Fantastic Four – Movie Review (*1/2)

(Originally posted on i-Pocalypse.com on 7-12-05)

Fantastic Four is, in essence, the most expensive Sci Fi Channel Original Movie ever made. It has everything – the stilted dialogue, the clichéd character arcs, the histrionic bad guy, the snail’s pace action sequences and the miss the point by a mile story premise. I am assuming you are all familiar with the basics of the story, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) are caught in a radioactive storm while in outer space that fundamentally changes their DNA giving them super powers. Also, on the trip with them is Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) who, in this version, gets zapped with super powers as well. The only thing it is missing to be the perfect big budget Sci Fi Channel Movie that it so desperately wants to be is to have Lorenzo Lamas as Dr. Doom and Chase Masterson as Sue Storm instead of McMahon and Alba… actually, Chase Masterson certainly couldn’t have acted any worse in this than Alba.

Don’t get me wrong. The movie isn’t a total loss. Johnny Storm is entertaining and truest to the comic character, but still, that is only one out of five. Chiklis looks silly as an undersized Thing in a rubber suit, Gruffudd struggles valiantly in coming across as intelligent, but just can’t seem to pull it off, Alba doesn’t even try to attempt intelligent and settles for bland in form fitting clothes, while McMahon seems to throw his heart and soul into his role, forgetting, apparently, that Doom shouldn’t have a heart and soul.

The biggest problem, however, is how uninspired the whole enterprise is. There seems to have been no passion spent on any part of the transfer of the story from the page to the screen. It really does come across as a made for TV movie. One example of how off target the whole thing is with the Ben Grimm sub-plot. It starts off with him talking about how much he and his girlfriend are in love, him looking longingly at her picture, him using her as an example of the kind of relationship that Reed should aspire to, etc. But we don’t even meet her until she unceremoniously dumps him when she finds out that he has turned into the Thing. We are only ever told about how much they loved each other, but we are never shown. This is unforgivable when the whole point of the character arc that the Thing goes through is how he has to come to terms with his new identity and how it has affected his ability to connect with those around him. We never see how he connected to those around him prior to the transformation. The way he connects with the others, though, doesn’t change at all. He is still basically the same Ben Grimm as before, only now he is in a big rubber suit and doesn’t look like a buffer version of the Commish.

For a property like the Fantastic Four, it is unfortunate, too, that the whole thing looks like it was filmed on studio backlots. Other contemporaneous Superhero/Comic Book type movies have a sense of scale to them that at least gives one the excuse to suspend belief, if only for a short time. Everything here looks like it was shot with the first priority being given to the rule of economy of space. There are no big scenes that make these characters stand out from their environment. They are just bland versions of their comic book inspirations being showcased in bland action sequences blandly.

The biggest question that arose for me as I sat and watched this was, “I wonder if the Roger Corman version that they made before and then kept from general release in order to maintain the viability of the property was any more pedestrian than this big money version?”

As a final addendum, I should say that I saw this with my 72 year old Chinese Mother and she absolutely loved it. She has already told me to buy her the movie on DVD when it comes out (which should be in a couple of weeks if there is any justice in the universe). She gives it four stars, so now you have a second opinion, instead of relying solely on mine…

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