Review: ‘Fantastic Four’

Not a great film but a good opening chapter; Fantastic Four is faithful to the source material while giving the story a twenty-first century facelift.

Scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) has a theory about life, the universe, and everything, and his one chance in a lifetime to prove it is hurtling toward in the form of a cosmic storm. With no one else to turn to for funding, Reed asks former classmate and current CEO Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) for help, even against the stern advice Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis). Doom accepts as long as himself and his own people go along, including fellow scientist (and Reed’s old flame) Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and rocket pilot (and Susan’s brother) Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). When an unpredictable event causes things to go wrong in space, everyone on board is subjected to the cosmic storm’s fury and their lives are changed forever…

It’s no coincidence that the story was designed (then as now) to bring our superheroes together quickly with a common history as well as origin story. The Fantastic Four stands out in the superhero genre as heroes whose identities aren’t a secret, and unlike Spider-Man (“Menace!”) and X-men (“Mutants!”), these heroes are awarded instant celebrity status by a world who marvels at their reluctant heroics. As one of the geekier (is that a word?) and, well, more fantastic superhero yarns out there, how well does it all translate to film?

All the principle actors do an adequate job conveying who their characters are; their interrelationships (in the “funny books”) aren’t very complicated and their quirks are worn on their sleeves. The film version does the best it can to sell the idea realistically without betraying the memories of those who remember how it all began in 1962. A few plot points have been modernized since the film is now set in 2005, but the biggest changes have been to the film’s heavy, Dr. Doom. While the fanboys may whine, audiences new to the FF won’t notice a thing except that Doom has a flair for the theatrical that doesn’t quite explain his forest-green medieval hoodie.

The special effects work but the plot contains a few hero-sized holes, but the spirit of the Fantastic Four comes through in the details: discovering their powers, arguing over how to use them, regrets for those most altered, and more than a wink to everyone who’s ever thought, “Wow, if only I had superpowers!” While this Four isn’t even in the same pedigree (for story, characters, effects, or otherwise) as The Incredibles, but if it weren’t for the Four there would BE no Incredibles. If the film does well enough, the usual second and third movies will have the planet-eating Galactus and the shapeshifting Skrulls to choose from, and never underestimate the metal masked man in charge of Latveria.

There’s an innocence about this Fantastic Four present throughout the production, a film about a superhero family that’s actually a family-friendly superhero film. For all the flaws you could point a finger at, this light-hearted direction (that neither spoofs the characters nor undermines the subject matter) has been absent on screen since Tim Burton unleashed his Batman. Before that, all anyone remembered about superhero films was the first time Christopher Reeve appeared as Richard Donner’s Superman, and it’s been a long time since any other costumed crusader has come this close.

(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)


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