Comic book fans
with kids have long wanted a big-screen movie that would
really be appropriate for the whole family. With Fantastic
Four they finally have it, and you know what they say:
be careful what you wish for.
Not that director
Tim Story's take on Marvel's First Family is really that
bad. In some places, it really captures the feeling of the
classic Lee-Kirby comics while putting the whole thing in
a modern context. Since the Fantastic Four are the superheroes
treated most like celebrities, the movie even has a different
feel than most comic book adaptations, exploring how the
four handle fame.
But the script,
by Michael France and Mark Frost, tends to focus on the
comic relief that Lee and Kirby established, and forgets
about actually putting high stakes and danger in the characters'
ways. Instead of being a family changed by a traumatic event,
their origin brings them together under the only vaguely
malevolent wing of Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon).
While Doom and
Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) still went to college together,
their conflict wasn't over who was smarter, but over Susan
Storm (Jessica Alba). Despite the very obvious age differences
among McMahon, Gruffudd and Alba, we are to believe that
they are at most a couple of years apart, and that the 24-year-old
Alba has become a top geneticist. Granted, it's better than
Reed just randomly dragging his girlfriend and her brother
on a space flight, but it still doesn't quite play believably.
Don't ask exactly
where Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny Storm (Chris
Evans) fit in. Again, somehow the 24-year-old Johnny (older?
Younger than Sue?) managed to become a top astronaut under
Ben's command before defecting to Von Doom, Inc.
Once their powers
activate, the foursome have misadventures rather than actual
adventures. Fearing that their altered cellular structure
may be dooming them, Reed requires that they quarantine
themselves in the famed Baxter Building until he can find
a cure. Sure, they go stir crazy, but it gets hard for an
audience to get too worked up over Doom hiding the fact
that he, too, is changed and angry about falling stock prices.
Yes, falling stock prices.
him insane, even as his alteration gives him mastery over
electrical power and possibly metal. By the time he chooses
to actually confront his old friends, having a big supervillain
battle seems beside the point and curiously anti-climactic.
For a world class despot like Doom, the resulting fight
even seems rather petty. Almost child-like, in fact, as
every fight really ends up being just The Thing or Doom
throwing cars around. Nobody even notices that the first
time, The Thing starts it.
So the action
is, well, comic-booky even by comic book movie standards.
Take that away and you have, as former Marvel publisher
Bill Jemas infamously stated, a sitcom. On that level, it
works pretty well.
between Johnny and Ben is actually a great translation from
page to screen, though it gets a little over-used whenever
the energy starts to flag. Even trapped in a Thing suit,
Chiklis' personality holds the screen, with a great long-suffering
burn. Up against Evans obviously having a great time playing
the one character that is actually having a great time,
all their scenes just rock.
the obligatory Thing self-pity scenes work, again because
Chiklis does more real acting with his eyes than Gruffudd
does with his whole CG body. Extra points for including
the classic comic book image of him in a trenchcoat and
fedora, as if that would work as a disguise. If his dramatic
scenes come off as funny, it's because Story puts Grimm
in a somewhat ridiculous situation with a fiancée (Laurie
Holden) who obviously thinks she's in a soap opera.
unfair to slam Gruffudd. Reed is supposed to be a brilliant
man who can barely see what's right in front of his face,
even when it's a suddenly pliable nose. The Welsh actor
tends to stammer and look nonplussed a lot, which is likely
all Story asked of him. His accent, unfortunately, is as
inconsistent as the grey in his hair, a plot point brought
up for no reason other than to match the comic book.
Also stuck between
serving movie needs and comic book fans is Victor Von Doom.
McMahon doesn't seem all that torn, affecting a too-precise
American accent that only once falters inexplicably into
being British (McMahon is Australian). But the revision
of Doom as a businessman obviously doesn't work; at the
beginning of the film, he utters a line that will have fans
howl. Dr. Doom would never admit that "...Richards is always
right. He just doesn't always know what he has."
through, the production seems to recognize that it isn't
clicking, and then starts throwing in the comic book elements
rather than going back for reshoots. Someone snidely remarks
it might be time for him to return to Latveria, when no
mention has been made before at all. At least they follow
(for a time) co-creator Jack Kirby's belief that Doom has
only one small scar on his face. As for the famous mask
that covers those matinee idol looks, that was a gift from
the Latverian people for services rendered.
nice! A Dynamic Forces Dr. Doom mask replica! That will
be perfect for when I start my career as, um, Dr. Doom.
Bwa-ha-HAAAA! Why'd the room get so quiet?"
Alba. I actually bet Michael Goodson an extra planet rating
that the Invisible Girl would have a nude scene. Sure, you
can't actually see it, but it's there. Twice.
has more weight here than you might expect, but in too many
scenes, she seems like a little girl playing big girl, at
least until bristling when Johnny dubs her the Invisible
Girl instead of Woman. Maybe by the time the franchise reaches
Sue and Reed having kids, she'll have the real gravity to
be a tough mom.
And there should
be a franchise. Though it has a lot of flaws, Fantastic
Four left me wanting to see where they might go next.
Clearly, the Ben Grimm/Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)
relationship gets the barest of nods here but is meant to
grow. I've also got to give Story props for giving Stan
Lee the best role of his career, and that's including playing
himself in Mallrats. Casting the venerable creator
as long-suffering Baxter Building mailman Willie Lumpkin?
Genius. In Fantastic Four 2 they can use special
effects for his ear-wiggling power.
kids will love it, and should. Despite a PG-13 rating, this
movie really has nothing too edgy - maybe it's the invisible
nude scene, or a non sequitir swear word that seems
carefully placed just to push it over into that -13 territory.
Fantastic Four is lightly entertaining, but with
more promise than actual delivery.