to the hilt. As fun as this is, though, the pic doesn't get going until director Tim Story plays his ace: ice-cool icon the Silver Surfer, a vision in liquid metal whose apocalyptic arrival thrillingly ups the ante. Ruining Mr Fantastic's wedding, stealing Johnny's powers and leaving more gaping craters than a water company work crew, this stunning creation - sonorously voiced by Laurence Fishburne - is just what the doctor ordered.
Unfortunately it's another doctor, Julian McMahon's returning nemesis Victor Von Doom, who becomes the film's biggest liability. With a devourer of worlds heading our way there's something remarkably petty about the way this second-rate villain tries to gum up the works, while the NipTuck actor's mincing performance feels weirdly out of step with the franchise's altered trajectory. Still, with better FX, a faster-paced story and more credible interaction between the leads, Surfer won't leave you board.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it gets a whole lot better. Fantastic 2 may not hold a candle to Marvel's crown jewels, but by dialling down the camp it at least makes amends for its dreary predecessor.