Director: Tim Story
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington
Plot: When a space exploration mission goes wrong, the five scientists onboard return to Earth, with strange, life-changing powers.
Fantastic Four suffers from being just another drop in the superhero ocean. When we think of the superhero genre back then, the X-Men and Spiderman films were paving the way, realistically depicting characters that we used to think were impossible to portray outside of a comic book panel. Fantastic Four felt like a ‘why not’ rather than a sensible venture. It isn’t a bad effort, but it hardly sticks around in the memory.
It never really wants to do anything more than get five great comic book characters onto the big screen and have fun with them. The movie goes for the light-hearted family fun side of things. This works for most of the movie, as we introduce the Fantastic Four, learn a bit about them and get to know this side of the Marvel universe. It honestly depicts the characters and it is hard to fault the steady origin story, even if it doesn’t take too many risks. Ioan Gruffudd was an unusual choice of hero, but he hardly ruins the role of Mr. Fantastic. He is cursed with the role of exposition-delivering, but that has always been the fate of the character. Even in the comic books, he never really became interesting, until the later, darker editions of the series. We never expected anything ground-breaking from the origin story, especially when we have picked up on the tone that director Tim Story has chosen for this film. Jessica Alba is the weakest actor of the bunch, but the director never really asks her to do anything too strenuous. She is the odd one out here, but doesn’t hurt the movie. Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are the best of the bunch. It is tough to pick a favourite. The Thing is by far the most interesting of the four and the movie does capture his moral dilemma well, successfully realising that he deserves a good portion of the screen-time. On the other hand, Chris Evans has the most fun with hothead Johnny Storm. After watching him handle the monotone Captain America, the Human Torch is a welcome change of pace for his acting prowess.
Sadly, the movie never picks up. I am comfortable playing around the concept up until a certain point. Story channels Bryan Singer at points, as he comes up with quirky fun ways to use certain abilities. Mr. Fantastic using his rubber skin to make shaving easier is something that seems an amusing addition to his skillset. This is everything we expect from a family friendly superhero movie. All we need is it to pick up and hit us with the heavy drama nearer the end. The first Spiderman also joked about the concept of a boy discovering super powers, but it understood that it needed a strong villain separate from the light-hearted atmosphere to work as a movie. Right up until the very final fight of the Fantastic Four, Tim Story still seems like he is just having fun. The team are still experimenting with their powers when they take on Doctor Doom, so he never feels like a prominent bad guy. The movie closes with an uplifting note and you leave this film, not really disliking it, but feeling a little unsatisfied with the latest product to come from Marvel.
I believe a massive part of this is the portrayal of Doctor Doom. Before bringing the movies into the equation, Doctor Doom should be the best villain in Marvel history. He is a dictator of his own country, so influential he is one of the greatest nemesis for more than one Marvel hero. He looks imposing and every time he features in the comics, he comes across as unbeatable. Admittedly, it is his ever-present status that achieves this (he always finds a way to come back from the dead, which is one of his main characteristics – one that couldn’t be used in an origin story). The movie quite simply messes him up. Julian McMahon isn’t a strong enough actor to handle this major bad guy. You want a world class name to show up as the famous character, rather than an Australian TV star that most of you probably have never heard of. McMahon isn’t bad, but he drifts through the performance, rather than trying to make Doctor Doom memorable for a new fan base of Marvel supporters. He feels like a thrown together bad guy for a superhero origin story, which is unforgivable, because he is meant to be Victor Von Doom. Right there, every Fantastic Four fan leaves hating this movie and the newcomers don’t realise that they just witnessed one of the greatest Marvel villains do his thing. For that, Fantastic Four fails as a superhero movie.
Final Verdict: I understand wanting to keep a movie family friendly, but Tim Story has no concept of balancing tones. This movie massively underachieves.