Fantastic Four Review
Based upon the famous Marvel comic, Fantastic Four tells the tale of five people - most of them smart - who go into space to research something about DNA, but get caught up in an electrical storm that reconfigures their DNA through RADIATION; just like every superhero! Surviving the storm they return home to discover that their bodies are miraculously changing. Could this be a disease or a blessing? As Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) strives to find a cure for himself and his friends, everyone struggles to come to terms with their new found powers. In turn this disrupts their close bond, but when Victor Von Doom’s (Julian McMahon) vanity gets the better of him he decides to go after Richards, Sue, Johnny and Ben (Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis respectively), which forces them to accept their “gifts” and fight for justice and against bad grudges.
Those of you who are far too impatient, like myself will have likely read many a review claiming this to be quite a horrific piece of cinema. Well I’m personally happy to report that Fantastic Four is a damn fun romp if ever there was one. The main factor regarding superhero movies is that they quite often play on cliché, so in that respect this flick is no different, playing upon the already set foundations seen in Spider-Man, X-Men et al. Its characters deal with exactly the same issues that every other gifted super-human does, only these guys and gals are celebrities. Unlike most comic books the characters’ identities are well known to the public and they’re embraced as saviours. Throughout the film much of this is emphasized, from public perceptions to the “Fantastic Four”’s acceptance as being celebs. The only trouble with Fantastic Four is that it does everything at a blistering pace, so we’ll get the bad out of the way first. Indeed had the film gone for a more leisurely stroll it might have worked far better but then it would probably be guilty of boring its intended summer blockbuster guzzling audience. However, with a franchise as huge as this you need to provide the film with a solid, detailed background and then go for the big theatrics in a sequel. If Fantastic Four fails at anything then it most definitely does in terms of fleshing out its strong history that ties together these people; it has far too many items of importance to squeeze in, in fact this film runs too short, and I for one wouldn‘t have scoffed at an extra 30-minutes or so if it meant we‘d get a close as possible adaptation. There’s barely time to take a breather as events unfold and sadly the film reeks of missed opportunities. Still, with a story like this it’s almost too ambitious to bring it to the big screen. One can only hope that future instalments will greatly expand the “Fantastic Four” mythology. The film is guilty of being a little silly in places; perhaps the best example is seeing a frozen Richards looking like Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but at least it doesn’t really pretend to be an overly clever piece of work; I don’t think anyone involved in its making even understood any of the scientific references, so it’s perhaps best to just let it get carried away by itself and not try so hard to confound.
Further problems arise with some supporting players. The best example of this and one that is so poorly handled is Ben’s relationship with his wife/fiancé (I didn’t quite pick that up). When Ben returns home after his accident he calls her and she carries on all excited before coming outside to meet him. When he tells her to brace herself he steps out from the shadows and she looks at him in horror before fleeing, shouting “Don’t touch me”! Now perhaps the point is that she is just a shallow person, but how are we, the viewer meant to accept that? Their love is depicted as being strong; they’ve been together for many years, so why won’t she even give him the time of day now? Many couples have been through far worse situations and here she knows he’s still the same old Ben, but she cowers. I just don’t buy that any relationship could be so ridiculously played out. Good on Ben for finding a blind girl to go off with. Later on when Ben is revered as being a hero, after saving a suicidal man and causing a pile up his wife suddenly turns up out of nowhere and still finds him disgusting, placing his ring on the floor before running off again. Kudos to Chiklis for his emoting during these otherwise ineffective scenes.
End of spoilers
Director Tim Story has managed to assemble a great cast of heroes and villains for the Fan 4’s first outing. I would go so far as to say that our actors are perfectly suited to their roles. Any misgivings come in the form of the dialogue that they’re given to work with; while it carries things along it isn’t exactly masterful, but given their limitations everyone does their roles justice. Ioan Gruffudd doesn’t get enough chances for diversity, to show his character off as being far more intelligent, rather portraying his dumber qualities when it comes to love and relationships. His groovy inventions and history with Doom is largely glossed over, but we get enough insight to know how important their past is. For the leader of The Fan 4 he has little to do; clearly The Thing takes far greater precedence because his change requires so much development. Michael Chiklis is born to play Ben Grimm; furthermore he totally sells the suit. Having only seen stills of The Thing and a couple of shots in the trailer I have to admit that I was dubious as to whether or not this could actually work - it does. The decision to go with latex/rubber over CGI is a perfect one; Chiklis breaths so much life into his character and his emotions come through amazingly well. I won’t nitpick at any minor imperfections as none of them take away from his credible skills in portraying a sympathetic character. It’s really the small things that work best of all; for example when he tries to pick up his ring off the road, with his big clubby hands or trying to enjoy a simple meal; all these things that he can no longer do quite so easily. He also gets some very nice lines, particularly during a poignant moment with Sue when he says “I’d give anything to be invisible”. Jessica Alba; what could be said about her aside from “she’s constructed like a goddess”? Yes like Sin City she’s dolled up to the max here and seems to have caused the most controversy over casting issues. As Sue Storm, Alba looks incredible; Tim Story knows it and he exploits her killer figure as much as he can, but she isn’t just a pretty face. Her dialogue at times is a little clunky, but as with most things superhero and scientific-like you just have to roll with it. Alba delivers her lines as well as she possibly could and accepting her as a beautiful scientist isn’t too demanding, even if Story wants to reiterate the fact by giving her the cliché makeover of glasses and bunched up hair. Chris Evans is superb as the hot headed (pun-me-do), Johnny Storm. His chemistry with Chiklis is great and as such we get a few neat exchanges between the pair. He enjoys playing his character immensely, that much shows and he represents the perfect celebrity ideal; embracing his fame a whole lot more heartedly than the rest of his friends and family. Finally Julian McMahon is a decent Doctor Doom. Though he is far lighter in stature than his bulked up comic counterpart he handles his role well. Doom is all about vanity and McMahon channels his hatred greatly. It’s a shame that Doom as we know him in the comics is a little wasted; only turning up in full suit for the final 20-minutes; it would have been great to see him go truly, barking mad in the run up to his inevitable transformation.
Minor Spoilers here:
Those last 20-minutes rush by so fast that the film screams anti-climactic. Rather than a huge showdown we get a measly gathering and a quick dispatch, before the “Fantastic Four” go off for drinks. With a little twist though we just might get to see Doom again in future, if so then he could do with a far greater story, maybe to tie in with his true heritage.
Fantastic Four might not be a perfect film, but where it skimps on some areas it makes up for others with its impressive visual effects and healthy dosage of humour and cast chemistry. Granted, the odd shot of Johnny in flames or Richards having a stretch is imperfect, but overall it’s a very polished looking film, with plenty of fine moments to entertain. Unfortunately Tim Story seems to think that extreme MTV style footage is really cool, so we get to see Johnny skiing and BMX-ing for a few minutes, which is time that could have been better spent in focusing on Richards and Sue’s relationship. In the end, despite several problems it’s a very enjoyable and undemanding flick; as far as superhero films are concerned it’s a fine effort indeed and the start of what should hopefully become a far better series.