Heading into Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, my expectations were pretty low. The original was slow, dull and gimmicky, with too much set-up and not enough punch. That said, I'm about to make a very bold statement -- not only is this film far superior to its predecessor, but it's also one of the best sequels this summer has to offer. Granted, that's not saying a whole lot, but when it comes to entertaining a mass audience -- delivering equal parts quirk and fast-paced action -- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer serves up fun on a, well, silver platter. Unlike other recent comic adaptations content on force-feeding you bland melodrama to a point where the entire theater begins to reek like cheese, Silver Surfer never takes itself seriously. It's PG-rated summer popcorn fluff at its best, and while the new additions might irritate the hardcore FF fanatics, those simply looking for a check-your-brain-at-the-door night out at the movies will certainly surf away satisfied.

It's hard enough focusing all the attention around one superhero, and four makes the task even tougher. Director Tim Story took a real chance with this sequel; although fans would've loved a darker, more sinister tone, he went in a completely different direction -- opting to instead tap into the old school, feel-good vibes of the original Superman films (parts 1 and 2), while utilizing a bigger budget to really make this thing sail. However, not all the effects hit their mark (specifically Mr. Fantastic's stretch technique, which looked completely silly and over-the-top in more than a few scenes), but the work done on the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) more than made up for the minor faults in our main characters. In fact, the worst part of FF2 was the actual "all-media" screening -- chock-full of of delinquents who wouldn't stop talking the entire time. Not at the screen, mind you, but at each other. And I sat next to a homeless guy. Seriously. So if I can walk away from that experience and still enjoy this film more than any sequel/adaptation/threequel/you name it this summer, that's saying a lot for what the FF gang offered up for this, their second time around the block.

p>The greatest aspect of this sequel is that all the backstory was shoveled out in the original; we know who is who, as well as what their powers are, so there's no need to stomp down that road again. When we open, the Four are fantastic celebrities. Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue (Jessica Alba) are attempting to plan yet another wedding around more obstacles than those featured on an episode of Double Dare. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) is still in love with himself, but now he's spending most of his time working endorsement and sponsorship deals (in one of his first appearances, the guy is dressed in a full-body Nascar-like suit with the FF logo stamped in the middle). The least developed character out of the four is Ben, aka The Thing (Michael Chiklis) who, apart from his oh-so-cute relationship with Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), doesn't do much except tack on more "Oh crap, I'm still stuck being a human rock" shtick.

Family and team issues aside, there's a new disturbance in the force. When the weather patterns go wacky and gigantic craters sabotage several cities around the world, strong military types (lead by General Hager, as played by Andre Braugher) seek out Reed (and his brilliant scientist brain) to help determine what the heck is going on with the planet. Little do they know, but earth is about to be devoured by a massive storm cloud named Galactus for breakfast, and its go-to messenger, the Silver Surfer, is the one prepping the meal. As the team attempts to piece it all together in time, their nemesis Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) somehow finds a way to use this situation (and this mysterious Silver Surfer) to his advantage, slowly becoming more powerful than he's ever been before.

Right off the bat, fans of the comic will be disappointed in Galactus. The gang's planet-eating nemesis is never fully explained, and its grand entrance is nothing like what you had hoped it would be. Surfer's backstory, however, is pretty much intact. except in order to make him more relatable the writers threw in a little long-lost love angle (which I don't believe was included in the comics). Surprisingly, the meat of the story lies with Johnny Storm -- a character who certainly adds a ton of comic relief (greatly helped by Evans' perfect timing), but also enjoys the most development out of the four. He's the only one who really showed some pure growth, and I wish I could say that for the rest of them. If more time would've been spent exploring the mythology of Galactus and Surfer, instead of randomly throwing in confusing and unnecessary molecule-speak, them Tim Story and his crew would've pulled off the perfect sequel.

But nothing is ever perfect, and it's refreshing to find a comic adaptation that reminded me of how much fun it was playing with action figures back when superhero characters weren't in desperate need of daily therapy sessions. Not everything needs to be dark, or deep, or disturbing -- finally, this summer offers up a superhero flick geared toward the young at heart, and aims to please those of us craving a light, breezy moviegoing experience. The dialogue may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but the pace is smooth and the eye-candy is plentiful. It's not extravagant, and there's certainly nothing ground-breaking featured here, but Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer never attempts to become something it's not. Like I said, it's risky to introduce this sort of tone in an environment that's constantly searching for "something better." Although it's easy to nitpick, why do so when the waves all look the same. After all, it's not about what you ride, it's about how you ride it. And judging by the smiles of those kids leaving the theater, I'd say they found a way to surf around the rocks. It was a long time ago, but I remember doing the same thing when I was their age. Occasionally, it can't hurt to try it again.