- Reviewed by: Avril Carruthers
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Current Rating 6.25/10 | 64 Votes
Produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad, Ralph Winter
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden.
One of the most popular of the Marvel superhero comics and the first having a team of super-powered individuals who also do not have secret identities, there have been a few animations and a few imitators, notably The Incredibles who share some similarities with the Fantastic Four. With an extremely simple plot, the movie deals mainly with four astronauts whose DNA is changed by a solar storm while they are in space.
Back on earth they must come to terms with differences that make them freakish, but which have the potential to save people in situations where they would normally perish. Their arch-rival and former boss is Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon), who blames one of the four, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) for the mutation that begins to affect him also, and for the huge financial loss their failed mission entailed. Initially fighting with and isolating from each other, the four must learn to support each other, accept their differences (monstrous to varying degrees) and vanquish the greater evil of Dr Doom. As such, Fantastic Four echoes an adolescent mind-set that permeates all the Marvel superhero comics and which targets that audience almost exclusively.
While based on psychologically sound and emotionally identifiable traits, the characterisation is exaggerated to the symbolic by virtue of super-powers. Reed Richards is a typically detached and aloof scientist, obsessively collecting evidence before he can make decisions to the point where decisions sometimes go past unmade. Needing to cover all the options before acting, it’s significant that his mutation entails the rubbery/elastic ability to stretch muscles and tissue in an alarmingly malleable way. He becomes Mr Fantastic.
At one time Reed has been romantically linked with Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), who broke off their relationship due to his apparent aloofness and inability to act on his feelings for her. Also affected by the solar storm, Sue’s particular psychological hang-up is feeling that she is not noticed and her mutation is of course to become invisible when experiencing strong emotion. In addition she has a powerful ability to create protective force-fields. The Invisible Woman is born.
Also in the space station is Sue’s hothead brother Johnny (Chris Evans). Fiery tempered, impatient and inflammatorily provocative, it’s fitting that Johnny becomes The Human Torch, able to fly and become incandescent, bursting into flames when experiencing high elation or emotion. The fourth astronaut is Ben Grimm, played by the solidly built Michael Chiklis. He mutates into The Thing, with rock-like, impervious orange skin and super-strength. The most monstrous looking of the four, Ben never quite gets used to the way people instinctively cringe in fear at his approach.
Victor von Doom’s mutation is slower and at first less obvious than the four, because he was behind a shield supposed to protect them all. The inadequacy of the shield is another thing to blame Reed for, and his vicious, cold-hearted nature mutates into a body of metal, stronger than titanium. Dr Doom loses no time in disposing of anyone in his way permanently and with cruel efficiency, on his way to destroying the Fantastic Four in revenge for what has happened to his investment, his face (developing scars splitting to reveal the metal underneath) and himself.
Using CGI and SFX the technology for which is appropriately cutting edge and unavailable until the last two years, Fantastic Four is also a showcase for some extraordinary special effects. I can remember the promotion for Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman with Christopher Reeves which announced breathlessly “You will believe a man can fly!” and awesomely, then, we did. Lately we have become a little blasé, perhaps. It’s not much of a stretch (sorry) to accept Mr Fantastic’s contortions and extendable limbs, nor that Sue Storm goes transparent while we can still sort of see where she is, nor that there’s a walking Bic lighter called Johnny, nor someone who can hold on to the back of a huge fire-truck teeter-tottering over the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge and drag it back to safety.
Thankfully, this Fantastic Four utilises humour as well as pathos; and the internecine rage, spite, vengeance and blame are not taken so seriously that we can’t laugh at the way Johnny discovers he is ‘hot’ (not that he ever doubted it for a second), nor the way the others discover their amazing differences and learn to deal with public adulation. And despite the pseudo science of the initial premise, there’s witty dialogue, lovely sight gags and convincingly awesome action.
The performances of the four are solid and allow a degree of rudimentary complexity in the character arcs. Even Julian McMahon’s Dr Doom’s vicious core is touched with a momentary sadness at his loss, even if only of his perfectly maintained physical presentation. Two other characters deserve mention: Victor’s assistant Leonard whose geekish presence and characterisation by Hamish Linklater hint at unseen layers; and Kerry Washington’s blind Alicia Masters – the only other person outside the four who appreciates and loves the deeper qualities of Ben Grimm.
As an exposition and resolve of misfit teenage angst into self-acceptance and maturity Fantastic Four is a fine enough example, especially in special effects and humour, of the genre.
© Avril Carruthers 6th July 2005
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