Based on one of Marvel Comic’s longest running comic books, “Fantastic Four” the movie follows the adventures of the world’s greatest superhero team. Except when we first meet them they’re not all that fantastic or great, but thanks to the genius of egghead Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and test pilot pal Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), a group of people are about to get themselves irradiated by cosmic rays while doing research on the space station of billionaire jerk Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Also present for the irradiation is Von Doom’s scientist crush Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her thrill-seeking brother Johnny (Chris Evans).
Once irradiated in space, the fivesome returns to Earth, believing all is well. That is, until they begin manifesting strange powers. For Reed, it’s the ability to stretch (plus his hair turns white for some reason); Sue can turn invisible and make force fields; Johnny gets the coolest power of all — the ability to turn his entire body into flames, thus becoming “The Human Torch”; Ben, meanwhile, gets the worst deal of the bunch, as he’s turned into a rock-like thing and can’t turn back to human form. As for Victor Von Doom, he gains the power to control electricity, which is good; but not so great is his entire body being replaced by metal alloy. It leads the vain Von Doom to drop the Von part and become Doctor Doom, a supervillain bent on conquering the planet. Or somesuch. Actually, I’m never really sure what Doom’s impetus for evil is, but there it is, anyway.
Basically an Origins Story, “Fantastic Four” takes some liberties with the original comic book, which isn’t a surprise as it seems like every screenwriter assigned to write a comic book movie nowadays thinks the only way he can make the movie “his” is to fubar the original concept. And so, Doom joins the expedition into space to be irradiated, instead of being horribly scarred in a lab experiment, forcing him to wear his metal mask and suit of armor, which he rigs to make himself a superpowered villain questing for more power. Does making Doom part of the expedition make any real difference? Not particularly, which should make long-time fans of the comic book doubly irked by the unnecessary origins tinkering.
In a bit of genius casting, Jessica Alba plays a geneticist. Please, stop your snickering. She’s actually pretty good, in a fakey, “See Barbie go to work” sort of way. That’s one of “Fantastic Four’s” biggest problems — the casting is all over the map. Alba is too young, Chiklis too old, and Evans shouldn’t be buddying around with late ’30s guys like Gruffudd and McMahon. The filmmakers should have gone one way or the other — make them all young, in their ’20s, or make them all older, in their ’30s. Blindly casting the biggest names they could find (Alba) and tossing her into the mix results in a sense of unevenness, particularly whenever Reed and Doom starts talking about their college days.
But I’m being overly negative. “Fantastic Four” is a kid’s superhero movie, even if Sue keeps talking about relationships to the absent minded Reed, and Doom ends up drilling holes through people with electrical beams. The film is best embodied by Johnny Storm, played to perfection by Chris Evans (“Cellular”). A wise-ass, at-the-seat-of-his-pants type of guy, Johnny embraces the celebrityhood that comes with superherodom, and Evans elicits chuckles every time his character is onscreen, which is probably why Johnny ends up onscreen more often than the others. Less successful is Alba and Gruffudd, the former looking terribly miscast, while the latter can’t pretend his way through a single scene as the scientific genius he’s supposed to be.
Comic book fans will no doubt find a lot wrong with Tim Story’s “Fantastic Four”, and No, I’m not even talking about yet another gratuitous changing of a major character’s race from white to black. Doom, in particular, comes across like a minor league villain, with barely defined motivations for his villainy. Doom remarks that he’s always wanted power, so, er, now he has power, and stuff. Actually, the worst part of the Doom character may be the stripping of the character’s genius. The comic book Doctor Doom was a mastermind in every sense of the word, his genius equaled, perhaps, by only Reed Richards, which is what makes their rivalry all the more explosive. But here, neither Reed nor Doom give the impression they even finished college, with the final stand-off making Doom look like another run-of-the-mill superpowered villain.
The special effects, the primarily reason to see “Fantastic Four” for the non-comic book reader, is mixed. The highlights are the Human Torch segments, with the Reed Richards stretching scenes being less than impressive. Sue Storm’s invisible powers are nicely done, although she ends up using her invisible shield most of the time. The talk of the town before the film’s release was the movie’s interpretation of The Thing, and true to rumors, it’s not entirely convincing. It looks like what it is — Michael Chiklis walking around in rubber latex. But thankfully, The Thing supplies the film with its most adult moments as he ruminates on his lost humanity and struggles with little things like drinking, eating a bowl of fruit, or getting mistaken by a pigeon for a toilet seat.
But again, I’m being overly negative. “Fantastic Four” is not meant to be taken seriously. Despite being long-time major comic book characters, “Fantastic Four” the movie is a minor superhero movie. I doubt, even with a sequel on the way (and more to follow, presumably), if “Fantastic Four” will ever reach the level of the Spiderman, Superman, or Batman movies. Kids should love this bloodless adaptation of the world’s greatest superhero team, and adults will get some chuckles, before forgetting about it as they wait eagerly for the next Christopher Nolan Batman or Sam Raimi Spiderman.
Tim Story (director) / Mark Frost, Michael France (screenplay)
CAST: Ioan Gruffudd …. Reed Richards
Jessica Alba …. Sue Storm
Chris Evans …. Johnny Storm
Michael Chiklis …. Ben Grimm
Julian McMahon …. Victor Von Doom
Hamish Linklater …. Leonard
Laurie Holden …. Debbie McIlvane