– Summary –
Director : Tim Story
Cast : Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden, David Parker, Kevin McNulty.
Year Of Release : 2005
Length : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Five people are irradiated by gamma beams while on a research mission above the Earth; each of them now have different manifestations of mutation. While four of them use their powers for good, one, Dr Doom, decides he’s had enough of taking people’s crap and becomes evil.
Review : Lightweight comic-book film, with some great effects, causes only the barest of ripples on the cinematic landscape, and while condemned by purists of the original comic book, remains entertaining to say the least. Julian McMahon is miscast, but the rest of the actors in the film are great in their respective roles.
Amusing, adventurous, film adaptation of the comic-book adventures of human mutants the Fantastic Four, part of the Marvel family created by Stan Lee back in the 60’s. Pitting them against chief antagonist Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon), Fantastic Four tells of their origin as normal people, who are irradiated by gamma radiation whilst on duty in a space station above Earth. Ioan Gruffud plays Reed Richards, a headstrong and often dimwitted scientist, while his ex-girlfriend, Sue Storm (played by a stunning Jessica Alba) reluctantly tries to get over their relationship. Cock-sure jock, and brother to Sue, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Reed’s private astronaut, accompanies them to the space station, as well as fellow scientists Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Victor Von Doom.
When the station is flooded with radiation, the five scientists become imbued with special powers: Reed can stretch his body into almost any shape, length, or position he wants, Sue can turn invisible, but in doing so, must disrobe otherwise her clothes will give her away, Ben becomes a rock-clad, super strong being (named henceforth as The Thing) and Johnny Storm has the ability to internally combust, producing an endless flame from himself. Victor, who initially appears to have survived the incident with no ill-effects, begins to manifest the ability to control electricity and organic elements. His mind filled with vengeance for Reed and his cohorts turning him into some mutant monster, Von Doom sets about plotting their downfall, using massive amounts of property damage to get his point across. Battling their own wayward powers, and each other, Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny must unite to defeat their now common enemy: Dr Doom.
Fantastic Four is a simplistic, stylish and often cartoony comic-book film. While a fair degree of fan rage was directed at Tim Story for turning the great comic franchise into a somewhat heavy-handed affair filled with promise but delivering little, I have to say I disagree with those who felt that this movie wasn’t able to live up to it’s potential. There’s an element of panache to the film, a kind of funny sort of style that allows us to revel in the freshness of being able to turn invisible, of being able to fly, and able to stretch into any shape you can dream of. Okay, so Bens’ Thing is a real bugbear, but this arc is handled well by Story in what could have been a fairly plain, basic way.
If there is a problem with Fantastic Four, it’s perhaps in its extended “origin” overtones. Admittedly this is required in some sense, since it pretty clearly is an origin story, but, as so often with these kinds of films, the set-up doesn’t allow for much action or drama. Or at least, as much as you’d expect. The film spends a fair degree of time allowing us to get to know the characters, get a feel for them as people before putting them into the various situations expected of a comic-book film: amazing rescues, awkward moments of miscalculated human-hero interaction, diabolical monologue dialogue from the chief villain, yes, all these things have to be overcome. And while we may get a few laughs along the way, the film seems somewhat hampered by the fact that it has to deal with all this set-up.
The cast are actually pretty good in their respective roles, I feel. I know Jessica Alba was nominated for a Raspberry Award (the anti-Oscars) for her portrayal of Sue Storm, but I liked it. Ioan Gruffud is the spitting image of the comic version of Reed Richards, although the grey tinge in his sideburns doesn’t translate as well on screen as it does in the comic-books. Chris Evans has a wonderful time as the self indulgent Johnny Storm, whose first thoughts about his new powers is how cool they are, and how many women he’s now going to get. Evans gets the majority of the funny stuff in the film, and he makes the most of it. But the heart and soul of Fantastic Four belongs to Michael Chiklis, as Ben Grimm, who is transformed from a normal man, into a rock encrusted behemoth. Ben simply cannot return home, instead, chosing to lurk about his former residence while furtively keeping an eye on his finacee. When he and his finacee finally do confront each other, she is repulsed by his appearance and breaks off their engagement. Ben’s story is the most human of all within this film, and Chiklis, hidden behind layers of orange rock-makeup, gives a truly layered, moving performance.
As Victor von Doom, Julian McMahon does fairly well; he’s relegated to the clichéd comic-book villain a fair majority of the time, bereft of any real motivations beyond revenge (see Magneto in X-Men for a villain who actually has a strong core belief structure, and gains audience empathy through it) and ultimately, is a fairly benign character as portrayed here. The filmmakers have set him up as a cross between Lex Luthor and the Grim Reaper, a wealthy monster, if you will, and while perhaps the transfer from page to screen hasn’t worked that well, I think McMahon does a fair job at it. I do think they should have cast somebody else, though. McMahon simply isn’t capable of delivering a truly “evil” performance, and in the case of a comic-book film, you need somebody who is able to deliver this.
The action and effects are first rate, as you’d expect from a big budget bonanza like this. Of particular note is Johnny Storms flame effect, which I think most people have been dying to see done properly by CGI. It works really well, and really is one of the coolest powers of all the characters. The bravura set-pieces of the film include a dynamic bridge-top rescue, with several firemen (and one fire-truck) dangling precariously from New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, as well as an all out confrontation between the Four and Dr Doom, with the fate of mankind (as usual) hanging in the balance. Story directs the film as if he’s ripping the images from the comic book page. Often, the screen is filled with dynamic action and colour, a blur of motion and effects. However, more often, the film is dragged down a few levels by some inadequately written dialogue so hammy, it’s almost painful to watch. Gruffud and Alba, who have the chief romantic storyline of the film, are chemistry-free and devoid of emotive content, which is disappointing to say the least. Their scenes together, with their “witty” banter, are sometimes painful to watch. But, overall, for a lightweight action film about our favourite heroic foursome (no, not Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Bat-Mite!) Fantastic Four does a relatively good job of keeping us entertained.
It’s not a particularly memorable film, by any stretch. There’s nothing about the film that stands out as a particular highlight to tell my kids about down the years. But it’s a solid, sometimes exciting matinee-styled cinematic entry into the super-hero canon, and I can recommend this film completely.
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