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Fantastic Four (2005)
Director: Tim Story

review by Christopher Geary
Spoiler Alert!
Perhaps the first superhero movie aimed squarely at the 'family' audience, Fantastic Four wears its thematic emphasis upon loyal friendship and traditional family values like a merit badge on its spandex-costumed sleeves. Clearly it's a feelgood adventure carefully designed to satisfy long-time fans of one of Marvel's cornerstone titles (first published late in 1961), but also aspiring to draw in a wider demographic than other comicbook movies have appealed to. Naturally, in adapting a nigh 45-year-old super-team scenario for a 21st century blockbuster movie, several details about the group's origins, characters, and relationships were re-written or updated, yet - surprisingly - all of the essential ingredients are there and the film's basic plot is remarkably faithful to the popular comic's unique recipe for success. At risk of labouring this culinary metaphor, it must be said that (unlike Daredevil or Hulk) only the flavourings have been changed to suit contemporary tastes.

Research scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, TV's Hornblower) leads a space mission crewed by astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba - star of TV series Dark Angel, more recently appearing in Sin City), and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans, Cellular), launched to the supposed safety of an orbital station owned by the wealthy Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, TV's Nip/Tuck), to study a mysterious cloud of cosmic energy. However, the protective shields fail to save the crew from exposure to radiation that "fundamentally alters" DNA, giving them various superhuman powers. Reed becomes the elastic limbed 'Mr Fantastic', Johnny is able to set his body on fire and fly as the Human Torch, Sue gains the power of invisibility and can also generate force-fields, while the unlucky Ben in somehow transformed (curiously, off screen) into a super-strongman with a bizarre rocky orange body, who is hurriedly dubbed 'the Thing'. After first discovering their newfound powers, the Fantastic Four quickly become overnight media celebrities and are lauded as public heroes - when they save a crashed fire engine during a multi-vehicle pileup on the Brooklyn Bridge, and go on to fight against supervillain Dr Doom on the streets of New York.

Fans and purists might take issue with the major changes that 're-imagine' their favourite masked megalomaniac (and king of imaginary Latveria) Dr Doom as a ruthlessly ambitious corporate chief turned metal-fleshed mutant, but there's a definite sense here that his different origin is actually in keeping with the subtextual relevance of the heroes' powers (Doom gets his newfound strength from the same cosmic source), as each is gifted with abilities which reflect, with a certain irony, upon their individual personality traits. The screenwriters go out of their way in an effort to make Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny seem like fairly ordinary people at the beginning of the film, and so (fame hungry Johnny aside) they are quite taken aback at first when scientific revelations about their special powers set them apart from others. Still, this reluctant idols schtick really doesn't last for very long, and in less than 75 more busy minutes of professional rivalries (Reed's clever plans are foiled by the scheming Victor), familial bust-ups (Sue argues with Johnny), and romantic episodes (a brooding Ben meets the blind Alicia), the foursome manage to get their act together as a proper super-team...
Fantastic 4 cast
If Fantastic Four has serious flaws, it would have to be those wholly annoying product placements, regrettable interludes for exuberant Johnny's extreme-sports activities, the total amount of linear screen time given over (without actually engendering any suspense whatsoever) to doomed Victor's plight, and the sheer bland conventionalities that such an unmistakably commercial venture as this movie closely adheres to. Colourfully absurd, of course - even by the empty gloss of Hollywood standards, Tim Story's direction is overly concerned with shiny surfaces and thoroughly charmless 'humour', and so the filmed result lacks compelling drama or emotional depth. Fantastic Four is not totally brainless, you just won't need to have your brain with you while watching the movie. If you're willing to expect nothing more than a moderately enjoyable 'ride' movie then you shouldn't be disappointed.

If it turns out there's going to be a sequel (the closing scene hints at Dr Doom's return) it would, I think, be preferable if the filmmakers adopt a significantly darker tone for the next one, and follow a more science fictional path than rival superhero movies like X-Men.

Related item:
tZ  The Essential Fantastic Four comics (volumes 1 + 2) by Stan Lee

Fantastic Four



buy the official
companion book -

Fantastic 4 movie book

Fantastic 4: The Making Of The Movie

- includes illustrated screenplay by Mark Frost and Michael France, published by Titan - �14.99 / $19.95



buy F4 CD releases -

Fantastic 4 score

- original film score by John Ottman, Varese Sarabande - �11.99

Fantastic 4 album

- soundtrack album
by various artists,
Sony - �10.99



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