Fantastic Four

3 stars


25th July 2005

Fantastic Four is unlucky enough to be this summer's second super-hero origin story - following Batman Begins is a lot to live up to. Comparing like for like, it doesn't have a chance. Replace Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes with Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Julian McMahon, and you can see there's a gulf in class already. Compare the previous movies from the directors, Christopher Nolan's Memento against Tim Story's Barbershop - it's not a fair fight. Fortunately, the Fantastic Four aren't trying to compete, for this is a very different type of movie indeed; where Batman Begins was deep and dark, the Fantastic Four is light-hearted and somewhat shallow, clocking in at almost an hour shorter. And despite the odds being somewhat stacked against them, the awesome foursome carry it off to create a fun and entertaining summer blockbuster.

If you're not familiar with the Fantastic Four (you never had Marvel Comic Heroes Top Trumps?) the basic premise is that the four of them - that's Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm - go into space on a scientific investigation, along with billionaire businessman and long-time associate Victor Von Doom (with a name like that, you know he's going to be the villain). Something goes wrong, and the five of them are blasted by cosmic radiation, which alters the genetic pattern of their DNA to make them - dun dun duuun - fantastic! Reed Richards becomes Mr Fantastic, whose body becomes rubber-like and stretchy, Sue Storm gains the ability to become the Invisible Girl, Johnny Storm can 'flame-on' to become the Human Torch, while Ben Grimm pulls the short straw and turns into a rock-hard stone monster known as The Thing. Victor also feels the effect, with his body slowly turning to metal, starting him on the path to becoming Dr Doom.

There's rather a lot of focus on Ben Grimm and his struggle to come to terms with his condition, so it's just as well that Michael Chiklis, was born to play this part. His performance beneath all of that make-up (it looks way better on-screen than in any of the stills) in genuinely touching, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the guy as he learns to accept his fate. There's also a rather modern aspect to the movie with the focus of the media on the Fantastic Four, and how they cope with the attention. On the media flipside, you can expect to be bombarded with a truly sickening amount of product placement. It's as PEPSI intrusive as trying MERCEDES to read DELL this WALMART sentence without ACTIVISION being DOS EQUIS distracted by the adverts. Annoying isn't it?

Unfortunately, the middle section of the movie slows down a little too much, with the Fantastic Four content to kick back in the lab, trying to undo their fantastic-ness and get back to a normal life. Whilst this worked with Spider-Man 2 (we'd already had a whole movie of web-slinging) the Fantastic Four barely get started before they get cold feet. Because Victor Von Doom is getting accustomed to his powers at the same time as the good guys, the movie lacks a constant menace throughout, and the pacing suffers. What's more, he's a little too similar to Spider-Man's Norman Osborn - a successful businessman who's lost all he's worked for and flips - he even has a mask too. If they true to the character and made him a dictator from the small European country of Latveria, then at least it would have been a crack at something new. While we're dishing out criticism, the romantic history between Reed and Sue is given perhaps a little too much screen time, that perhaps could have better been spent on other things. Like, fantastic things.

The movie is very light-hearted, and many scenes in the movie - Mr Fantastic stretching to fetch loo-roll from another room, or the Human Torch popping popcorn on the palm of his hand, for instance - serve to lighten the mood, stopping the movie from becoming dull and self-important. What's more, the relationship between Ben and Johnny is a constant source of humour, an element that was apparently added late in production to further capture the essence of the comics. Oh yeah, and the completely gratuitous Jessica Alba stripping scene will raise more than just a few smiles.

It's not the greatest super-hero movie ever made, but it'll keep you smiling throughout, and the powers of the Fantastic Four are put to good use when they eventually get some action. A sequel has already been green-lit, and now all of the origin stuff is out of the way, I've got a feeling that the next one could truly be fantastic. Now, I'm off to quench my thirst with a refreshing Pepsi. Ben

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