Fantastic Four Not So Fantastic
By Kristin Battestella
I heard the 2005 flop Fantastic Four was, well, a flop before it came to video. $30 is a steep price for a DVD, but I do love Ioan Gruffudd from his Hornblower days, so when Fantastic Four finally came on TV, I settled in with popcorn.
Comic fans are of course familiar with the storyline. Scientists Reed Richards (Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), and Sue’s brother Johnny (Chris Evans) are transformed by a radiation storm. Mr. Stretch, the Invisible Girl, The Thing, and The Human Torch struggle with their newfound powers and potential fame. Reed and Sue also debate rekindling their old romance, but rich and powerful Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) vies for Sue’s affections. Also transformed by the radiation, Victor becomes the evil Doctor Doom.
With a big name talented cast, I wanted to see things in Fantastic Four that weren’t there. The friendly bickering between the four is done well, but Michael Chiklis- of The Shield fame- has precious little to do as The Thing. Early on we see his fiancée turn on him, and Ben’s subsequent struggle with the creature he has become is resolved far too quickly. I’ve only read a few of the Fantastic Four comics, but I seem to recall it taking Ben far longer than 2 hours to get over his predicament.
Likewise, Reed and Sue get together far too easily. Ioan Gruffudd isn’t a big name, but he was perfectly cast as the Four’s stretchable and brainy leader. Unfortunately, he has far too little scenes, and most of them are quite hokey-just like Ioan’s last attempts to breakout- 102 Dalmatians and King Arthur. Now that he’s had a dose of blockbuster deadbeats, maybe Gruffudd will return to his award winning period pieces and historical epics.
Drooling male fans of Jessica Alba will of course think she can do no wrong. Also a Fox alum like Chiklis and McMahon with her short lived Dark Angel series, Alba has no chance to use her action moves here. She’s dumbed down by Sue’s power- the invisibility and force fields are linked to how emotional she gets. When Sue blushes or gets red with anger, she becomes invisible. Created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four’s science has not held up well, and it is tough to picture Alba as a space faring scientist in the near future.
I know nothing of Chris Evans, but he plays the hot head Johnny Storm to a T. He looks familiar, but probably because he’s cut of the same young Hollywood mold as every other good looking guy under 25. The humor between Johnny and Ben is one of the strengths in the comic and the movie here, but a few times its played for juvenile laughs rather than the emotion. Of course, Evans was in Not Another Teen Movie, so maybe I expect too much.
Perhaps the most famous player in Fantastic Four is Julian McMahon. The Nip/Tuck star also looks hokey in the unworthy material he is given. I was also confused by several of his scenes. Where is his evil lair if his company is lost? How does he have Reed’s headquarters bugged? Did he steal Reed’s machine to restore Ben or did he create his own? Maybe these are little things that can be cleared up with repeated viewings, but in such critical plot points, there should be no room for error.
Director Tim Story has plenty of talent to work with. With equal caliber actors he’s hit with Barbershop and missed with Taxi. The road in bringing Fantastic Four to the screen has been quite an ordeal. From three different directors, casting changes and a script ten years in the making- the version that made it to the screen is not the best it could have been.
With the popularity of X-Men and Spiderman, Fantastic Four definitely has an audience of serious comic book fans. Story, however, goes for kiddie dialogue and dumb contrivances. Most of the film highlights the trouble and questions raised by the Four’s altered DNA and then rushes into an action ending with Doctor Doom. Neither storyline is given the scope it deserves. Despite having plenty of comic book material to draw from, Fantastic Four doesn’t focus on social backlash, peer pressure, or any other human elements that make Fox’s other comics turned films great.
Lack of a serious, emotionally driven story might acceptable if Fantastic Four gave action where action is do. As wishy washy as the plot is, the action is equally ho-hum. The two bigger sequences of the film take place on the streets of New York-complete with car crashes and gawking on lookers. Wow, we’ve never seen that before.
The Special effects are fine as effects go. The opening sequence involving the radioactive comet and spaceship are impressive, but Fantastic Four again does nothing groundbreaking or fantastic visually. Mr. Stretch’s bendables could not have been done without computer imagery, nor the Human Torch. Still, I would probably trade the CGI in for Gumby style effects if it meant I got a little more tragedy from The Thing.
Naturally Fox is milking this franchise for all it’s worth, so look for Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer in theaters. I’d like it to be serious, but with a title like that, I doubt it. It’s okay for these Fantastic Four films to be fun, light hearted, and juvenile. The PG-13 rating and silly humor is perfect for tweens, but the studio executives behind Four can’t expect to make as much money as they’d like if they continue to back a dumbed down franchise.
Fantastic Four isn’t necessarily bad, it just isn’t what it could have been. Now that the Special Edition is out with treats for Silver Surfer, it might be worth picking up for its extended cut and restored deleted scenes. Guilty pleasure fans or cheesecake and beefcake lovers will eat it up, but comic related collectors should wait for the DVD price to come down considerably before taking the plunge.