by Mel Valentin
In describing the latest (but sadly, not the last) “comic-book” adaptation, "Fantastic Four," In describing the latest (but sadly, not the last) “comic-book” adaptation, "Fantastic Four," an online thesaurus turns out to be an indispensable ally. Start with the catchall word pedestrian, and the following related synonyms sprint across the internet to your computer: banal, dreary, inane, jejune, mediocre, mundane, ordinary, plodding, prosaic, uninspired, and let’s not forget a close corollary, dull. In an apparent effort to safeguard their investment and make "Fantastic Four" as palatable as possible to as widest an audience as possible, the producers commissioned a risk-free, formula script, hired a competent if anonymous director, Tim Story ("Barbershop," "Taxi") with no experience in handling complicated, effects-driven action scenes, and obtained the services of actors/performers with name or face recognition.As Fantastic Four opens, Reed Richards is penniless, an inventor without financing, forced to beg his college rival, Victor, for help with one of his projects, tracking an imminent solar storm and its possible effects on human DNA. Victor is apparently in the vanguard of commercializing space (he has a private space station). Forcing Reed into a hard bargain, he agrees to Reed’s plans. Within minutes, the future foursome plus Victor are in space, preparing for the solar storm. It comes early, before special shields can be fully activated. Everyone, including Victor, is affected.
"Skip 'Fantastic Four' and watch 'The Incredibles' instead. I wish I had."
At first, however, our returning heroes appear normal. Only gradually, Reed discovers his ability to stretch and contort his body into impossible shapes, Sue discovers her powers of invisibility (and the ability to generate a protective force field), Johnny discovers he can light himself on fire (and possibly fly), and Ben, seemingly normal at first, awakens to discover a complete, irreversible transformation into a rocklike creature (which Johnny later dubs “The Thing”). Reed’s first response is to seek a way to reverse their physical transformations. Johnny, as the hothead/frat boy in the group, revels in his newfound powers, and later, becoming the object of media attention and public adoration (audiences will be surprised to discover that these minor-league superheroes don’t have secret identities).
Ben’s transformation acts as a catalyst for the main plot (and the only subplot worth following). His despair (his wife understandably runs away at their first reunion) leads, conveniently, to a fateful meeting with a suicidal city dweller atop a bridge, which, in turn, leads to a semi-spectacular automobile pileup, and media attention for the entire group, newly dubbed the “Fantastic Four.” Even as his company tanks, Victor too finds himself transforming into something more, or less, than human (a metal exoskeleton combined with the ability to control electricity).
Comic book and action fans, of course, will immediately ask: what about the action set pieces? Sadly, due to a lack of financial (or imaginative) resources (probably a combination of the two), Fantastic Four’s action scenes are surprisingly prosaic, offering little in the way of surprises or ingenuity. They also shortchange the audience, delivering nothing in the way of tension or suspense. Outside of two scenes with Johnny engaging in sports (cue generic, flavor-of-the-month rock band to accompany his activities) there are only three full action scenes in the entire film: the space station scene that sets the plot in motion, the bridge rescue scene, and the final, protracted confrontation with Victor Von Doom. That’s it for the action scenes. And frankly, for a supposedly big-budget, Hollywood comic book/action film, audiences are bound to feel cheated (and they have every right to feel like they overpaid for their meager filmgoing experience).
Apparently, the producers paid little attention to the fit or fitness of performers to their respective roles (e.g., Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd). Alba, sadly, is miscast, less for her acting talent or range, than for her relative youth and obvious inexperience. Gruffudd, a Welsh actor, spends more time attempting a generic American accent than showing any spark (to be fair, his character is woefully underwritten). Only Michael Chiklis, as Ben Grimm/The Thing and Chris Evans as Johnny/The Human Torch, manage to make or leave any kind of impression. Surprisingly, Chiklis manages to squeeze pathos from his role and Evans, while essentially duplicating his frat boy-turned-hero role in last year’s underappreciated and underseen Cellular delivers his cornball lines with energy and enthusiasm.Shorter review, skip "Fantastic Four" and revisit the better, earlier (if unacknowledged) version about a superhero family with superhuman abilities (along with a few all-too-human shortcomings of their own), "The Incredibles" instead. It'll be time (and money) better spent.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12567&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/29/05 08:00:47