Comic Tales: Fantastic Four

Anyone expecting the serious minded superheroics of X-Men, or the angst-ridden thrills of Spider-Man would perhaps have been a bit disappointed by Fantastic Four, but for me it does a decent job of capturing the fun tone of the original comic. The X-Men are outcasts from humanity, Spider-Man is a masked vigilante who does what he does out of guilt over the death of his Uncle Ben, the FF on the other hand are public figures, they don’t hide their identities behind masks, they’re celebrities and the film portrays them as such, or rather there evolution to celebrity status following the accident that gives them their powers.

The film’s heart may be in the right place, but its casting is a hit and miss affair. First the misses – Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic and Jessica Alba as Sue Storm/Invisible Woman. Gruffudd lacks the presence for Reed Richards, the part calls for someone who can command the screen, whereas when Gruffudd’s with the other three he’s the last one you look at.

I like Jessica Alba, she’s undeniably beautiful and a capable enough actress given a part that plays to her strengths, said strengths not including playing a technobabbleing scientist. The film tries to get around this by that old standby when depicting intelligent characters – have her wear specs. Sadly this ruse doesn’t work, and Alba only gets to make an impression in the scene where she suddenly becomes visible in her undies. That she and Gruffudd have little onscreen chemistry doesn’t help matters.

Still, if half of the four miss the mark, the others makes up for it. Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing is the grumpy old man of the team, tortured by his disfigured appearance and the fact that, unlike the others, he can’t turn his power on and off at will. Yet for all his soul searching Grimm is the source of much of the films (and comics) humour, and Chiklis gets the balance right between tortured monster and comedy ogre.

It’s Chris Evans though who steals the film, could there be a more perfect actor to play Johnny Storm/Human Torch? The Torch is the one member of the team who relishes his new powers right from the start and Evans shows us that youthful exuberance and recklessness. He’s the member of the team the audience can best identify with; after all wouldn’t it be cool to have superpowers? Evans and Chiklis work well together, far better than Gruffudd and Alba, and do a credible job of bringing one of comics great double acts to the screen, in fact it’s their relationship that captures the essence of the source material best.

Julian McMahon, as the villainous Victor von Doom, doesn’t feel quite right. The character is far removed from the tyrannical despot of the comics, being instead a superpowered executive with a strop on, while the scorned lover subplot between him and Alba does nothing to strengthen either character. Plus I’ve always though of Doom as having a European accent but McMahon goes for an American accent (at least I think it’s meant to be American, although there are times he may be trying for English).

The film has a couple of decent action sequences but never really sets the screen alight. Even the climax is a little underwhelming, just when you think we’re going to get a real superhero/villain donnybrook its game over. Of course this is partially down to budget, with the film costing half what Spider-Man 2 did, but I think it’s also due to the lack of experience and talent of the director, Tim Story. He may be an enthusiastic comic fan but he’s not a great action director.

For all it’s faults Fantastic Four is an entertaining film, one that occupies that middle ground of comic book movies – between classics like Spider-Man 2 and X2 and stinkers like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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