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Dustin Putman

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Fantastic Four (2005)
1 Star

Directed by Tim Story
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Hamish Linklater, Kerry Washington, Laurie Holden, David Parker, Kevin McNulty
2005 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for action violence and suggestive content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 8, 2005.

After the success stories of such comic book adaptations as 2000's "X-Men," 2002's "Spider-Man," 2003's "Hulk," and 2005's "Batman Begins," films that not only entertained, but brought a sense of wonder, scope, and even heart to wide audiences unfamiliar with the source material, "Fantastic Four" does just about everything possible to set the genre back a few dozen steps. Sure, there have been ambitious failures like "The Punisher," potential camp classics like 2004's "Catwoman," and plain old duds like 2005's "Elektra," but "Fantastic Four," based on the long-running Marvel comic, might just be the most egregious of the lot. Offering absolutely nothing of interest—and I do mean nothing—that wasn't glimpsed in the underwhelming trailers, the film is a painful, sluggish black hole of simultaneous bad ideas and no ideas at all.

Set up as an origin tale, the picture tells of how genetic physicist Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and astronaut colleagues Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), and head of operations Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) are struck with superpowers after they are exposed to radiation in space from a mysterious dark cloud they are investigating. While the former four grapple with their newfound abilities and decide to use them for good—Sue can become invisible and control force fields, Johnny turns into a human fireball, Reed becomes overly elastic, and Ben turns into a literal rock of strength—Victor's transformation into metal leads him down a more dastardly path. Pretty soon it is up to the labeled Fantastic Four to go mano a mano against Victor Von Doom and save the world from possible destruction. If you're looking for a motive for the villain, you won't find one; he's evil and wants to kill the other four because a bad guy is required, not because he has a reason to be against them.

A "Fantastic Four" movie has been in development for a reported fifteen years (and even bred a 1994 feature allegedly so bad it was never released), and so it is utterly preposterous that this haphazard final product was as good as the makers could come up with. Besides having an incomprehensible storyline, rotten dialogue, and faux-romantic subplots the viewer couldn't possibly care about even if being threatened at gunpoint, the film's most unforgivable debit is the sheer anticlimax of it all. The first 85 minutes have but one action sequence (set on a bridge, and a rip-off of better, more elaborate scenes in "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2") and are mostly spent behind closed doors with the four good guys dealing with their new superpowers and trying to figure out a way to get rid of them. Who wants to see a movie about superheroes in which the protagonists by and large just want to be rid of their powers, whiling away the hours sitting around in rooms and looking morose? By the time Victor Von Doom fully crosses over to the bad side and goes after them (again, for reasons never explored), there is but fifteen minutes of screen time left and one halfhearted action set-piece seen nearly in its cumulative entirety in the trailers.

The foolish misguidedness doesn't stop there. In a day and age in which technology is at the top of its game, the visual effects are clunky and unconvincing, complete with bad green screen work and a scene set in space that looks so unthinkably awful for a big-budget studio production (and wannabe summer blockbuster, to boot) that it is barely on the level of a Sci-Fi Channel television series. Want more? There is also a comedic music montage in which suave player Johnny Storm plays the old feather-on-the-nose, whipped-cream-on-the-hand prank on a napping Ben. Furthermore, screenwriters Michael France (2004's "The Punisher") and Mark Frost (TV's "Twin Peaks") squander the superpowers of the characters, their idea of imagination being to show the stretchable Reed reaching for a roll of toilet paper in another room.

For a film supposedly about the value of togetherness, the paper-thin Fantastic Four spend the bulk of their time arguing with each other. That it is suggested they met in school is ludicrous—actors Michael Chiklis (TV's "The Shield") and Ioan Gruffudd (2001's "Black Hawk Down") look about fifteen years older than Jessica Alba (2005's "Sin City") and Chris Evans (2004's "Cellular"). Tellingly, poor casting and forgettable performances are the least of its problems, though it deserves to be mentioned that the usually stunning-looking Alba manages the near-impossible feat of looking grossly overtanned and sickeningly pale at the same time. Maybe it was a side effect to all the exposure to the invisibility make-up.

A lack of chemistry between its human stars, a jokey, undernourished screenplay, all of two action scenes in the whole running time, and the bizarre decision to hand the directing reigns to the clearly unfit-for-the-big-time Tim Story (2004's "Taxi") spells doom for "Fantastic Four." Boring is an adjective that should never be synonymous with cinematic summer tentpoles, but that is exactly what Story has done here, making what amounts to a joke rather than a thrill ride. "Fantastic Four" looks cheap, feels cheap, is cheap, but obviously wasn't cheap to make. That, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of this despicably empty-headed production.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman