In an effort to further their knowledge of human genetics, a group of five individuals embark on an outer space mission into the heart of a cosmic storm: brilliant but underfunded scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd); his best friend and faithful compatriot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis); his old college rival and financial backer, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon); his ex-girlfriend and Von Doom's director of genetic research, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba); and Sue's impetuous brother, pilot Johnny Storm (Chris Evans).
But when a miscalculation exposes the group to the storm's cosmic radiation, all five begin to exhibit unique powers: Reed is able to stretch to unreal limits; Ben becomes a stony colossus with super strength; Victor sports a metallic physique and is able to manipulate electricity; Sue is able to become invisible and project powerful defensive and offensive force fields; and Johnny is able to fly and control fire. As these bizarre characteristics continue to manifest, Victor decides to use his powers for evil, and it's up to the other four--the heroically dubbed Fantastic Four--to stop him.
Despite an overall box office slump, there have been several well-received blockbusters this summer: Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. But it's fair to say that of them all, Fantastic Four is the most fun. It's not dark and moody, and it doesn't delve much into the psychological state of its characters. Instead, it's simply an entertaining popcorn flick, briskly paced and peppered with laughs. Each of the five central characters brings something different to the mix.
When the film was first cast, I had reservations about the character of Reed Richards and the actor who plays him, Ioan Gruffudd. Stretching is a pretty lame power, and Gruffudd's previous foray into blockbusters, King Arthur, really stunk. Plus, in the comics, Richards always seemed like this stodgy old scientist who had an inexplicably young babe on his arm. But the de facto leader of the Fantastic Four isn't bad in the film. The stretching effects frequently look bogus, but it accomplishes more than I would have expected. Gruffudd effectively portrays him as a geeky Peter Parker type who may be a brianiac, but is often emotionally stupid. And even the grey hair is played for laughs when it first appears.
As Sue Storm, Jessica Alba brings the eye candy, straight up. I won't even try to pretend there's some compelling acting performance brewing here, because she is 100% gawk fodder. Sure, I originally thought that she was miscast, seeing as how comicdom's version of Sue is about as blonde and whitebread as you can get. But that was before I realized her main requisite in the movie is simply hotness. After that, all preconceived notions of hair color and race were tossed out the window. Jessica Alba in the silly blue tights? It's good. Jessica Alba turning visible at an inopportune time and standing there in her bra and panties? It's good. Jessica Alba kicking ass with her projectile force fields? It's good. In short, it's all good.
As the fire-wielding, adrenaline-fiending Johnny Storm, Chris Evans contributes most of the comedy. His character makes sarcastic comments, plays practical jokes on the others, and knows what's important in life: chicks, cars, chicks, money, chicks, fame, and chicks. His superpower is arguably the coolest of the Four, and Sue and Johnny Storm cause most of the damage when it comes to scrappin' and fightin'. Evans will likely be the breakout star of this film. Yeah, sure, he headlined Cellular opposite Kim Basinger, but does anyone know it? Even Chris Evans probably watches that movie and asks, "Who the hell is that guy?" while he's banging a supermodel.
Ben Grimm is only mildly more interesting than the mindnumbingly boring Hulk, and the costume for the character frequently looks more like a sponge than a rock. But Michael Chiklis (who kicks serious ass as psycho cop Vic Mackey on TV's The Shield) nails the basics of the role: namely, the take-no-sh*t attitude and the gruff exterior that hides the core sentimentality. He also brings some comic relief as the victim of Johnny Storm's jokes. But beware his brief flash of political correctness! Grimm smokes the occasional fat stogie in the comics, but makes a quick--though obvious--anti-smoking message in the movie. Damn hippies! How are tobacco companies going to stay in business if kids don't learn at an early age that it's cool to smoke?
Finally, there's the melodramatically named Victor Von Doom, who is easily the film's weak link. He's basically a corporate bad guy that they try to pass off as some bad ass evil knight, and it doesn't work at all. Even after he dons the metal mask, flowing cape, and sinister hood, he still speaks in Julian McMahon's wimpy little voice. Come on! At least Darth Vader that noise up. Get James Earl Jones or some other dude to do the dub. It's hard to be intimidated by a villain who talks like a priss, even if he is shooting lightning bolts from his hands. Feeble. Consider the scene where he says, "Let's not fight..." and Jessica Alba replies, "No. Let's." In that moment, Alba is the one who seems far more likely to serve up a subsequent beating. And something's totally wrong when the movie's only villain seems less threatening than the movie's lead sweetheart.
But despite the lack of a credible villain, Fantastic Four still manages to be a load of fun. It could have used one or two more battles (a disaster scene on a bridge and the final showdown with Von Doom are the only times the Four team up and use their powers cooperatively), but I guess you can't have everything. The door is clearly open for a sequel, so here's hoping they kick the action--and the evil--up a notch for the next outing.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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