Director : s Tim Story
Screenplay : Michael France and Mark Frost (based on the comic book created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Hamish Linklater (Leonard), Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters), Laurie Holden (Debbie McIlvane), David Parker (Ernie), Kevin McNulty (Jimmy O'Hoolihan)
On its own terms, Fantastic Four is a pretty lousy movie, but it looks even worse coming on the heels of so many recent first-rate comic book adaptations, notably Sam Raimi's two Spider-Man films, Robert Rodriguez's blistering film version of Frank Miller's Sin City, and Christopher Nolan's dark, brooding Batman Begins. All of those films have exactly what Fantastic Four lacks: a clear sense of vision. Director Tim Story (Barber Shop, Taxi) simply isn't in the same league, and he's over his head.
Of course, despite a dedicated core of fans and a history spanning almost 45 years, most will agree that the Fantastic Four are a second-tier cadre of superheroes. Created in 1961 by Marvel maestros Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the foursome owe their origins not to a moment of inspiration or creative fervor, but rather to publisher Martin Goodman's dictate that Marvel needed a group of heroes to compete with rival publisher DC Comic's Justice League of America. Having been borne purely out of commercial need, the Fantastic Four have always lacked that extra dimension that makes great comic book heroes great.
And, to be even more blunt, there is really no way to get around the fact that the Fantastic Four are—well—kind of dorky, which is likely why the film goes for a slightly cheesy tone, rather than trying to give the story dramatic weight or any pretensions of psychological depth. As far as superheroes go, there is something decidedly underwhelming about a guy who can stretch like Silly Putty, a woman who can turn invisible, a guy who can turn into a ball of flames, and another who has turned into a walking pile of orange cobblestones. The appeal of the Fantastic Four has always been their dynamic; unlike lone heroes or even those with sidekicks, the Fantastic Four are a sort of dysfunctional family brought together by their powers. Thus, the fact that there is little or no chemistry among the characters in the movie version makes it that much more disappointing; not only is it populated with dorky superheroes, but it's lacking the one thing the comic book had going for it.
There is something wrong with Fantastic Four on just about every level -- all $110 million of it -- from the writing, to the directing, to the acting. The casting choices were largely uninspired for the four principles, who begin the film as ordinary people but are soon exposed to a mysterious radioactive storm in space that gives each a unique ability. Ioan Gruffudd, who played Lancelot in last summer's bomb King Arthur, is instantly forgettable as Reed Richards, the introverted, overanalytical scientist who will become Mr. Fantastic, the incredibly stretchable man. Chris Evans (Cellular) at least brings some energy to the hotheaded Johnny Storm, who will become The Human Flame. Jessica Alba, on the other hand, has little to offer as Johnny's sister, Sue Storm (aka The Invisible Girl), who was once involved with Reed (they are, without doubt, the world's most boring couple). The only real character energy comes from The Shield's Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm, Reed's righthand man who becomes The Thing, a walking hulk of stone whose physical deformity makes him an outcast, even within his "family." His storyline comes tantalizingly close to being genuinely poignant.
The film's nemesis is Dr. Victor Von Doom (Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon), an extremely wealthy businessman who competes with Reed Richards on every level, including for the affections of Sue Storm. Victor is also exposed to the radioactive storm, and his already nasty personality is only made worse once his body starts turning into metal. Surprisingly enough, though, screenwriters Michael France and Mark Frost never get around to having Dr. Doom concoct a scheme of any kind beyond getting rid of the Fanastic Four because—well, mainly because he's angry at them and envious of the publicity they're getting. In other words, Fantastic Four lacks even a basic nefarious plot for the heroes to foil.
The film's blah storyline and irritating lack of edge is surprising given the pedigree of the two screenwriters; France worked on 2003's psychoanalytic-infused Hulk and Frost was David Lynch's collaborator on Twin Peaks. About the only time they generate any interest is when they focus on the characters' conflicting reactions to their changes. Reed reacts in a typically scientific manner, while Johnny embraces his abilities with the gusto that only an extreme sports fanatic can muster. Ben Grimm mopes at his physical misfortune, and his anger is compounded by the fact that his wife leaves him because she is so horrified by his appearance (this is depicted in a ridiculous scene that takes place on a bridge, the emotional base of which is salvaged only barely by Chiklis' fine acting even beneath pounds of latex).
Director Tim Story was apparently chosen to helm the film on the basis of his work on the Jimmy Fallen/Queen Latifah debacle Taxi (2004), which says more than enough right there. He is certainly a competent director, but there is nothing unique or exciting about his work. He gets it up on the screen, but does little else, and sometimes his efforts are compromised by hack-and-slash editing that appears to have left huge chunks of the story on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there is more footage that will be reinserted in the eventual director's cut DVD, but if it's anything like the footage that made it into the theatrical cut, it won't make Fantastic Four any better.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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