Prepare for the fantastic.
Running Time: 105 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: PG
Country: Germany, United States
Since their first appearance in 1961, the ‘Fantastic Four’, conceived by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, have long been amongst the most popular Marvel Comics heroes – but their bizarre powers, especially the limb-stretching plasticity of the quartet’s leader Reed Richards (aka Mr Fantastic), have made the cartoon series resistant to live-action treatment. In 1994, director Oley Sassone was set the superheroic task of turning the comic into a feature length Roger Corman production for under two million dollars. With so low a budget, the project seemed doomed from the start to be a B-grade failure – but what neither Sassone nor his cast and crew knew at the time was that all their fantastic efforts were intended for the satisfaction of lawyers rather than viewers. A ‘Fantastic Four’ production on a much larger scale was already being planned, with Christopher Columbus slated to direct, but in the meantime the studio that held the rights to the comicbook story needed to rush a dummy project through to retain its option on the material. So a cheapo ‘Fantastic Four’ was produced merely to be shelved – making subsequent bootleg copies much sought after, if not much loved, by fans of the comic.
Cut to some ten years (and countless rewrites) later, and at last the ‘official’ feature-length ‘Fantastic Four’ has come out. One can only speculate what might have been if indie wunderkind Steven Soderbergh’s one-time interest in the project had led anywhere – after all, putting the leftfield Christopher Nolan at the helm of Batman Begins yielded the best onscreen incarnation of the Caped Crusader since 1966. In the safer hands of Tim Story, however, previously known for mainstream quasi-hits Barbershop‘ and Taxi, ‘Fantastic Four’ may look far, far glossier than its 1994 predecessor, but it is every bit as cheesily corny. Ten-year olds who see this may well think it is the best film ever made (for about a month, tops), teenagers may be stimulated in equal part by the extreme sport antics of Johnny Storm/Human Torch (Chris Evans) and the sight of Jessica Alba (who plays Susan Storm/Invisible Woman) in her body-hugging blue, devotees of the original comics will inevitably find themselves caught in a love/hate relationship with the sacrilegious changes necessitated by bigscreen adaptation – but any adults dragged along to see this film will struggle to locate real substance amidst all the CGI fireworks and surface noise.
Written by Michael France (also the culprit for 2004’s execrable ‘The Punisher’), with help in the latter stages from Mark ‘Twin Peaks’ Frost, the script of ‘Fantastic Four’ substitutes the different characters’ powers for character itself, placing dramatic conflict on such a superficial level that it is near impossible to engage with any of the superheroes as people. As the only one (apart from Julian McMahon’s bad guy Dr Victor Von Doom) to be physically deformed by his transformation in the solar storm, Ben Grimm/The Thing has potentially the most involving story arc, but it is played out so fast and furious that viewers never have time to absorb, or care about, the interior struggles of this man of stone – and once he becomes hidden beneath all those prosthetics, Michael Chiklis’ talents are largely wasted. Lead actor Ioan Gruffudd does his best as Reed Richards, the spineless leader of the Four, but it is a stretch even for all the computer-generated elasticity to make his character interesting.
If 1994’s ‘Fantastic Four’ was made (and then buried) merely to enable 2005’s mutation to emerge, then similarly this current version seems merely to be a perfunctory ‘origins’ story designed to lay the ground for a franchise of sequels. Let’s hope the follow-ups turn out to be better – they could hardly be worse.
It's Got: Technically advanced (but still naff) special effects and CGI; one-note characters and no-note drama; absolutely nothing which was not done better, funnier and more winningly in The Incredibles.
It Needs: Another eleven or so years gestation - apart from the bigger budget, it is little improvement on the 1994 dummy version.
Alternatives:The Fantastic Four (1994), X-Men
Fantastic for the very young – superficial and unengaging for anyone else.