“Not as strong as the real thing, but Diet Superhero will still fill your spot” – Clint Morris
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden
“It’s funny how things turn out isn’t it?” utters one of the film’s central characters early on. Indeed, he’s right. The film version of one of Marvel Comics earliest and most well known brands has had quite the pre-spooled life. In 1994, B-movie director Roger Corman bought the comic to life in a film version of “Fantastic Four” but unbeknown to the cast and crew, the movie was never intended to be released, and was made only because the studio who owned the rights to make a film based on the comic would have lost the rights if they did not begin production by a certain date. Now, several years down the track, they’re utilizing those rights and spending $140 million on making sure they’re used properly. The kicker? Two tries later and we’ve got something that’s nowhere near fantastic – merely ‘not bad’.
Granted, audiences have been so spoilt of late with their comic-inspired films, so this was always going to disappoint. From “Spider-Man 2” to “Sin City” and notably, “Batman Begins”, the films are starting take on an almost award-worthy epic feel, and as a result, anything that’s not as beefy, not as well-written or not chock-a-block with unforgettable scrupulously staged action sequences was always going to dissatisfy in contrast.
Though it does have its problems, to Fantastic Four’s merit – this was always going to be a lighter, fluffier, less-serious bit of ink cum celluloid. Its central characters may exist in the same world as both ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Daredevil’ (regularly making appearances in each others comics), but the Fantastic Four’s neighbouring pals are a lot more solemn and multifarious than this stubby of superhero-lite.
Based on the long-running comic series created by Stan Lee (who gets his obligatory cameo here – as he has in nearly every other Marvel movie) and Jack Kirby in 1961, “Fantastic Four” tells of a troupe of five scientists – one being slimy billionaire Victor Von Doom – who have a run-in with a radioactive cloud while in deep space.
When they return to Earth, all discover they’ve been blessed, or cursed, with new powers. Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) can turn invisible anytime she likes, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) can stretch himself, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) can turn into a flaming fireball, and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), well, he’s the worst off: being permanently malformed into an outsized orange-coloured Hulk like creature.
Typical of the stable villain, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) decides he’s going to use his new power of being able to be one with metal, for evil – seeing his new gift as a chance to do battle with his long-time antagonist Reed, and his troupe of mutant pals.
Because emphasis here seems to be more on laughs than action – though there is a bit of that – that might explain why “The Fantastic Four” is slightly lacking. The script seems to be all over-the-place. A surprise really that the story’s not so watertight – the film’s director is Tim Story, who helmed that wonderful story, “Barbershop”, a film that was little more than loveable well-detailed characters and level-headed narrative. In addition, Mark Frost, who wrote some of that unforgettable stuff on TV’s “Twin Peaks”, is credited as one of the writers. But with “Fantastic Four” it seems they’ve gone with what seems to be the leftover template of a failed TV pilot to open the movie, and only ditches it halfway through, once action starts to take precedence over an awful lot of exposition – and the creative team have realized they’ve got to actually ‘try’.
On a more positive note, and surprisingly the one thing I was a little sceptical about going in, some bravura performers have aptly filled the roles. The hotter-than-a-sandwich-grill Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, and Chris Evans are right at home in the roles of Susan, Reed and Johnny, respectively – though, and comic fans will be up in arms over it, no doubt, some of the characters are significantly younger than they were in the comics – whilst Michael Chiklis (TV’s “The Shield”) is a revelation as Ben Grimm, the chap most affected by the transformation. Unlike The Hulk, when the guy transforms he’s in a rubber suit – not simply CGI – and as a result, we get to hear the guy’s voice underneath the bulk, and notably, give more of a damn about the character. Chiklis was born to play the role.
Australia’s Julian McMahon is sufficiently sinister as Victor Von Doom, but there’s not much to his role, so although it seems like a pretty plum part for the TV star – he’s not going to be remembered for it. McMahon’s probably not without blame – he’s rather sleepish in the role, not giving us anything to remember, or to relish.
“Fantastic Four” is getting a bit of a beating from those-in-the-know right now, but I’m not going to hitch a ride on the same ferry. It’s second-rate, sure, it’s in calamitous need of a prune and a polish, sure, and it could’ve undeniably done with a couple more ‘wow’ scenes, but at the end of the day it’s still a fun, fast and fantastically performed movie, and a pretty good interpretation of the comic, but most of all, Michael Chiklis’ The Thing is a must – he really gives The Hulk a clobbering.
Not as strong as the real thing, but Diet Superhero will still fill your spot.
Reviewer : Clint Morris