Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 9, 2015)
Fox enjoyed a heck of a good summer in 2005. They started with a sure thing: Revenge of the Sith, the final installment in the Star Wars series.
Even though everyone knew Sith would do well, it still managed to exceed many expectations with a gross of $380 million. That fell short of the $431 million take of 1999ís Phantom Menace but it easily bettered 2002ís Attack of the Clones and its $310 million gross. Given all the animosity engendered by Menace and Clones, Sithís earnings proved pretty remarkable.
From there Fox continued to chug along through the summer. In June, Mr. And Mrs. Smith capitalized on the heat surrounding stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on its way to a sizable $186 million take. A few weeks later, Fantastic Four came along and raked in $154 million on its own. It capped a positive summer for the studio.
Too bad Four was easily the worst of the three movies. I love good comic book flicks and looked forward to this one. Unfortunately, Four in no way resembled a good comic book flick.
Brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) needs financing for an ambitious project to study the effects of cosmic rays. When he canít get the bucks anywhere else, he goes hat in hand to the door of his old college rival, billionaire Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). This becomes doubly humiliating when we meet Victorís head of genetic research: Reedís old love Sue Storm (Jessica Alba).
After he negotiates a tidy potential profit for himself, Victor agrees to finance Reedís experiment and let Richards use Von Doomís space station. However, he does insist that he and Sue go along and also that her cocky brother Johnny (Chris Evans) flies the shuttle. This doesnít sit well with Reedís partner and pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), especially since Johnny bombed out of NASA under Benís watch.
The mission runs into a problem when the solar storm hits the station way ahead of schedule. This finds all the involved parties unprepared and douses them in cosmic radiation. When they return to Earth, all initially seems fine, though the debacle causes Victorís company to suffer a radical plummet on Wall Street.
Soon the participants discover side effects of their experiences. Johnny turns to flame without warning, and Sue can become invisible. Reed can stretch any party of his body to extremes, while Ben develops into a super-strong rock-like being. Finally, Victor begins to become metallic and he also gains serious electrical powers. The movie follows their attempts to deal with their changes and what they do with them, a subject that becomes more serious when Victor goes nutso and acts in evil ways.
How can a movie with so many cool characters and so much action end up so boring? Thatís the main problem with Fantastic Four. It presents all sorts of potentially exciting scenarios but never does anything satisfying with them. It plods along with loosely connected situations and fails to tie them together in a cohesive or compelling manner.
Some of the problems stem from the requirements of this movie. Like all initial entries in comic book series, Four needs to act as an origin story. That becomes potentially clunky and complicated in any superhero movie, but when you have to deal with four good guys as well as a villain, it gets even more difficult to pull off with any panache.
Iím sure someone could succeed, but director Tim Story clearly couldnít. Frankly, I canít figure out why the suits at Fox thought heíd be a good choice to helm Four. Previously he directed the moderately successful comedy Barbershop and the action/comedy bomb Taxi. Does anyone else see those as good precursors for a big-budget superhero flick?
Of course, one could argue that Pee-weeís Big Adventure and Beetlejuice didnít make Tim Burton a likely candidate to direct Batman. At least Burtonís first two flicks were good and showed a lot of flair and potential. Nothing in Barbershop or Taxi signified a directorial talent with the skill to launch a comic book franchise.
The directorís name seems particularly ironic given his essential inability to actually tell a story. In truth, Four often feels like a really long trailer. It presents bits and pieces of narrative but rarely dallies long enough to explore them. We get snatches of plot at most, as the movie fails to develop anything to make it coherent.
Again, some of that stems from the fact that Four needs to introduce and establish five major characters. Attempts to make them full-blooded become tough. That said, I really believe they could have developed far beyond the one-dimensional status they maintain here. All five are so thin I doubt any of them can cast a shadow.
None of this excuses the exceedingly clumsy plot development even after the movie sets up its characters. We know Doom is upset that his company goes in the tank, blames Reed and wants revenge, but all of this simply turns into an excuse for mayhem. The action becomes gratuitous and oddly irrelevant, as the movie canít tie together the pieces well enough to make us care.
As for our actors, only Evans and Chiklis make an impression. Alba certainly looks great, but she clearly lacks the presence and weight to make us accept her as a genetic researcher. It doesnít help that at 24, sheís way too young for the role; at that age, she should be in the middle of grad school, not leading the way in her field.
Gruffudd is also surprisingly young for his part, but at least he looks older. I assumed he was around 40, but the actor was about a decade younger when they made Four. Though he looks the part, he seems lost in the role. Gruffudd is too busy wrangling his awkward American accent to actually act.
At least Evans fills out the role of cocky hotshot Johnny. He provides some of the movieís few amusing moments with his arrogance and brashness, and he and Chiklis also demonstrate a nice chemistry. Chiklis is able to bring some humanity to his role, no mean feat given that he must do so through a thick layer of latex.
Speaking of the Thing suit, I know others have criticized the decision not to make the character CG, but I think the costume works surprisingly well. Chiklisí Thing sure looks better than the CG Hulk, and I feel the character is perfectly believable. The Thing outfit is one of the few successful elements on display here.
But a good costume and a couple of decent performances canít redeem this dull movie. Fantastic Four certainly had a ton of potential, and perhaps its sequel will manage to become more satisfying. I sure canít imagine the sequel will demonstrate a dip in quality, as this flick is a bore.