Fantastic Four, The (’05)

Silver screen adaptations of comic book properties are hot in Hollywood right now, and it seems you can’t surf the Web without reading a press release or rumor about yet another property getting put on the fast track. Nicholas Cage’s Ghost Rider is well into production, Superman Returns has aspirations of box-office glory, and even lesser characters like Sub-Mariner may get their day in theaters. Whether these movies will sizzle or flop cannot be determined, but the decent returns brought in by 2005’s The Fantastic Four show audiences are still interested in hero stories.

While definitely corny and altogether dumb, this latest version of Mr. Fantastic and his crew’s madcap adventures cannot hold a candle to the sheer brilliance of Roger Corman’s movie from 1994. The special effects are obviously much improved, the acting is not nearly as laughable, and I walked away with a sense of fluffy satisfaction rather than numbing awe. This is all from the perspective of a self-described b-movie buff mind you, someone who sat through Halle Berry’s atrocious Catwoman and the comatose The Punisher. As such, watching this Fantastic Four was cake compared to some of the other superhero schlock on the market.

The origin story will be familiar to those who follow the comics or somehow caught the Corman version, but with a few key changes. Reed Richards, Susan and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm are in space studying a cosmic storm when they are suddenly and unexpectedly overcome by the phenomenon. Victor Von Doom, their research investor, is also on the ship, a plot point not found in the original comic books. Upon returning to Earth these five individuals start exhibiting strange powers, such as invisibility, fire conjuring, malleability, and…crater-face syndrome. Doom’s powers allow him to absorb electrical energy, another shift from Stan Lee’s creation. None of these alterations really mattered to me, though, as I’ve never been a comic book devotee and simply wanted to see the film.

Unlike Batman Begins, which strove to be dark and intellectually examining, The Fantastic Four only wants to be fun and goofy, and for the most part this tone works. Sure, there are some eye-rolling moments, like when Mr. Fantastic stretches his arm to grab a new roll of toilet paper from the next room, but the light comedy was actually a nice change from the moodier atmospheres of past comic adaptations. There’s a fine line between good and bad cheese, and The Fantastic Four manages to walk it fairly deftly.

When it comes to the effects, the bag is a bit mixed. Susan’s force fields and invisibility were well done, and The Thing’s design was also decent, but the Human Torch moments somehow looked unpolished. I didn’t believe there was a man under those flames, as the CGI lacked depth and wasn’t grounded in reality. I’m also convinced no one can make a stretchy superhero look good on film, as even with the latest in computer technology on display Mr. Fantastic was still outright silly to watch. I guess these complaints are moot considering I’ve written off the rest of the movie as loopy fun, but I do wish they would have beefed up the effects nevertheless.

Well, that’s all I really have to say about The Fantastic Four other than mentioning a specific sequence any Family Guy viewer will find extremely amusing. There’s a running gag from the animated series where Peter Griffin keeps running into this giant chicken, which he proceeds to fight for minutes on end. The joke is priceless because it refuses to end, with Peter and the chicken duking it out on rooftops, in subway cars, and about half a dozen other locations before the fowl finally bites the bullet. The Fantastic Four has such a battle, with The Thing and Dr. Doom punching and tossing each other around in just about every spot in New York City. At one point they fell into a swimming pool, sank to the bottom, fell through the floor, slid down a hallway and out a window, fell into a truck and never stopped brawling for a second. It’s stupid, yeah, but I wish it could have gone on for about five more minutes. Check out The Fantastic Four if you’re a superhero completist or just want a night off from the truly awful Hollywood muck. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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