Fantastic Four (2005)

Tim Story

Ioan Gruffudd - Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
Jessica Alba - Sue Storm/Invisible Woman
Chris Evans - Johnny Storm/The Human Torch
Michael Chiklis - Ben Grimm/The Thing
Julian McMahon - Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom

Year - 2005

THEATER VERSION: 2 Howls Outta 4
EXTENDED VERSION: 2.5 Howls Outta 4

The first family of Marvel Comics has had an extraordinary run in the comics world, but it's film history has been less than stellar. In 1994, famed B-movie director Roger Corman produced a version of the Fantastic Four. Yeah, the film didn't quite live up to it's name. Horrible acting. Horrible story. Horrible effects, if you can call them that. Just a bastardization of Marvel's first family. No wonder it didn't get distribution, although you can catch clips on YouTube or buy it on eBay.

So when it was announced that Marvel would take another try at putting the Fantastic Four on the big screen, I was excited. PLEASE erase the horrible taste of the original version, I kept saying to myself. But then, the actors were announced and I got worried.

Ioan Gruffudd - who?

Jessica Alba - umm...people want to see her VISIBLE.

Chris Evans - he's not blonde. Plus, does he even look enough like Alba to convince us that they're related?

Michael Chiklis - okay, I'm down with that.

Julian McMahon - plays great villains, should be decent.

This would be the new cast of the Fantastic Four, and it had a lot to live up to. X-Men had built a huge franchise. Spider-Man was even bigger. Even Batman was revived a month before. Would this film live up to its name and its fellow comic films? Or would we get a repeat of years before?

Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) [bankrupt, but a brilliant scientist], along with best friend & astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), convinces former college classmate and brilliant businessman Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to try an experiment to see if cosmic energy clouds in space could trigger evolution on Earth. Since he has his own space station and sees that he could make a lot of money out of this, Victor agrees. The trio is joined by Reed's former girlfriend & Victor's chief genetics researcher, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), and her hot-headed pilot brother Johnny (Chris Evans). They conduct the experiment in space, but Reed's miscalculates the arrival of the cosmic clouds. When Victor refuses to abort the mission, the quintet is engulfed in the cloud.

They arrive home, slowly releasing the cloud has altered their DNA, exposing special abilities that relate to their personalities. Reed, always stretching his mind for knowledge, becomes the rubbery and elastic Mr. Fantastic. Susan, wanting to be seen by Reed as a love interest, becomes the Invisible Woman [where she can turn herself invisible and project force fields in anger]. Johnny, hot-headed and unpredictable, can turn himself into fire as The Human Torch. And Ben, having a tough exterior when it comes to relationships, becomes the rock-like and super strong Thing. After an incident unintentionally created by a depressed Ben [who can't handle his transformation] that creates havoc on the Brooklyn Bridge, the others save him and a group of firefighters in trouble. The fans begin to adore the quartet, labeling them as The Fantastic Four. Johnny embraces his new fame and abilities, but the others are dying to get rid of them.

Unknowing to the four of them, Victor has also developed abilities of his own. His skin begins to turn into an organic metal capable of manipulating and absorbing electricity. After losing his company and becoming the laughing stock of the business world, Victor vows to never lose power again. His mutation increases every time he uses his new gift, slowly becoming Doctor Doom. Feeling his former allies are a threat to his newfound power, Doom decides to get rid of them. Does Doom succeed? Or do the Fantastic Four finally accept their destinies and live up to the name handed to them by the adoring public?

I'll be honest. When I first caught this in the theater when it was released 2 years ago, I was really unsatisfied. It wasn't a horrible film by any means, but I was expecting so much more from it. I was expecting something similar to X-Men, where the origin film was very serious and intelligent while showing that a great franchise could arise from it. To me, The Fantastic Four seemed like a comedy. A joke of a comic book film. I'm grateful the banter between Johnny and Ben was transferred from the comics on screen, but why are Reed and Sue in the middle of their own romantic comedy? And why was Doctor Doom, probably one of the greatest and most dastardly villains of all comic books, turned into such a pussy who likes puns? I don't mind humor, but not in a juvenile manner that would hurt a huge potential franchise as the Fantastic Four. If any comic book group deserves some success, the Fantastic Four is right up there.

After watching it again a few times after, I started to like the campiness and cheesiness of the film. They're a dysfunctional family, and all families have moments like the Fantastic Four do. They shouldn't be as serious as The X-Men because The X-Men have to fight for respect. They aren't loved and accepted like The Fantastic Four are. The film could have been a bit more adult and mature, but then kids wouldn't love it, would they?

Tim Story does a good job directing the film. He keeps up with the action well and helps give the characters personalities [exploiting their powers at the most appropriate times] that is somewhat lacking in the script [it's an origin story, so it's pretty limited to begin]. Not really much to say about this department. Mr. Story does what he's paid for and does it with ease. No complaints about the direction.

The acting is a different story. It's a mixed bag for me quite honestly. No one is horrible, but it's no Spider-Man or X-Men, ya know? Ioan Gruffudd makes a pretty convincing Reed Richards. I think his scenes of doing experiments and talking about science seemed natural to him. His romantic scenes with Jessica Alba kinda lacked, in my opinion. There really wasn't much chemistry there that I would have hoped. I really don't know what was missing, but it didn't totally click for me. I felt more of a 'friendship' vibe rather than a 'lover' vibe. I don't know, but I thought she had more chemistry with Chris Evans, who played her brother! I know incest is a game the whole family can play, but not in a Fantastic Four film. But the guy was decent and it was nice NOT to hear an accent [he's Welsh I think].

Jessica Alba was great to look at, but kinda annoyed me. Her acting's okay but she just kept nagging and nagging in this film. "Reed, look at me!" "Johnny, don't do that!" "Ben, stop it!" I know she's supposed to be the mother of the group, but it bothered me how she was so uptight at times. Still, I couldn't keep my eyes off of her and admire her in spandex. Plus, she was pretty tough and strong in some scenes that I appreciated. I just don't think she felt comfortable in the role of Sue Storm. I heard she's a lot better in the sequel, but I'll be the judge of that in a few hours.

Chris Evans was probably the best actor of the film. He took the Johnny Storm character we all know and love and brought him PERFECTLY onto film. The guy was such a prick, looking to score and be the focus of the group - and I loved every single scene he was in. I didn't even care if he wasn't blonde. He seemed to be the only actor who was enjoying himself. I don't know if that's because the script gave him great things to do [he actually was the most developed and interesting character] but The Human Torch rules! Evans chemistry with Michael Chiklis was great too, as the two just kept messing with each other during the entire film. It was very believable, and Evans' performance was a huge part of that. Great job, my hotheaded friend.

Michael Chiklis was also great as The Thing. He played the tortured soul very well and I sympathized with him over his ordeal. He was probably the most human of the characters, which is funny since he was the one who looked the least human. But through his eyes, Chiklis conveyed the emotions needed for the scene, whether it was sadness or happiness or even anger. I've been a fan of the man's work for years, and I was not disappointed by him here. Great casting for the character [that goes to Evans as well].

Julian McMahon is a mixed bag. I'm also a fan of the man's work, especially on Charmed and Nip/Tuck. I thought he was pretty cool as Victor Von Doom, playing the evil, conniving bastard he's born to play. But that changed when he officially became Doctor Doom. I'm not a superhero or villain, but I find it logical to change certain things when I become my alter-ego. My voice would change [especially if I'm under an iron mask] and I would act more evil. I saw neither take place. I just thought he was silly as Doctor Doom, almost a Green Goblin rip-off but without the menace and half the evil talent of Willem Dafoe. The Doctor Doom I remember was a badass. Here, McMahon turned him into a pussy. He didn't even give the group a challenge physically. They beat him in like 10 minutes. Hell, Sharon Stone gave Halle Berry a better fight in Catwoman. I'm not sure whether to blame McMahon for not changing his acting under the hood and mask, or Tim Story for not telling him to. Doom is an angry person who hates Reed for many reasons. I didn't feel any anger. He was just like any typical villain who wants power. McMahon could have made the character more convincing, but it didn't happen. Without a strong villain, what's the point?

The CGI was also a mixed bag. The invisibility stuff and Johnny's Human Torch look were awesome. The Thing's rock costume was also very believable and I'm glad they didn't go computer generated with it. Very well done work there. But Mr. Fantastic...what happened? Horrible CGI work. It was so fake looking to watch him extend his body. Especially during the battle with Doom in the Baxter Building. It was very cartoonish and convincingly unrealistic against the realistic backdrop. I heard this wasn't improved upon in the sequel, which is sad, because that's the biggest beef I had with the film visually.

If you need to watch any version of the Fantastic Four, watch the much better Extended Cut. 20 minutes of footage were added and it really helps the film. It brings much needed character development to the thin plot and creates a film that flows better cohesively. Especially the whole Alicia Masters/Thing relationship. In the theater version, Kerry Washington's blind Alicia is barely in the film. But the Extended Version gives her a much needed bigger role, and we get to see the admiration between the two characters, making the fact that they're together as a couple at the end of the film much more believable and understandable. We also get a semi-spoiler about Alicia's step-father, The Puppet Master, who would turn out to be one of the Fantastic Four's classic villains [I smell sequel]. There are also scenes that extend Doom's manipulation of the team members, Johnny's realization that he should use his powers to help people, and Reed and Sue's relationship. Why these scenes were cut out, I have no idea. But if this version was released, it wouldn't have been as panned as it was. These scenes give the film a much needed heart and soul that was very much missing from the original version.

Fantastic Four isn't a bad film, but it's not a great one either. But all in all, it's very watchable and I did chuckle at some of the humor. The extended cut is extremely recommended as it's the better version of the two versions. This is just a mindless, popcorn film that non-F4 fans will enjoy. The fans, however, will probably come away disappointed. Fun, but not at all fantastic.

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