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Fantastic Four by Tim Story  (dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
20th Century Fox Theatrical  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JNTS
Date: July 1, 2005 / Show Official Info /

20th Century Fox
Trailer (quicktime)
IMDB Site

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

One question Hollywood may ask itself is: if the source material works, why change it?

Case in point: Fantastic Four. Marvel's first family of comics has been around since 1962. Following the success of Spider-Man and X-Men, it seems only fair that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's groundbreaking comic book heroes get their chance to shine.

In the original, the quartet (Reed, his girlfriend Susan, her brother Johnny and Reed's buddy Ben) are struck by cosmic rays on an unauthorized trip into space. They're transformed into superbeings and choose to use their powers to help mankind. Within a few issues, they encounter the one who'll be their archenemy: Doctor Doom, ruler of Latveria, whose inventing skills rival (or perhaps exceed) Reed's.

In this incarnation, Victor von Doom (McMahon) is a wealthy scientist/inventor. Reed (Gruffudd) is a failed businessman forced to grovel for Doom's financial support (even though Ben (Chiklis) suspects Doom has stage-managed some of Reed's failures), whose hostile ex-girlfriend Susan (Alba) now works for Doom. Agreeing to fund their trip, Doom has hotshot pilot Johnny Storm (Evans) serve as their pilot, making Ben (who used to be his superior officer) fume.

Reed's tracking of the cosmic energy storm is off by hours, exposing the quintet to the storm's fury. They are irradiated even through the shields, with Ben catching the worst of it. In the course of a few days, they begin to manifest their abilities... but when Ben undergoes a horrible transformation, they must find him and hope the change can be undone.

Meanwhile, Doom learns that he was not unaffected. His body is changing into an organic metal and he has some control over electricity. He uses his nascent abilities to get revenge on a banker who threatens to bankrupt his company (shades of the Green Goblin!), then turns his wrath on the others--who have accidentally gone public as the Fantastic Four. (This follows a calamity on the Brooklyn Bridge caused in part by Ben, wherein the team starts to use [and discover the limits of] their abilities for the first time.)

The team clashes and threatens to come apart, much like in the comics, with Ben having to make a fateful decision, even as Reed and Susan wonder if they have a future together. At the same time, Johnny shows off his new flame powers, but must figure out how to use them effectively when Doom attacks the divided Four.

Comic book adaptations can be hit or miss. This one gets quite a bit right, though some of the basics in the plot seem like misfires. Establishing a romance (albeit a one-sided one) between Doom and Susan seems improbable, as does Ben's willingness to show any trust to Doom. But... be that as it may.

Evans is fun and strikes the right notes as Johnny, showing his hotshot nature, while Chiklis opens up a new emotional palette, effectively portraying Ben Grimm's anguish at becoming a monster. He has some of the best scenes in the movie and digs into what makes the Thing work. Gruffudd and Alba seem awkward around each other, but warm up; their chemistry at first doesn't seem to be there but it improves steadily. Unfortunately, Julian McMahon is left with little to work with--Doom's entire character arc is about hating Reed, which seems rather limited and petty. Then again, that's probably the point: a guy with the whole world can get hung up on the one thing he's never beaten, be it a rival or a romantic conquest.

The special effects are really good, though it might have been better to have the big battle scene in daylight instead of at night. Also, more scenes of trying to work together (and failing) early on might have established that they don't start off very polished as superheroes. In any case, this is an "origin" movie--when the sequel comes out, we can hope they'll hit the ground running, as they did in X2.

If you're a comic book purist, catch Fantastic Four at the matinee or on DVD-- you'll spare yourself feeling like you lost two hours and ten bucks at the same time. If you're in the mood for some relatively light-hearted fare based on a comic title, well, this may be the ticket for you.

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