Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden, Stan Lee
Written by: Michael France, Mark Frost, based on characters created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Directed by: Tim Story
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some suggestive content
Running Time: 105
Date: 06/29/2005

Fantastic Four (2005)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Four-Gone Conclusion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The appeal of Marvel Comics characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man was that they suffered all-too-common problems, having to do with not fitting in and feeling the weight of the world. Any teenage comic book nut could relate.

Unfortunately, despite their long-lasting popularity, the Fantastic Four doesn't quite fall into the same camp. Reed Richards (a.k.a Mr. Fantastic), Sue Richards, née Storm, (a.k.a. the Invisible Girl) and Johnny Storm (a.k.a the Human Torch) all seem like fairly well adjusted folks with little to complain about.

It's Ben Grimm (a.k.a the Thing) that makes the comic worth visiting. He's the one with the giant case of acne (so to speak), who can't go out in public without feeling looked at.

And so goes the new Fantastic Four feature film. Michael Chiklis plays Ben with a gruff demeanor and a warm heart, and thankfully the filmmakers decided to fit him with an orange, rocky outfit rather than turn him into a CGI blip (as with 2003's misbegotten Hulk). Chiklis's eyes show through the mask, and he does a remarkable job of conveying the character's sadness and confusion.

But that's where the movie's quality stops. Right from the start the movie smells like a stinker because of its Z-grade casting. Worst of all is Julian McMahon, overacting as a Kevin Spacy-ish Dr. Doom. Both he and Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards look like they were poured from a white plastic mold -- rejects from Paul Verhoeven's ultra-Aryan Starship Troopers cast.

As Johnny Storm, Chris Evans (Cellular) stakes a new claim as quite possibly the most annoying living actor, choosing to portray the cocky hero as a testosterone-soaked, arrogant jerk. When Johnny and Ben get into the first of their little squabbles, we long for the Thing to pound the embers out of him.

As for Jessica Alba, perhaps the biggest name in the cast thanks to her television turn on "Dark Angel," she fills out the skin-tight uniform well, but not much more.

Even the film's director, Tim Story, seems miscast. Out of Hollywood's overstuffed stable of so-called action directors, why hire the guy behind Barbershop? Though ironically, Story's action sequences turn out to be smoother than those by many others higher up on the "A"-list.

It looks as if someone tried hard on this film, and then just gave up halfway through. Or perhaps the studio was afraid of the movie getting too smart and hired someone to dumb it down. In any case, the finished product is riddled with continuity problems, such as a sequence on a bridge during which Reed, Sue and Johnny must creatively break through a crowd to get to the Thing.

Not all of these failings are entirely the movie's fault. As part of the hype, Buena Vista Home Video has released a four-disc DVD set of the 1994-95 "Fantastic Four" animated television series. It's far more truthful to the comic book stories, but suffers from the same distant, bland characters. In this shorter format the Thing has even less time to bloom, and comes across more like a comic relief buffoon.

If Fantastic Four lasts more than a couple of weeks in the theaters and executives begin to think "sequel," how about dropping everything and giving poor Thing his own film?

DVD Details: Fox's DVD comes with an audio commentary track by the cast and crew -- who appear to have enjoyed themselves more than audiences ever did -- as well as a "behind the scenes" video diary, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, music videos and trailers. Don't be taken in by the X-Men 3 preview; it's nothing more than Marvel Comics "guru" Avi Arad talking about how cool it's going to be.

See also: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

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