Another Marvel comic book movie for 10-year-old boys splashes across the screen with special effects that fall short of exemplifying the source material’s action and eccentric characters. Astrophysicist Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd—Black Hawk Down) and his crew of astronauts get caught in a cosmic storm while researching mysteries of the human genetic code under the immediate supervision of billionaire industrialist Victor Von Doom (Juilan McMahon).
The crew suffers side effects that leave Reed able to elongate his body; his love interest Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) is able to become invisible at will; Sue’s brother Johnny (Chris Evans) becomes a human torch and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) turns into The Thing, a strongman made of stone. In spite of the dubious quality of his “rock” costume Chiklis steals the movie with an outstanding performance.
Too bad director Tim Story (Barbershop) sets an uneven tempo for the embarrassingly clunky script by Michael France (Hulk) and Mark Frost (Storyville). Things get off to a marginal start with a dialogue exchange between Dr. Richards and Ben in which the exposition states, “In case you forgot.” The line establishes that not only is the movie aimed at prepubescent boys, but that they probably wrote it as well.
In the following boardroom scene between our super-heroes-to-be and their future enemy Victor Von Doom, Ioan Gruffudd establishes Dr. Reed as an ineffectual scientist whose past failures include NASA and the sticky romantic demands of Sue Storm (Alba). Gruffudd’s bumbling characterization puts the story in a deficit that it never recovers from because Dr. Reed is set up as unfit to guide his own life, much less to act as the leader to a group of super heroes. Reed pleads with Victor to finance an expedition into space and is thoroughly humiliated in the deal that allows Victor to keep 75 percent of whatever money is made from the sure-bet venture.
It doesn’t help the film’s development that the script calls for a brief load of fuzzy science centered on genetic code stuff that seems more germane to microscopes than spaceships. Nevertheless, we find our unhappy crew floating in a space station made to withstand the brutal force of a cosmic storm were it not for an open portal than allows Ben Grimm to be outside the spacecraft when the storm hits hours sooner than forecasted.
The screenwriters go to a lot of trouble with forcing personality flaws on the cutout characters without providing sufficient subtext for the quirks. Ben is a sad sack because his fair weather wife dumped him when he turned to stone.
Never mind the fact that she never loved him to begin with since she trashes their marriage without even a conversation. Ben’s latent homosexual relationship to Richards backhandedly addresses his depression when Dr. Doom manipulates Ben by making him jealous of Reed and Sue’s rekindled budding romantic attachment after Sue dumped Reed in favor of two years of sexy time with Victor Von Doom.
Johnny is the rebel of the group and as such is the only one of the bunch who revels in his freshly minted super powers. This translates to the screen in the form of extreme sports music video montages intended to ramp up the film’s lagging energy quotient for kids who marvel at snowboarding and motocross.
Fantastic Four is a piecemeal movie that does a poor job of introducing comic book characters in a hoped-for cinema franchise that should not go on based on this one’s failure. The one-dimensional open-and-shut plot doesn’t get the window dressing of convincing special effects that should keep the onscreen spectacle afloat.
Most confounding is the obviously rubber costume Chiklis wears as an ostensible suit of stone. Since The Thing only once changes back into his human appearance, the audience has plenty of time to scrutinize the fake quality of the character’s appearance. It’s ironic that the film’s most glaring visual defect should accompany its best performance. MTW