Fantastic Four Review
By Joe Lozito
I'm a fanboy about a lot of things but "Fantastic Four" has never been one of them. I have nothing against the Marvel Comics team of Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic), Johnny Storm (The Human Torch), Susan Storm (The Invisible Girl) and Ben Grimm (The Thing); I just never got into the comics. It was this lack of education coupled with decidedly unimpressive previews which fueled the mixed feelings with which I approached director Tim Story's adaptation "Fantastic Four". The film looked ready to be this summer's "Lost in Space", however I am happy to report that my fears were allayed almost immediately and, though they crept up again towards the end of the film when the script by Michael France and Mark Frost began to sag under the weight of too many plot contrivances, overall "Four" remains a better than average comic book effort.
Like the "X-Men" films, "Four" has plenty of work to do. There's a lot of setup as the ill-fated foursome along with billionaire philanthropist Victor Von Doom (I do appreciate that no one in the film bats an eye at a company named "Von Doom Enterprises") embark on a mission to space where an encounter with some cosmic plot point alters their DNA. Thankfully, that interstellar thingamajig has a sense of humor; our four heroes are all imbued with nifty superpowers - invisibility, heat (with the potential for flight for some reason) and elasticity (which still doesn't look great on screen). Only poor Ben and Victor get the less photogenic ends of the stick.
Ben, of course, becomes The Thing, a Hulk-esque creature made entirely of rock. "The Shield's" Michael Chiklis does a remarkably admirable job of acting beneath layers of latex to express Ben's sad horror at his alteration. Victor, on the other hand, starts seeing metal where there was no metal before and also finds he has a way with electricity.
If you can believe it, The Thing is actually the heart of the film. That may not be exactly what the writers had in mind since they invest a lot of time in a love triangle between Reed (a dependably wooden Ioan Gruffudd), Susan (Jessica Alba, out of her depth even in a comic book movie) and Victor (Julian McMahon, simmering with evil). Unfortunately, there is little chemistry between Ms. Alba and anyone else except her clothing. Thankfully, it is all very well fitted. The relationship between her and Victor is weightless even before they go into space together, and her history with Reed is only slightly more believable because, unlike Victor, he is not so obviously a supervillain.
Aside from Mr. Chiklis, the film also belongs to Chris Evans. Mr. Evans - perhaps best known for the equally ludicrous but equally entertaining "Cellular" - turns in another performance that goes beyond his pretty boy looks. Given all the best lines, Mr. Evans' Johnny Storm could have just been a smirky joke machine, but Mr. Evans' considerable charisma makes Johnny a believable rebel-turned-hero. Ms. Alba could take lessons from him about acting beyond the surface.
Director Tim Story, best known for "Barbershop" - and perhaps hoping we've forgotten the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah debacle "Taxi" - keeps the tone very light, which is exactly what the film needs. "Four" is at its best when it concentrates on the complications of being turned into a superhero in 21st century New York City. It's only towards the end that the film falls victim to its own self-importance. By that point, "Four" loses its sense of humor and degenerates into a typically special effects-laden mess. Until then, though, it's a fun ride. Maybe not fantastic, but fun.