Fantastic Four

To call this underwhelming is to waste a good opportunity to compare it unfavourably to donkey testicles.

Released in 2005, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 20 Jul 2005 by Scott Morris
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The most interesting thing about the first live action motion picture outing for yet another Marvel comics franchise is that it isn't the first live action motion picture outing for them. Back before comic book licences became a licence to print money, longtime craptacular producer Robert Corman held the rights for this franchise and churned out a low-rent adaptation never meant to be released purely to avoid losing the rights for it and as a bargaining ploy against a mooted Chris Columbus helmed big money outing. In the end it's taken eleven years to get from there to here, here being a Tim Story (of Taxi and Barbershop fame, not exactly a stellar track record) directed glossy CG spectacular. Another one. Yawn.

It's easy to become blase about this sort of flick. They appear with a stultifying regularity and the superhero themed ones can have something of a similarity about them. Why Fantastic Four essentially nicks themes, plot devices, characterisation, effects and stunts wholesale from those that have gone before it is a question that's somewhat difficult to answer on a creative basis at least. No doubt the execs see it as just another comic book cash cow milking from the production line, and that's exactly what it feels like.

In a bid to secure funding for an experiment that may change the face of medicine, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and his research partner Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) go cap in hand to successful, ruthless corporate asshat Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), begging for use of his spacestation to study an orange swirly thing in space. For a slice of the profits he agrees, but insists on joining them along with Reed's ex squeeze Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her impetuous, arrogant, mischievous asshat of a younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans. Thankfully not the ginger-haired UK TV light entertainment asshat, though).

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Things go horribly wrong when the orange swirly thing shows up far earlier than anticipated, making something of a mess of the spaceship and subjecting them all to a dose of orange swirly radiation. Back on terra firma, they soon manifest strange symptoms and superpowers. Richards turns elastic, gaining the ability to stretch his limbs at will earning him his superhero name of Stretch Chap. Grimm turns all orange, rocky and superstrong adopting the moniker Frankie Stonewall, while Sue turns into The Girl Who Can Vanish In The Blink Of An Eye as a ploy against possible internet domain name piracy. The other Storm sibling can set himself on fire and can fly, naming himself Arson Welles and thus the Fabulous Four are created.

While they sit around Reed's pad wondering what to do and how to undo these changes, Doom's company goes down the tubes on the back of the poor publicity that comes with space station destruction. Ousted from his job by the board, the blatant similarity to Norman Osborn's situation in Spider-Man is compounded when he starts wearing what might as well be Norm's old mask to hide the fact he's turning into a metallic, electro-bolt throwing freakshow. He decides to kill the other four, seemingly entirely on the basis that there would otherwise be no third act whatsoever. Possibly he's just a little upset that he's been downgraded from the cartoons iron fisted overlord of an entire country to, well, a suit.

The irritating thing about Fantastic Four is that it does have a few interesting concepts unique amongst its comic brethren, but it ignores them in favour of aping the tried and tested methods. From the outset everyone on the planet knows who these guys really are and what they can do. Instant celebrities, there's no secret identities here, and in the current reality TV fuelled fame-for-a-day, famous-for-no-reason climate this could have hit some chords, rather than turn into yet another topic for Frankie Stonewall and Arson Welles to tiresomely quarrel over.

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Still, at least Chiklis gets to attempt character development. While the others accept their altered fate with the rough equivalent of a shrug, his hugely altered form gives rise to serious alienation issues that would make Peter Parker ashamed to have even thought about the topic. Even this gets handled in a cookie cutter, lazy way as Grimm's fiance dumps him before finding love with a blind woman. For an arc that in the end dominates the rest of the film, it's somewhat laughable that X2 covered the same ground more completely and thoughtfully with two lines of dialogue between Nightcrawler and Mystique.

The problems enveloping Fantastic Four don't necessarily begin and end with the lack of pretty much any action scenes of note, but when there's a whole lot of nothing else as a replacement the brown stuff is heading fanward. With McMahon hampered by a script providing a limp, badly under motivated bad guy to rail against it's no wonder that the finale comes over as flat as Holland. Gruffudd never seems anything like the leader Richards is supposed to be. The one thing you'd think it had got right was casting the stunning Alba, but then you make her invisible? The writers ought to be ashamed, and Story's lethargic pacing and conventional camera work don't help matters any.

Are we being a little hard on Fantastic Four? Perhaps. I mean, once you're sitting in front of it there's enough loud noises shiny things on the screen to stop anyone falling asleep but is that really worth your hardearned? Had this appeared a year or so ago I'd be umming and ahing about giving this either a two or a three, but with the volume and quality of even just its Marvel stablemates I can't even justify bestowing two snowflakes on it. What ought to have been Marvel's crown jewel has turned out to be plain bollocks.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 1/5 TippyMarks.

Tim Story
Cast list:
Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards)
Jessica Alba (Sue Storm)
Chris Evans (Johnny Storm)
Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm)
Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom)