Kerry WashingtonKevin McNultyMichael ChiklisJulian McMahon
Fantastic Four
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Director: Tim Story
Writer: Mark Frost, Michael France
Keywords: Razzie-nominated, superhero, action
Country: USA, Germany
Actor: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Kevin McNulty, Hamish Linklater, Laurie Holden, David Parker, Maria Menounos, Michael Kopsa, Stan Lee
Format: 106 minutes
Series: << Fantastic Four >>
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 18 March 2009
Apparently there's an extended edition. I'm not reviewing that today, any more than I'm reviewing the 1994 Roger Corman film, which oddly enough I wouldn't mind seeing. No, what I'm talking about is the 2005 film which I saw getting savaged by online geek review websites, but went down quite well with all the actual people I knew. Now I've seen it, I understand both points of view.
The bashers have a point in that this is an insulting, shoddy piece of work. It's full of cliched scenes, undersold character moments and the worst action movie plot I can remember. What they do to Dr Doom is shocking and I hope all concerned are ashamed of themselves.
However on the upside, it's quite charming when we're just hanging out with the gang. It's almost a shame that the filmmakers felt they had to include the usual superheroics at all. I suppose there's no way around it, but even so the "hero vs. villain" stuff here is so tissue-thin that you're practically ignoring it anyway. Oh, they beat Dr Doom? Huh. Must be the end of the movie, then. Much more interesting are the scenes in which Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny are just doing stuff. You know. Building cosmic cloud reversal machines, chasing girls, teasing each other and goofing off. The usual. The Fantastic Four are like a family and they've been transferred to the screen pretty much intact, so the charm of spending time with them is what helps carry a movie which otherwise wouldn't have deserved it.
Ioan Gruffudd gets to do almost no super-stretching, but maybe they'll have more fun with that in the sequel. Jessica Alba is cute and has a couple of regrettably family-friendly moments where the film plays with Invisible Girl being naked. (More distracting is the shot of a busty girl jumping up and down at a motorcycle event.) They're fine, but they're the less entertaining half of the group. Of the others, Michael Chiklis does nothing wrong as The Thing, which was apparently a dream role for him since that's his favourite comic book character. I liked his weight and grinding-rock sound effects. However I was oddly disappointed in the one who's attracted all the praise, Chris Evans as the Human Torch. My mistake had been to overshoot with my expectations. It's obviously a crowd-pleasing role and Evans is a lot of fun to watch, but somehow I'd expected more charisma. He's playing him as a surfer dude and doing it well, but I didn't see him burning a hole in the screen or anything. (That wasn't meant as a joke.) Nevertheless he's still having the most fun of anyone and getting all the good lines. "Got it. Supernova bad."
However... Dr Doom. Dear oh dear. This is unbelievable. Here we have one of Marvel's few iconic supervillains, turned into a joke. For starters, they've made him and Sue Storm an item, purely so that Reed can win her back from him. That's good material for Sue and Reed, but for Doom it sucks. Suddenly he's the loser jock who doesn't get the girl in American Pie or something. Amusingly he's instantly erased from Sue's life and thoughts the moment she moves into the Baxter Building. In addition to that, he's the head of Evil Bastard Industries, which maintains its own private space platform and would seem to be ranked somewhere alongside Stark, Wayne and Luthor, yet it only takes one superpower-creating cosmic storm to get him being confronted by his board and the company apparently becoming worthless. Eh? It's a cliche, shoehorned into the film out of laziness. It's neither justified nor necessary for the plot. The only consequence of these scenes is to give Doom a little killing to do halfway through when he turns evil.
In other words, this Doom is a loser. He screws up everything and even at the end doesn't have a plan beyond "I don't like you". He's a school bully trying to pick on the other kids. This would be more interesting if it wasn't also a stupid thing for him to do, since it seems like a foregone conclusion that our heroes are going to pound him into the dirt.
Julian McMahon doesn't in any way rescue this admittedly awkward role. In fact he doesn't even manage to play what little he's been given, in particular sounding risibly inappropriate in the mask. At least Chiklis manages to put on a good voice for the Thing.
Did I mention that the plot was cliched? The film's full of scenes which I'm prepared to believe might work in the extended edition, but in the version I just watched are bollocks. I've already mentioned the boardroom cliches, but just as bad is the subplot with Chiklis's wife. The first time we meet her, she runs away the moment she sees his rocky body. The second time, she doesn't say a word but instead drops her wedding ring melodramatically and walks away. What a bitch! Presumably Chiklis feels bad about this, but we'll have to take that on trust since no later scene so much as mentions his wife and before the end he's cheerfully making moves on another girl. Any other problems? Well, I didn't buy the police being so keen to arrest the Thing. Similarly Doom's evil plan to destroy the Four (by which point we've already been watching for more than an hour) begins with him talking Chiklis into becoming a teenage girl and having a strop. In fact, everything Doom does against our heroes is either silly, cliched and/or a mindless action scene.
Oh, and I haven't mentioned the blind black girl who turns up to offer fortune cookie advice. "Being different isn't always a bad thing." That's the level of this movie.
I could pick holes in the plot for hours, but that would be cheap and too easy. I don't think it deserves it. The film isn't as putrid as one could easily make it sound, because none of that stuff really matters. That's not why we're watching. Yes, the action scene on the bridge is dumb and dull because they're not stopping bad guys but instead, er, dealing with the consequences of a cock-up from the Thing. Yes, things happen because the script wants them to rather than because they make sense or even appear to help towards their supposed objectives. Yes, there's weak CGI. However the great achievement of this film is to stop me from caring about those things. The Four are Fun. I enjoyed watching their antics. I like them. I'd have preferred them in a less sloppy film, but one has to take what one's given.