Fantastic Four [2005]

Certificate: PG
Running Time: 106 mins
Director: Tim Story
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero, Sci-Fi
Country: USA

What happens when the director of Barber Shop teams up with the writer of Twin Peaks?  Is it good?  Fantastic maybe?  The 2005 Marvel offering Fantastic Four sets its stall out as the first real attempt at committing to cinema Marvel’s original superheroes.  Long before Spider-Man, before Hulk, before Iron Man and Thor the FF were plying their trade having been exposed to cosmic radiation which inexplicably bestows upon them superpowers.

On paper Fantastic Four offers up a solid argument for being Marvel’s hat-trick of hits following Spider-Man and X-Men.  With Ioan Gruffudd (as Reed Richards) they’ve a steady leading man with more than a passing resemblance to All-Time Twister Champion, Mr. Fantastic.  Alongside him there’s Chiklis (between seasons of his critically acclaimed TV series The Shield), Jessica Alba hot off the awesome that was Sin City and up-and-comer Chris Evans who offered up an eyecatching performance in Cellular the previous year.  Add Mark Frost to the equation as scribe and suddenly it’s looking promising, right?

Wrong.  OK, apparently this film cost $100M to make.  Where did the money go?  Not to be rude but starring in a franchise of this magnitude for all four leads at this time is without doubt a career high so there’s no extraordinary salaries to worry about.  They certainly didn’t spend the money on the special effects.  Even in 2005 they had the look of an older gen gaming console and they have not held up well… at all.

Narratively, the film is a spec script.  No disrespect to Frost but any of his authorship must have surely been removed in future drafts as it tows along the origins FF #1 line… and no more.  Source loyalty is very important in comic book movies.  You want your heroes origins story to reflect the origin story of the page (Mark Steven Johnson would discuss this backlash first-hand) but there is certainly a point were deference to the source becomes a hindrance[1].  The comic book is 20 pages of narrative, to adhere solely to this path is to under-fill your audience's bowl.  They will leave hungry, they will want more, they will be dissatisfied.  What Fantastic Four gives us is a far too simplistic, generic, expected story stretched thinly across the required running time giving the film more of a TV movie feel than The Trial of the Incredible Hulk which actually was a TV movie.

For the most part they got it right with the casting… well… two out of five if you count Von Doom.  Gruffudd is a nice piece of casting.  He has the level-headed, fatherly presence required to portray Reed Richards[2].  He’s a leader and a thinker.  Similarly, Michael Chiklis (Ben/The Thing) is inspired.  Before The Shield Chikkie was something of a cuddly comedy actor.  When going to the audition for the role of bent cop Vic Mackie he shaved his head and a new career direction was birthed.  He’s not exceptionally built (ala The Rock in Pain & Gain) but he’s a solid looking man and I even like (and appreciate) the decision to do The Thing in-camera using prosthetics rather than CGI as it gives texture to his frame.  Jessica Alba isn't entirely believable as Sue, Chris Evans is too old for Johnny and none of the four are actually given much to do that isn’t covered in the first handful of panels in FF #1.  They all look perfect however alongside Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom.  At the time McMahon’s Nip/Tuck was flying higher than it deserved in the ratings.  His inclusion always felt as something as a piece of propaganda casting.  I do appreciate the idea of casting someone attractive as Doctor Doom[3] but allow him to be able to act.

There is little menace from McMahon, certainly less than a pantomime villain, and there is so much ham and cheese in his performance that if you left him beside an open fire you’d have a toasty in a few minutes.  Like Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) it is a casting misstep and one that leaves the film lacking in dramatic tension.  Though unlike Fantastic Four, GotG is actually a really enjoyable movie!

There are many ways in which Fantastic Four falls show in expectation.  But if you require an actual yard stick to measure (and then beat it) with then consider this.  Batman Begins was released the same year.  X-Men five whole years before!  Where is the character development?  Where is the nuance?  Where is the pacing, tension, and subtext?  Where is the $100M it cost to make this?

[1] We shall come across this again in Captain America: The First Avenger and cover in more detail within the context of a better movie.
[2] How the Fantastic Four reboot will handle a younger Reed is yet to be seen.
[3] The correlation between physical appearance and level of evil has always been something of a mystery and certainly misguidedly born out of Hollywood representation.


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