(In theaters, June 2007) To say that this is a better movie than the first one does no one any favour: It’s like praising a casual acquaintance by saying that s/he’s probably better than Jack the Ripper. Chances are that everyone will feel slighted by the pointless comparison. It’s perhaps more useful to say that if this sequel isn’t as exasperating as its predecessor, it’s still pretty dumb and still not much fun. Fortunately, it does have a certain basic interest: the painful original story being a thing of the first film, the Fantastic Four are here presented at the height of their powers, with consequent public attention –though still flying coach. There is, simply put, more joy here than in the first film. They’re also faced with a decent problem in the form of an all-reflective Silver Surfer that goes and pokes holes around the Earth. Some power-switching shtick makes for passable comedy, though the script also misstep badly with an embarrassing “bachelor party” sequence and a pretty complete lack of any chemistry between the too-be-wed couple. Bad dialogue completes the whole, especially when it surrounds snippets of passable writing. (I liked the “triumphant nrrrd” speech, for instance, but it feels clumsily pasted in the middle of a contrived scene.) At least guys will have something to look at, in between the action scenes, Kerry Washington and a bespectacled plastic replica of Jessica Alba. Heck, the film even allows itself an anti-torture PSA when it points out that excessive torture will tarnish the finish of even the best silver surfers. Now that’s quality film-making with a moral centre! Otherwise, well, this sequel spares no effort to raise itself to the level of mere competency with a side-order of silliness. It’ll do for the younger members of the audience, especially given the bloodless nature of the action.