Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fantastic Four

20th Century Fox and Marvel Films really need to get their collective acts together. They've had a string of HUGE hits with their previous collaborations X-Men, X2: X-Men United and Daredevil, but recently they've let their seal of quality slide with Elektra and now the mega-budget Fantastic Four.

One of the most beloved comic book properties is poo? Yes and no. Unlike the better Marvel films this is ultra cheesy and doesn't take itself seriously for one second. It does contain some great moments that make you forget that you're watching a hackneyed flick for a moment before it thrusts you back into crapsville again.

The set-up is simple: Scientists Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), along with two pilots, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), and rich businessman Victor Von Doom (Julain McMahon), travel into space to study the effects of cosmic radiation and how it might have helped to evolve life on our planet. The experiment goes wrong and all five of them are bombarded with the harmful rays and mutate in various ways that compliment their character. Reed feels he stretches himself too much to get things done so he gains the ability to stretch his body to great lengths. Sue feels that people ignore her so she gains the ability to become invisible (and generate force fields?!). Ben is the one who has to be strong and hard on himself to protect his friends and family, so his body turns to stone. Johnny is a hotheaded and immature kid whose body turns to living flame. And while these characters are all dealing with their newfound powers and public fame, the malevolent Victor Von Doom realizes his body is turning to metal and gains the power to control electricity due to his cold hearted personality and lust for power.
Sounds cool huh? Like a comic book come to life? There's about 10 minutes of cool, pure comic book awesomeness in this way too short and rushed 105 minute film. The rest is eye rollingly cheesy and tongue-in-cheek; some of which rivals Catwoman in its awfulness.

Chiklis and Evans pull off their characters of Ben Grimm/The Thing and Johnny Storm/The Human Torch pretty damned well. Their playful banter is fun and they seem to have a handle on the way their characters should be portrayed. On the other hand, Gruffudd and Alba are totally miscast as Reed Richard/Mr. Incredible and Sue Storm/Invisible Woman. Gruffudd is way too young and not believable as the father figure of this superhero nuclear family. Plus he seems bored and not able to get a grasp on how his character should be portrayed. Should he be all smiles? Should he be a brooding character? Should he be smart and dedicated to his work? Should he be a bumbling idiot who craps his pants whenever a hot chick is in view? He can't decide and he fails miserably. Even worse is that Alba is totally unbelievable in her role. We're supposed to think that this ultra hot Latina feels like she's being ignored? Who the fuck are you kidding? You know the moment she walks into a room there would be nothing but boners and drool everywhere, so that fell flat. Plus she doesn't look intelligent or old enough to be a scientist of any type. Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom = horrible. He's not menacing, he has a wimpy voice for a villain and he really does nothing during the movie but sulk. "I'm rich, I have power, I can burn a hole clean through your stomach with a flick of my wrist and I want to rule the world. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Sorry, lame.
The FX are a mixed bag as well. The Human Torch looks amazing. The flames are animated in such a way that they appear real, plus including a nearly photorealistic version of Chris Evans within the effect is awesome. Dr. Doom's electricity was pulled off extremely well too, especially when he burns a hole through a victim.
Pretty much everything else is pretty weak. The cosmic storm/outer space scene looks like a video game, Mr. Fantastic's stretching ability looks unfinished and cartoony, the invisibility effect looked better in Hollow Man and the force fields are right out of The Incredibles” and there are a lot of blatantly obvious greenscreen shots.

When there is action it's pretty good. The bridge scene where Thing rams his shoulder into a semi and stops a fire truck from falling into the river was cool and fun. The thrilling finale where all 4 heroes must work together to stop Dr. Doom from killing them was cool as well; the highlight being the Human Torch rocket chase and Thing hurling an SUV at Dr. Doom and causing massive collateral damage in the process.

But the negatives outweigh the positives. Ultra cheesy dialogue, some horrible acting by a few of the leads, bad FX, a rushed plot and no real motivation for the villain other than to kill Reed for stealing his girlfriend in a goofy love triangle plot device that mars the film beyond repair. We never feel the 4 heroes are bonding as a family. Alba does nothing but bitch and moan and Gruffudd looks confused the whole way through. Plot devices are introduced and thrown away (the blind girlfriend for Thing which was pulled off in the hokiest way possible), chunks of the movie are missing (how did they leads get back to Earth after the cosmic storm), the introduction of the X-Sports was just flat out pointlessly stupid, the humor was flat and the lack of focus is unforgivable. Plus the musical score by John Ottman was garbage and the overuse of shitty pop songs to sell the limp-ass soundtrack was tiresome. Gotta whore those fucking trashy alt-bands, huh?
There are good little moments that I mentioned before like Thing being unable to pick up his ex-fiancee's ring due to his massively oversized hands, Sue's nosebleeds whenever she uses her force fields, Johnny's discovery of his flame powers while snowboarding, the fact that the Fantastic 4 are the only publicly open superheroes when it comes to their not-so-secret identities and some subtle nods to the source material.

Director Tim Story (Barbershop and Taxi) was clearly not the right choice for this flick. Someone like Zach Snyder (the Dawn of the Dead remake) or even Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker) would have been a good choice to helm the film, but someone who made an urban comedy and an unmitigated flop? Hell to the no! Shame on you 20th Century Fox for hiring someone who was never and will never be suited for a film of this magnitude.

Childish, cheesy and mildly entertaining, Fantastic Four doesn't do much to advance the superhero genre, but doesn't set it back either (something a kick ass sequel could fix).

1 out of 5

*written 7/8/05

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