When an experimental space voyage goes awry, four people are changed by cosmic rays. Reed Richards, inventor and leader of the group gains the ability to stretch his body, and takes the name, Mr.Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields, calling herself the Invisible Woman. Her younger brother Johnny Storm gains the ability to control fire, including covering his own body with flame, becoming the Human Torch. Pilot Ben Grimm is turned into a super-strong rock creature calling himself Thing. Together, they use their unique powers to explore the strange aspects of the world, and to foil the evil plans of Doctor Doom.
Directed by: Tim Story
. Starring: Ioan Gruffudd
, Jessica Alba
, Chris Evans
, Michael Chiklis
, Julian McMahon
, Hamish Linklater
, Kerry Washington
, Laurie Holden
, David Parker
, Kevin McNulty
, Maria Menounos
, Michael Kopsa
, Andrew Airlie
. Music by: John Ottman
Although I am a reasonably avid Fantastic Four fan, I continually procrastinated in attending a viewing because of the negatively vehement disappointment "professional" critics and mere mortals have been heaping on it. However, last night Ifinally plucked up enough resolve to go see it. The verdict? My trepidation was basically groundless.
The "Fantastic Four" (hereafter FF) possesses and displays most of the ingredients for an engrossing "superhero" motion picture: involving story, appealing and sympathetic characters, lavish and largely convincing special effects and set-pieces, an appropriately sinister and amoral antagonist, a complex but nimble plot, and refreshing humor. No, it is not a brooding, tortured, haunted movie in the overwrought "Batman" mode, nor is it the FF's modus operandi. Apparently Tim Story decided to adhere to the spirit and tone of the original 60's manifestation of the comic book: an exploration of the ultimate nuclear family. The FF's predominant theme is not the powerresponsibility inter-dynamic(like Spiderman), or a psychotic obsession with vengeful crimefighting (like Batman). Instead, FF engagingly channels "Lilo and Stitch"'s and Sister Sledge's theme of "We are family, where nobody gets left behind.
Furthermore, despite its light approach, FF is actually a sensible movie. If cosmic storm energy reconfigured your DNA, you wouldn't (or shouldn't) go running off immediately to fight crime. As our colorful quartet, and even Victor von (aka Dr. Doom) wisely do, they medically analyze their new conditions and powers to see if any potentially deleterious side effects may occur. As even the brash and impulsive Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) observes, and I paraphrase, "Ben seems to be the only one who can't turn his power on and off. What if that happens to us?" Of course, such introspection can be taken to an extreme, as the pensive Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic) (Ioan Gruffudd) amply demonstrates in the movie, as he quarantines his partners and himself in a desperate attempt to reverse the storm's effects. But such cerebral caution characterizes Reed. Anyway, the FF movie provides counterpoint to the foursome's seclusion with Johnny's impetuous and successful desire to "bust out" and enjoy his incendiary new powers.
The FF movie also plausibly and poignantly details the anguish, frustration, and shocked despair Benjamin Jacob Grimm (aka Thing)(Michael Chiklis) searingly evokes. If you found yourself imprisoned in a granite exoskeleton, wouldn't you do what Ben does - literally break out of the hospital facility, conceal your identity, and gingerly attempt to reconnect with your fiancée? Wouldn't you swim in morose self-pity? Ben does these things, but unlike most of us, who would probably go on an insane rampage or attempt to commit suicide, he possesses enough resiliency (Mr. Fantastic isn't the only one) and nobility to try to come to grips with his grotesque fate, even using a little grim (no pun intended) humor to cope. The encounter with the potential bridge jumper and the saving of his, the trucker's and the New York fire department's lives help illuminate this "brute"'s good soul. Victor's unhinged horror at his own parallel titanium transformation further reflects Ben's nobility and deep psychological resources. Chiklis embraces the Thing's character and owns it. A movie with him alone would still definitely be the price of admission.
Admittedly, the FF does deviate from realistic behavior. I would agree that Susan Storm (aka the Invisible Woman) (Jessica Alba) does not show a genetic scientist's demeanor, but she is no flighty bimbo either. She is an alluring but sweet, shy, and caring individual. The New York public cotton to the super-powered quartet a little too rapidly and unambiguously. After all, shouldn't they be a bit disturbed at the Brooklyn bridge accident, even if inadvertent? I suppose Ben's rescue of the FDNY firefighters (symbols of 911 heroism)helped sway public opinion. Ben's erstwhile fiancé, I don't think, would be so callous as to unceremoniously leave his engagement ring on the bridge after his heroic act. If she really cared for Ben, wouldn't she more discreetly mail it back to him. Finally (spoiler here), how did Ben Grimm, after requiring Victor's electrical boost in the simulation chamber to revert to normal, find the same power in Victor's absence to transform back to the Thing in a -yes- self-sacrificing act to help his friends? It seems a bit too abrupt.
Yet, as my summary indicates, abruptness, as I see it, is the FF's only true weakness. The movie is a bit too breezy at times. For example, Ben's encounter with the blind but discerning Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington) could have been developed more at length. Ditto with Reed and Sue's reconciliation. Victor's Anankin-like descent to tenebrous, Darth-like evil needed a bit more flesh. Both the bridge sequence and the climactic battle against Doom were a bit truncated. Nevertheless, my criticisms are mere quibbles.
The FF is solidly rousing, accessible, uplifting entertainment, comparable to the original 1978 movie Superman, which, as you recall, also had its share of social and superpower inuring, goofy action sequences, wholesome humor, and broad, cartoonish villains. FF remains faithful to its origins while simultaneously blazing its own comic cinema trail. It has successfully introduced its inimitable clan to the movie world.
Now, in the comic, the FF is not only concerned with family, but also with galactic cosmic concerns, a la Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Watchers, the Skrulls, et al. The FF sequels, and I hope there are a few, should address some of these universal themes. "The Trial of Galactus" storyline would be ideal, and perhaps satisfy the pretentiously persnickety critics who complain that comic themes are too superficial. If FF can correct its "shortness" problem in subsequent films, it should dramatically prove those critics wrong.
As Stan Lee (mailman Willie Lumpkin in the movie) would say:.
Review by John Panagopoulos from the Internet Movie Database.