The current trend for superhero movies continues apace with ‘Fantastic Four’. The latest effort from Marvel Enterprises is the story of four astronauts whose DNA is fundamentally altered during a freak accident in space (involving cosmic rays, of course) giving them superhuman powers. Reed Richards, played by Ioan Gruffudd (‘King Arthur’), is an inventor and leader of the group. He gains the ability to stretch his body like elastic, and goes by the alias, Mr. Fantastic. His ex-girlfriend, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) gains the power of invisibility, hence the moniker, The Invisible Woman. Her younger brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, ‘Cellular’) gains the ability to manipulate fire, (including engulfing his own body with flame), becoming The Human Torch. Ben Grimm is transformed into a super-strong rock creature, gaining the nickname ‘The Thing’ (Michael Chiklis, ‘The Shield’). A fifth member of the space mission, billionaire industrialist and mission financier Victor Von Doom, is also mysteriously affected by the cosmic blast, and holds Reed Richards directly responsible for the failure of the mission and subsequent liquidation of his company.
Director Tim Story, the man responsible for such cinematic disasters as ‘Taxi’ and ‘Barbershop’, had everything to prove with this movie, the big-screen adaptation of a flagship Marvel comics’ property. The odds seemed to be stacked heavily against him as he battled against internet ‘fan-boy’ outrage from the very start. Upon hearing even the slightest snippets of production information, fans of the comic pounced and complained endlessly about how they felt the property was being mistreated. Debating everything from the suitability of the actors cast, to the costumes and most ridiculously, a certain character’s hair colour. It was getting out of hand, the movie being smothered under the weight of expectation and crippled by increasingly negative word of mouth.
The result is certainly a mixed bag, but not the disaster many were anticipating. Fantastic Four is primarily, a fun family film. Where the other Marvel adaptations (‘X-men’, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Hulk’) were just bursting with subtext (ranging from racism and homophobia to self discovery), Fantastic Four is a single layer family friendly popcorn movie. What you see is what you get with this movie and in a way it’s a refreshing change. No doubt, the comic fans were upset that their heroes weren’t going to get a ‘serious’ big screen treatment, but the movie actually benefits from not taking itself too seriously. It is the antithesis of the brilliantly dark and minimalist ‘Batman Begins’, but only because the material requires it to be.
Performances by Chiklis and Evans are the notable standouts, with adequate, if slightly mundane, turns from Alba and Gruffudd. Julian McMahon (Dr. Troy from T.V.’s ‘Nip/Tuck’) comes off worst, given nothing interesting to do with a stereotypical comic book villain. The main draw here though is the special effects work. Mostly excellent, with the obvious exception of Mr. Fantastics’ stretching effect, Fantastic Four is a pleasure to look at.
3 out of 5