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Fantastic Four
2005 - PG-13 - 121 Mins.
Director: Tim Story
Producer: Avi Arad
Written By: Michael France
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.fantasticfourmovie.com
   

The Adequate Three.... and Jessica Alba
It’s not particularly fantastic, but ‘Fantastic Four’ is passable summer popcorn fare from Marvel Comics, a company determined to convert their entire catalog into movie franchises. The story in a nutshell is like most superhero origins – an exposure to radiation mutates five people so they end up with superpowers. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) can stretch his body like rubber; Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) has the power of invisibility and force field projection; her brother Johnny (Chris Evans) is the human torch; and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) has turned into a powerful giant made of stone. The fifth mutant is bad guy Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) who seems to have power over electricity and is wearing Darth Vader’s lounge outfit.

Weak, predictable writing, so-so effects and pedestrian direction prevent the movie from soaring. Disney’s ‘The Incredibles’ was actually a nice homage to the ‘Fantastic Four’ so it’s a shame that the screenwriters couldn’t find the right tone and attitude for this movie. Some superhero flicks take themselves far too seriously, which pleases the fan boy audience. Other movies have gone for comic camp. The rare movie like ‘The X-Men’ or ‘Spiderman’ nails that balance. But ‘Fantastic Four’ seems like a marketing exercise targeting a teen audience with a high-powered rock soundtrack, skintight costumes and suggestive wordplay. Fortunately, most of the cast works hard to make up for the movie’s shortcomings.

Leading the teen idol demographic assault is one of the worst actresses on the planet, Jessica Alba, whose idea of squeezing out a force field or turning invisible is to look constipated. Amazing miscast, Alba, is supposed to be the Director of Genetic research at Doom’s lab but she doesn’t look smart enough to figure out an elevator. However, Chris Evans (‘Cellular’) works well as the jock pilot playboy who is loving his newfound celebrity as the human torch. Because ‘flaming on’ necessitates burning off one’s clothes, Evans is happy to play eye candy. (Alba’s character also has to strip when she’s invisible, but apparently Alba has a no nudity clause.) Welsh heartthrob Ioan Gruffudd (‘Horatio Hornblower’) struggles with an American accent as Reed Richards. Chiklis, best known for the gritty crime drama, ‘The Shield,’ is bang-on perfect to play grim Ben Grimm. The movie is at its best when the four try to deal with their new powers and get on each other’s nerves as they stay in close quarters, under quarantine. In fact, the best scenes are the playful interactions between frat brat Johnny Storm and cranky Ben.

McMahon, as Doom, starts off as an arrogant Wall Streeter and ends up as evil incarnate when he too gets hit with radiation. But with oddly offcolour eyebrows, heavy make-up and seriously bad 80s hair, McMahon bears an uncanny resemblance to Roy of Siegfried and Roy lion tamer fame. Sort of takes away the menacing factor.

Usually, these big sci-fi/super hero movies blow their budgets on effects, at the cost of a couple script rewrites. You want to see something jaw-dropping – something you’ve never seen before. But ‘Fantastic Four’ scores cheesy dialogue, plot holes and below average effects. It looks like the effects budget has been spent mostly on the human torch because the rest of the movie was disappointingly uneven. Reed Richards’ stretching looks like a bad piece of mismatched animation. And Alba’s invisibility and force field powers have been done much better elsewhere.

‘Fantastic Four’ is a genesis story, so after being struck by a cosmic storm, the four hole up in Rex Richards’ lab and loft atop the Baxter building – which bears a striking resemblance to Doc Ock’s pad in ‘Spiderman 2’ – to find a cure to revert them back to normal. Richards comes up with a couple of scientific warnings about their mutated state – none of which hold true throughout the movie. Meanwhile, Doctor Doom, harassed by his board of directors and investors, discovers that he too has been affected by the radiation, but he’s delighted to use his powers for diabolical megalomaniacal evil.

When the Fantastic foursome work together, they find their powers compliment each other – a family-friendly theme ‘The Incredibles’ did a better job of conveying. The movie plods along predictably to a confrontation between Doom and the Fantastic Four. Without spoiling the ending, there’s a scene that’s either a homage to ‘The X-Men’ or the height of cheese. In between, we get a mopey subplot about Ben Grimm dealing with his new rocky body. If it weren’t for Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis’ bantering, there would be a lot less entertainment in this movie. Note to Marvel -- for the sequel, loosen the purse strings and hire a better director and writer. This foursome should have been incredible; instead, they’re merely adequate.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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