Genre: Superhero Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.
Release Date: July 8th, 2005 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Tim Story Actors: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden, David Parker
hough definitely not one of the best comic book concepts to end up on film, “Fantastic Four” still has heart and quite a bit of entertainment value. The character designs are certainly intriguing and the chemistry between the four lead characters couldn’t be more amusing. Utilizing state-of-the-art animation and CG effects, this Stan Lee/Jack Kirby series adaptation only falls short with its noticeably comical plot and the incessant amount of cheesy one-liners bogging down the script (though, to be fair, this picture is really aimed at younger crowds).
Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) begs his longtime rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to fund a trip to a nearby space station to study a rapidly approaching cosmic storm. Joined by his good friend and colleague Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), as well as ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her wisecracking brother Johnny (Chris Evans), the fivesome soon ventures out into space. When the shield on the space station fails to protect them from out-of-control and miscalculated levels of cosmic radiation, they are brought back to Earth with some shocking aftereffects.
Susan has gained the ability to simulate invisibility and to render force fields; Johnny can light himself on fire, transforming into a human torch; and Reed can stretch any part of his body, essentially becoming a rubber man. Poor Ben, however, undergoes the most drastic mutation, turning into a rock solid, hulking, orange monstrosity (although he’s quite invincible). When Doom becomes infuriated at his company’s financial failure due to the space mission disaster, he uses his own newfound power (being able to manipulate metal and electricity) to take revenge on the aspiring superhero team, the “Fantastic Four.”
The setup for the film is surprisingly quick: the crew is up in space and then testing their superpowers within the first 20 minutes. This actually helps the pace of the film and doesn’t detract from the story (too much sci-fi jargon would be lost on audiences anyway). Despite the complex (or farfetched) character designs and development, it’s not difficult to associate with and understand their gratitude and contempt at their remarkable circumstances. Like a Grimm’s fairy tale, or “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” each character has a special ability to offer the team to overcome every conflict – taking a specific, necessary part in endeavors that demonstrate their abilities. An early action sequence on a bridge with a semi truck and fire engine is explicitly designed to showcase the need for four separate capabilities, as well as the stunning special effects that make each one unique.
Ioan Gruffudd plays a surprisingly decent Mr. Fantastic, and Jessica Alba brings enough chemistry and head-turning good looks to keep audiences fixed to their seats. Chris Evans’ Johnny Storm is incredibly annoying, though it probably wouldn’t feel right if the group didn’t have an egotistical, comic-relief wise guy hanging around. And Michael Chiklis certainly looks the part as The Thing (adorned with plenty of practical makeup and prosthetics), a tough-as-nails, brick-armored juggernaut. While the characters are fun to watch, some of the editing and storytelling falls apart under closer scrutiny. Jessica Alba uses her invisibility powers to slip past a crowd of panicky onlookers during the bridge sequence, but how she did it is a mystery, because the scene was apparently butchered. One moment she turns invisible, and the next minute, after the scene cuts away, Reed is thanking her for getting them past the crowds. In another scene, Ben is duped into using a machine that removes his special powers, only to use it again to regain those powers to help his friends. Yet by the film’s end, he is unable to turn back into a normal human, despite his eventual acceptance of looking like a crumbling, sun-scorched rock. Did the machine get destroyed while audiences weren’t looking? Has the technology to recreate it also vanished?
Grand visuals, exemplary makeup/costuming, and superb character designs make this colorful comic book team a sincerer yet authentic take on the source material. Director Tim Story tinges every scene with comedy, presumably to alleviate the highly improbable and cartoonish plot; a darker “Batman” vibe likely wouldn’t have meshed. And it pays off, despite the large amount of unexplainable scientific nonsense, and the nonstop back-and-forth quipping (most memorable in the montage sequence in which the group has difficulties living in Reed’s apartment-cum-lab, while Johnny plays whipped-cream practical jokes on Ben). A bit too much droning dialogue at the conclusion and an eyebrow-raising homage to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” aside, “Fantastic Four” is consistently silly fun – enough, apparently to spawn a sequel just two years later (“Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer”).
– Mike Massie