Fantastic Four

Movie Information

Genre: Comic-Book Super-Hero Flick
Director: Tim Story
Starring: Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon
Rated: PG-13

Saying I’ve seen worse things than Fantastic Four loses any qualitative meaning when you realize I’m talking about such worse things as Freddy Got Fingered, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and House of the Dead. It is worth noting, however, that FF is certainly an improvement over such similar outings as Catwoman and Elektra.

All in all, it’s about on a par with Daredevil — only minus the pomposity.

If there’s anything that’s really in this latest comic-book movie’s favor, it’s that utter lack of pretension. Unlike most recent comic-book adaptations, Fantastic Four doesn’t think it’s about anything. In fact, it’s doubtful that the film thinks, period.

If there’s any hidden meaning in it, I’m hard pressed to imagine what it might be — apart from the inevitable question of Johnny Storm’s (Chris Evans, Cellular) frequent outbursts of “Flame on!” Combine this with Johnny’s constantly surrounding himself with as many buxom women as he can find, and you could probably work up a good case that he’s overcompensating. And it seems unlikely it could be worth the trouble.

FF is basically a standard cheese-encrusted comic-book movie of the sort that occasionally popped up before Tim Burton’s Batman moved the genre toward a darker, weightier approach. Perhaps this is for the best in a movie with characters named Sue (Jessica Alba, Sin City) and Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, TV’s The Shield) and Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon, TV’s Nip/Tuck). I can only presume that the leader of the four superheroes got stuck with the more mundane name of Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud, King Arthur) because the character is such a stiff that he doesn’t deserve anything more colorful.

Of course, any movie calling itself “Fantastic” is immediately under a degree of pressure from the onset. And like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from a couple years ago — where the titular gentlemen weren’t all that extraordinary, and one wasn’t even a gentleman at all — the “Fantastic Four” of FF are frankly pretty mediocre on the super-hero scale.

I mean, what have we got here? Four folks — and one incipient bad guy, Dr. Doom — are exposed to a “cosmic storm” that alters their DNA, resulting in their varying super-powers. (Why they each get different powers, we’re not told, any more than we’re told why these are the only people on the space station where this happens.)

And what are these powers? Well, Reed Richards can bend and stretch into any shape imaginable, which often has the unfortunate side effect of making him look like the human Gumby. And Sue Storm can turn invisible, though she seems to need to be aroused or frustrated for this to occur, making it of somewhat doubtful practical value. Now, her overgrown-adolescent brother, Johnny, can set himself ablaze, making him the life of the party at barbecues, I guess. Bringing up the rear is Ben Grimm, the unfortunate chap who gets the heaviest dose of cosmic rays and is permanently turned into something that looks for all the world like the Incredible Hulk made out of cracked, sun-dried clay. Whether he was prone to announcing “It’s clobberin’ time” in his pre-super-hero state is an unanswered question.

I’ll grant you that the villainous Dr. Doom is somewhat more fantastic, since he gets turned into a kind of lightning-bolt-wielding metal monstrosity — with a taste for the flamboyant, as evidenced by the Green Goblin-ish metal mask he adopts for no very good reason. Comic-book aficionados assure me that Dr. Doom is actually even more theatrical on the printed page — constantly referring to himself in the third person, and presented more clearly as the ruler of some postage-stamp European country called Latveria, where the peasants wear lederhosen and live in thatched-roof cottages.

One can only surmise that the film omitted this in the belief that it would make the whole thing unbelievable. Why this was of serious concern in a movie that asks the viewer to accept Jessica Alba as a brilliant scientist, I can’t imagine. (OK, she’s marginally more believable in this capacity than Tara Reid was in Alone in the Dark, but Alba’s real raison d’etre is, I believe, telegraphed in her I.D. number on Richard’s charts for the four: “36C.”)

The story? Oh, why bother with that? The movie certainly doesn’t. Rather, it plays like 106 minutes of setup for a sequel film, which might prove marginally more entertaining since this one leaves us heading for Latveria. Whether such a movie is likely to be made remains to be seen. The lackluster (if generally adequate) special effects and the decidedly B-list cast suggest not — but in a world where Baby Geniuses can spawn a sequel, all bets are off. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some suggestive content.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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