NOW PLAYING: Fantastic Four

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005


  Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch in 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Four - 2005

Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch in 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Four - 2005

Have you ever heard the expression that goes, "a day late and a dollar short"? I was sitting here trying to find the words that could sum up the mess that is Hollywood's big budget version of the classic comic, Fantastic Four, and nothing else seems quite so appropriate. But it's even worse than that. These guys showed up late to their own party. Marvel Comics has been the toast of the town lately, and the Fantastic Four are the company's first super-group; really the first superheroes at all, at least in Marvel's current incarnation. It's a sad fact that the team that preceded Spiderman and the X-Men, that started it all, is now hopelessly out of date.

Reed Richards (terribly cast with a very young looking Iaon Gruffud) is a brilliant man. In his research (physics, chemistry, biology, all of the above? We're never quite sure what Dr. Richards is a doctor of) he has discovered that a solar storm might provide clues the process of cellular evolution and, naturally, he talks a wealthy industrialist, Victor Von Doom, into funding a mission to outer space to study the storm. Along for the ride is Reed's old girlfriend Susan Storm, a Von Doom assistant now, her brother, ex-NASA pilot Johnny Storm, and lovable brute Ben Grimm. As you no doubt have guessed, things go horribly wrong and everyone gets zapped by the storm, significantly altering their DNA. Richards is now Mr. Fantastic, rubberman extraordinaire. Susan Storm is the Invisible Woman and can project powerful force fields. Johnny is The Human Torch, his daredevil antics now matched with a propensity to burst into flame. And poor Ben, just like beast from another Grimm's tale, is transformed into a monster, a hulking, stony brute, dubbed The Thing by a callous world. Von Doom, bitter and twisted at the destruction of his company, becomes Dr. Doom, his body composed of biological metal and raging electrical forces. Eventually, after bemoaning their new powers and celebrity status for a good hour and half, the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom must battle for the fate of New York and the world.

The problem is, we just don't care. The silly antics and cheesy one-liners fall flat with no hard reality to counter-balance them. This incarnation of the Fantastic Four might have played better opposite Tim Burton's 1989 goth-comic version of Batman, both marginally funny, with one playing to the dark and one to the light. But in the wake of today's broodingly serious Batman Begins, Four feels as though it were made for five-year olds, not real comic fans. It's too bad, because the tone of this film, badly written and ineptly directed as it is, matches that of the original comic book pretty well. The Fantastic Four weren't brooding or serious. They were wisecracky and goofy. Ben Grimm's pathos at being turned into the Thing is the only thing approaching real character development in either the comic or the film, and neither even comes close to reality. So why am I being so hard on the film, if it matches the source material so well? Well, first of all, if the source material is lame, it should either be fixed or avoided, and I don't think it should be avoided. I loved the the comic, growing up, and I would have loved to have seen either a real adaptation, set in 1961, when the comic came out. If you are going to recreate something, do it up right. Instead, they attempted to modernize, without updating the characters to today's sensibilities. It all felt so out of place and almost inappropriate. The effects are great, sure, but we've moved beyond (he said, hopefully) being dazzled by effects with no story. It's responsibility and consequences that interest us in today's superheroes, a question never addressed by the film. The Thing is branded a hero after saving some firemen involved in a huge pile-up on a New York bridge. But does no one notice that he causes the pile-up in the first place? Doom becomes the bad guy, but I kept thinking he had every right to be bitter. Mr. Fantastic destroyed his company, his life! But, his name is Doom, so I guess that's all we need. And on top of all that, superpowers have become much more introspective. Richards just looks silly stretching around, and the Thing, while not bad looking, simply makes no sense. He's made of rocks? The science in this film is given as little attention as was the script. I guess you could say the same thing about the powers of the X-Men or Spiderman, but at least those films are well-written and taken seriously. The filmmakers in this case have created a Fantastic Four that, despite its pedigree, is fantastic in name only. Grade: D+

Fantastic Four is rated PG-13 for action violence and Jessica Alba's costumes. Yeah. She's a serious actress.

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