I sit before you a very confused woman. I’ve been reviewing movies for two and a half years now, and have finally gotten to the point where I can watch them as a critic and a regular viewer simultaneously.
It makes for a weird viewing experience, but I’ve learned to enjoy a movie as mindless fun while the critic in me tries to pick apart each scene. However, there are times when the critic and the viewer are in conflict, as they are now.
Fantastic Four was a movie I looked forward to in much the same way one looks forward to seeing a train wreck. You know, a spectacle so grisly to behold you just can’t turn away. I expected it to be horrendous, and I could gleefully hate it as I’ve hated very few films.
So you can imagine my surprise and confusion when it turned out not to suck.
“Not sucking” by no means suggests that it lives up to the “fantastic” it its name. But there were some good parts (some really good parts) that hinted at the potential amidst the rest of the average (and occasionally downright bad) movie.
The Fantastic Four are Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis), Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), and Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Chris Evans). They’re all on a space station when it’s hit by a freak cosmic storm, which completely changes their DNA to give them special powers. They have to get past their differences and work together to defeat their arch nemesis, Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon).
Michael Chiklis is hands-down the best thing about this movie, and a very pleasant surprise. He is a very, very good actor, and you can see that even underneath the Thing’s heavy makeup. He is also the only one in the movie with a true character arc.
Ben Grimm was the one who had the hardest time with the transformation. The other three in the group still looked human, but he had become a giant rock man who terrified everybody, including his own wife. He goes from anger and self-loathing to reluctant acceptance over the course of the movie, and Chiklis was just the man to pull it off.
Johnny Storm, on the other hand, is stoked about his newfound powers. He’s a daring, cocky asshole with a sarcastic streak, and daring, cocky assholes with sarcastic streaks are fun characters, good for providing comic relief and many, many puns about fire.
Johnny is, in fact, part of what else works in this movie: the sparring (physically and verbally) between him and Ben. They both get some snappy lines and good jabs, resulting in a much more believable relationship with a lot more chemistry than the romantic one between Reed and Sue.
Sadly, that’s about where the good parts of the movie end.
Reed and Sue barely register on the radar. Granted, they’re both more serious characters, but they get so serious at points that they stop being any fun. Their relationship seems like it’s only there because the director knew the fans expected it. Sue spends the majority of her time complaining that no one pays any attention to her or nagging Johnny about his attitude. Reed is all but married to his work, and it’s not until the very end of the movie when he actually takes charge of the team that he gets interesting. Neither character will have you talking about them after the movie’s over.
Jessica Alba is also completely wrong for Sue Storm. Not for a moment did I buy her as a scientist, let alone von Doom’s head geneticist. She just looks too much like a California beach bum. About halfway through I started to wonder if they just cast her for the cleavage.
Also, Victor von Doom isn’t quite the vicious, maniacal, freakishly intelligent arch nemesis I’d expected. Rather, he’s an overly ambitious and arrogant businessman whose God complex gets a boost when he’s endowed with powers (thanks to the same cosmic rays that created the Fantastic Four). Apparently all he had in the comics were his brains and his technology, and he made good use of both. You never get a sense of that here.
Other, minor things sprinkled throughout the film also raised questions. For one, how on earth do they get down from the space station after it’s hit by the storm? Two, why is it that Sue’s nose bleeds whenever she overexerts herself, but in the next shot there’s never any trace of blood? And three, how did the crowd of screaming fans in front of the Baxter Building get there the same day as the Four’s first big rescue? (I’ll buy the media frenzy immediately afterwards, but that many fans that quickly? No way.)
The ending of the movie also wrapped things up a wee bit too nicely, a big no-no if you’re planning on having sequels. (And don’t kid yourself. They’re banking on more of these.) Character arcs are completed, everybody gets what they want, there’s a nice romantic kiss, and Ben and Johnny continue to trade barbs while everyone else laughs merrily.
The writers leave only one lingering bit to tie into another film, and it’s the most obvious one: what happened to the bad guy. Nothing like Peter Parker walking away from the love of his life or Wolverine jetting into the sunset to learn more about his past.
In the end, Fantastic Four is not nearly as bad as the worst of Marvel’s movies (Daredevil, Elektra), but it’s also not as good as the best (X-men, Spider-Man). The points where the movie gets it right are great and you can see the potential screaming to be unlocked, but somehow that makes the parts that are average all the more disheartening. However, the movie did surprise me by getting right what it did, and by actually being entertaining…as long as you don’t think too much about it afterwards.
From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.