Film — Fantastic Four (PG)

 

By Amy Diaz

For every Spider-Man there is a Daredevil, for every X-Men there is a Hulk — and thusly for Batman Begins, we pay with Fantastic Four.

I read an article recently that discussed the similarities between the power of the characters in The Incredibles with the powers of the Fantastic Four. The article included a bit of subtle no-fair whining on the part of the Fantastic Four crowd. People will see this movie and think of The Incredibles, the Fantastic people said. Well, they needn’t have worried — I never once thought of The Incredibles while watching Fantastic Four. Similarities in powers not withstanding, there is nothing Incredible about Fantastic Four. For that matter, there’s nothing fantastic about Fantastic Four. Perhaps they should have tried another, more fitting name — The Mediocrities or Banal Bunch.

The movie begins to tire almost instantly when, in its beginning scenes, it goes through a lot of establishment hooey about picking team members and explaining the mission and politics behind a trip to space. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is a nerd with a plan to study DNA by exposing plants to a space cloud. He and his partner Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) can’t fund the mission so they turn to Viktor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) for a ride to his space station. He agrees, decides to go along and brings Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). Sue’s a scientist who works for Viktor and is a former girlfriend of Reed’s. Johnny is a NASA washout and an Xtreme sports type. Once in space the group finds out that Reed’s calculations are off. The space cloud (which features the DNA-warping abilities Reed thinks kick-started life on earth) appears too soon and all five members of the team are hit with the cloud. They wake up on Earth (how did they get back? Was the ship they were in completely destroyed? The movie shrugs its shoulders at us.) and quickly start to develop strange new abilities. Reed can stretch his limbs in unnatural ways. Johnny Storm has a body temperature over 200 degrees, can produce flames all over his body and seems to be able to fly. Sue can make herself invisible and can put up force fields. Ben, who was outside the ship at the time of the cloud’s arrival, has it worst and turns into a giant rock man. And Viktor? Well, the movie makes a big deal about keeping it cagey on whether he’s been affected or not. But I’ll cut to the chase for you and just say that the very-near-future Dr. Doom is turning into the same super-strong metal material his ship was made of and discovering his ability to conduct electricity.

This being the origin story of the Fantastic Four, a name given to them by the media after they rescue a crew of firemen whose truck nearly goes over a bridge, we spend a lot of time watching the four learn how to use and control their powers. And, at an even more glacial pace, we watch Doom slowly decide that he enjoys his new abilities and that he enjoys being evil. This being Julian McMahon, who’s made something of a career out of playing campy evil characters, his scenes of increasing menace are by far the movie’s most interesting.

Ben, who comically loses his wife when she discovers his new deformities, is the only member of the Fantastics who must suffer and ultimately make a choice about whether he wants to take on his new powers or go back to his old life. (That she leaves him, like, instantly makes me think their marriage wasn’t quite the pillar of wonderfulness he built it up to be in the movie’s opening scenes.) The other members more or less take to their new powers and decide to devote themselves to, well, not fighting crime really but fighting Doom (4 to a very snarky 1, being in this case, a fair match). In a nostalgic reminder of the era when the Fantastic Four were created, Doom hails from some made-up Soviet-Bloc-ish-sounding country and occasionally seems to dip a toe into some weird accent that, not Russian really, sounds a bit like the community theater version of British.

More than anything, the movie seems like an excuse to burn off some second-tier special effects that went unused in other movies. But, like an all sparklers and snakes fireworks show the day after Fourth of July, the overall effect is underwhelming.

Sadly, Fantastic Four doesn’t even take the opportunity to have fun with the things (good special effects, above average acting, a script worth reading aloud, an interesting story) it doesn’t have. A movie that used its weaknesses in some sort of 1960s-Batman-style jujitsu of campiness could win fans of its cheesiness. In an era of outstanding comic book movies, if you can’t compete, better to go the complete opposite direction and be the worst comic book movie you can be. I’ll take flabby men in tights and satin capes over sterile and lackluster serious attempts at an action movie any day.

 
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