Fantastic Four

UK release date: 22 July 2005

cast list
Ioan Gruffudd
Jessica Alba
Michael Chiklis
Chris Evans
Julian McMahon

directed by
Tim Story

Fans of the comic book movie genre have had it pretty good over the past few years: the X-Men and Spider-Man films, Ghost World, Road to Perdition, American Splendor and Batman Begins have all been not only great adaptations of their literary sources, but also damn fine pieces of cinema.

With the good, of course, comes the bad: Catwoman, Daredevil, Constantine and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, among others, are films dreadful enough to make one wish that they never saw the light of day, either as a film or comic book. The long-gestating film version of Fantastic Four, one of the oldest of the Marvel Comics, falls into the latter.

Four is the story of five people who are dramatically altered by a mysterious cloud during a space mission. Inventor Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) gains the ability to stretch his body. His former girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), can turn invisible and create force fields. Her younger brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), gains the ability to control and cover his entire body with fire, while Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) is turned into a super-strong rock creature.

Then there is Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), the fifth member and financier of the mission. An arrogant man who happens to be Sue’s new beau,Vic slowly begins to turn metallic, a transformation that amps up his jerk factor tenfold, making him the bane of the Four’s existence.

Fantastic Four is a film that causes the viewer to ponder the following: “What were they thinking?” “Were they thinking at all?” and most importantly, “What was I thinking for sitting through this?” Directed by Tim Story (Barbershop) from a screenplay credited to Michael France, Mark Post and an army of uncredited chimpanzees chained to typewriters, Four is nothing but one long, boring, expository-filled set up devoid of any adequate payoff.

Our four heroes are supposed to be smart and charismatic, but they show little in the way of intelligence and even less allure than one of the zombies you would find in a George Romero film. They amble in and around NewYork City, arguing and fighting with each other while trying to deal with their new powers rather than banding together to fight Dr Doom, the film’s alleged bad guy who is about as menacing as bathtub mold. Their big showdown, complete with the bargain-basement visual effects the plague the rest of the film, is the textbook example of the word “underwhelming”.

A lousy screenplay is one thing; a director who is completely out of his league is another. Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman Begins were lucky enough to have directors who were also comic book fans. Watching this movie, you have to wonder if Story has ever even glanced at an issue of Fantastic Four in his life. He coaxes lazy performances out of his entire cast, save Chiklis and Evans, he can’t keep a consistent tone from one scene to the next (unless you count dull as a tone) and his handling of the film’s action scenes (all two of them!) is the stuff of 1970s syndicated television.

Fantastic Four may not be the worst comic book adaptation made to date, but it certainly is one of the most underwhelming and forgettable. If there is a sequel, the producers would be wise to start from scratch, yet again.

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