Fantastic Four (2005)
Rated PG13

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, and Michael Chiklis

out of

With recent movies about Spider-Man, The Hulk, Daredevil, and Man-Thing (among others) already made, the Marvel Universe is running out of characters that haven't been made into films. The Fantastic Four, one of the original Stan Lee creations of the 1960s, actually had been made into a movie before the recent spate of comic-book movies, but that version was never released, except on widely available bootlegs. Actually, that version was never intended for release, but this incarnation of the Fantastic Four certainly was and it's actually not too bad.

The "Fantastic Four" are Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), a scientist with no common sense; Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), a beautiful scientist who used to date Richards; Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Sue's brother and hot-shot pilot, and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), a long-time friend of Richards who is the brawn behind his brains. The four are shot into space along with Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), their financier, as they attempt to study the effects of cosmic rays on human DNA. When the rays appear several hours before they're supposed to, they catch the scientists off-guard, leaving them unshielded from their damaging radiation.

Several days later, back on Earth, the team appear to be fine but eventually discover that each of them has developed a special power. Reed (Mr. Fantastic) has the ability to stretch his body parts like rubber. Sue (Invisible Girl) can turn invisible. Johnny (The Human Torch) can ignite himself into flames. Ben (The Thing) has been permanently turned into a large rock-like creature with super-strength. Von Doom, who has lost the controlling interest in his company because of the doomed experiment, also has been affected by the rays. His skeletal system is turning into a titanium-like alloy and he can unleash bolts of deadly lightning.

Of course, Dr. Doom, as he soon dubs himself, is angry that Richards' experiment cost him his fortune and targets the four in an attempt to avenge his loss. (Otherwise, the film would have no villain and a superhero movie without a villain would be pretty damn boring.) And, of course, there's a big showdown at the end.

As a comic-book movie, Fantastic Four isn't quite fantastic. The heroes have some cool powers but, for some reason, only The Thing comes off as really impressive. The rest of the team's supposedly fantastic powers seem to work only to solve particular puzzles that the script throws in their path and, even then, seem forced. For instance, to get by some police that are blocking their way, Sue Storm is forced to take off her clothes and become invisible, while Johnny and Reed simply walk around them.

Some comic-book movies can be really dark -- ala Batman Begins or Spawn -- but, thankfully, Fantastic Four doesn't attempt to make the origins of its characters brooding and psychologically motivated. There's a light, fun tone to everything and that keeps the movie from being a complete disaster. It's not afraid to have fun with the material and, as a result, the viewer doesn't take it too seriously either. It's light, breezy, and fairly stupid, but I doubt it was intended to be anything else. On that level, Fantastic Four is a success. As the foundation for a franchise, however, I really hope they make the sequel a little more intense. If the hardest things the Fantastic Four has to do in the next film are getting around a few police officers or saving a team of firemen, I will be sorely disappointed.

Trivia: As part of his costume for The Thing, Michael Chiklis wore prosthetic teeth. To prepare himself to speak with the prostheses, Chiklis wore them when reading to his children. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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