Fantastic Four

Cast:
Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing
Jessica Alba as Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman
Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch
Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom
Kerry Washington as Alicia Masters

Analysis:
Super-genius Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) has an idea about cosmic radiation, and with the help of his old friend Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), takes a small group of friends – ex-girlfriend and geneticist Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother and pilot Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Reed’s old friend and partner Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) – into space with him to test his theory. Instead the testers become the guinea pigs as Reed and the others are exposed to the cosmic storm and mutated into something . . . fantastic.

The Fantastic Four is the latest Marvel comic adaptation for the big screen, featuring some of the most iconic characters in the Marvel line up. Unfortunately, it does not live up to the very high bar set for it by the Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Which isn’t to say it’s bad – it has its moments – just terribly bland. These type of films seem to work best when they have a director with a very strong personal style behind the camera, melding the story and characters into that style, creating something new and personal that is also true to the spirit of the original material. Tim Story is not that director.

Fantastic Four is actually very true to its source material – often literally so – but generally misses the spirit entirely. There are a few moments of quiet, evocative humanity – Ben Grimm needing help picking up his wife’s wedding ring – but many of the moments that should have been like that ring hollow instead. It hits its story beats but never seems to really understand them.

Which isn’t always a kiss of death. If the director has a strong visual style the film can get by on the visceral experience of watching it, regardless of how the story may fail. Story doesn’t have a developed visual style yet, so the film has the same bland feel that the story does. Some of the set pieces – most of the Human Torch sequences, The Thing battling Doctor Doom – work quite well, but most of them, like the interminable bridge rescue, just sort of sit there. They’re not bad, but they’re not good either.

The Fantastic Four themselves are strong enough ideas for characters that they shine through even weak material. Alba is the weakest link of the group, but she’s serviceable enough and occasionally even interesting. Evans and Chiklis embody the Human Torch and The Thing perfectly. They’re created in broad strokes, like everything else in the film, but they pull it off and make it seem real. Julian McMahon is the other casting problem. He pulls off Doom’s egotistical charm quite well, but that’s the only mode he plays for most of the film, leaving Doom feeling very one-note and dull. McMahon’s voice also seems very strange coming out of Dr. Doom’s armor – it doesn’t fit Doom’s imposing look.

Overall, Fantastic Four is serviceable enough, it’s certainly not terrible, but that’s the best that can be said of it.

Fantastic Four is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some suggestive content.

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