Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

****

Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Fantastic Four isn't as heartwarming as Spider-Man. It's not as psychologically congruent as Batman Begins. It's not as fast as The Incredibles. Bored now? Can we please have a few more reviews of the latest Marvel movie that don't compare it to one of the other recent superhero blockbusters?

Why is no one saying Fantastic Four has better effects than the Hulk? A more compelling story than the Punisher? Better acting than Catwoman? Because they were flops and if a film isn't the best thing, like, ever, it's easy to knock it by comparing it to the best examples of the genre.

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Look at the merits of the film and Fantastic Four is actually a pretty good way to spend 90 minutes. Yeah, it doesn't go in for a back and forth narrative like Batman Begins (to remind you of every Zen Ninja Movie cliche ever). It's not as life-affirming as Spider-Man. It doesn't have the wonderful mood of the underrated Daredevil. But if we must compare it to other superhero movies, it's actually in the decent to very good region.

It establishes the characters, relationships and powers of the five protaganists - Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm and Victor Von Doom - with commendable economy and not a little style. It sets things in a believable, consistent world. It has action and not just slugfests, but action that reveals character. If you're a comics fan, you might even be pleased that while details have been updated, the relationships and spirit are very true to the first few years of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's comic.

(Oh yes, and so far as strips go, we're talking seminal texts here - Fantastic Four was the first modern Marvel Comic, back in 1961. It was the first title which paid attention to character as much as plot, and provided the template for all the dysfunctional heroes and teams that followed - Spidey, X-Men, the lot. And that very definitely includes the Incredibles, which is a homage to the Fantastic Four and other superhero archetypes such as the speedster and ice guy. Roger Ebert and pals please take note: Fantastic Four is NOT a rip-off of the Incredibles. If it was, it'd be a lot more beige.)

This is a film, though, and faithfulness to the source material shouldn't be the priority. How does it work for audiences bereft of either the baggage of critic or fan? That remains to be seen in the UK, but in the US Fantastic Four has outperformed predictions. It could be that someone likes Ioan Gruffud's elasticated Mr Fantastic, awkward boffin of this parish; that Michael Chiklis' blend of pathos and humour as perma-pug member The Thing has gone down rather well; perhaps Jessica Alba isn't at all bad in the admittedly underwritten role of the Invisible Girl; maybe Chris Evans - as well as looking, pardon the obvious pun, bloody hot in his several semi-naked scenes - essays a halfway decent performance as playboy the Human Torch; it could just be that Julian MacMahon's strutting arrogance as Dr Doom injected a bit of darkness to proceedings (not for me - he wasn't at all scary enough to menace four super-heroes, but someone must like him).

No one is brilliant, but that isn't necessary. The actors just have to be convincing, and they do well with a script which is more interested in getting from A to B than impressing the hallowed, embalmed members of the Academy (superhero movies never seem to get more than a technical nod - put in more disabled characters, I say, or Nicole Kidman with a false nose. Maybe Nicole Kidman with a broken false nose). There's some nice chemistry on screen, particularly between best buds Gruffud and Chiklis, and Alba and Evans, and now the origin's out of the way - everyone gets blasted by cosmic rays while on a space sortie - I'd love to see a second screen outing for Marvel's first family.

Especially if the effects are kept up to standard. The Human Torch looks great, burning the air as he flies; Mr Fantastic's stretching manages not to look ridiculous; the Invisible Girl's force fields work nicely; even the non-CGI suit worn by Chiklis works, being convincingly sturdy and allowing for a better show of emotions than pixels would.

Fantastic Four isn't perfect. The script is a tad pedestrian (but there are a few very good gags, all of which stay the right side of camp), the score is unmemorable. It'd be lovely to see an improvement in these areas next time. Tim Story's direction is unshowy, but I'd far rather have a professional job in which I'm not mentally noting directorial flourishes than a turn that screams 'look at me' from some Welles wannabe. Nope, I'd rather be quietly placed in the world of the film and left there awhile than constantly dragged out by some handheld jiggery-pokery or weirdly-lensed trickery.

This is a fun, unpretentious way to spend an hour two, definitely worthy of cosmic praise. And a fantastic four stars.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2005
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Fantastic Four packshot
Cosmic rays unleash four new super heroes on the box office.
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Read more Fantastic Four reviews:

Amber Wilkinson **
Scott Macdonald *1/2
The Exile *

Director: Tim Story

Writer: Michael France, Mark Frost, based on the comic books by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden, David Parker, Kevin McNulty

Year: 2005

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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