Fantastic Four

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The title of this movie is at least half accurate. There are four of them.

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Fantastic Four is another super-hero inspired movie from the folks at Marvel Comics, who were also responsible for the Spider-Man movies. This matters because Fantastic Four slavishly apes the basic plot of the first Spider-Man, only without the genuine emotion and the heartfelt connection to the characters. The cast of Four is as generic, clichéd and unmemorable as the cast of Spider-Man was irreplaceable.

If I’ve got this straight, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is a brilliant but financially incompetent scientist. He has this concept of studying the reaction of plants to exposure to cosmic storm. No one will fund the project but billionaire Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who’s currently engaged to Reed’s ex-squeeze Sue Storm (Jessica Alba). Along for the ride is Reed’s friend and pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), who’s forced to play second fiddle on the mission to Sue’s brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), one of those annoyingly cocky people in dire need of an ass-kicking from a biker gang. Unfortunately, there are no biker gangs in this movie.

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On the mission, the whole team, including Von Doom, is exposed directly to the cosmic storm. This modifies their DNA in a different way. Reed can stretch like a rubber band. Sue can turn herself invisible. Johnny can set himself on fire with no ill effects. Von Doom turns into lightning rod. Supposedly their transformations reflect their personalities, as if any of these characters actually had one.

That’s not entirely fair. Michael Chiklis’ Ben garners a fair amount of pathos out of his transformation into a super-strong, hideous rock-like creature. I think this sympathy comes primarily from Chiklis’ performance rather than the quality of the writing. He seems to be the only actor here with the ability to rise above this kind of mundane material. The other male actors are mostly forgettable and Ms. Alba’s performance depends almost entirely on the snugness of her costume.

Without characters to root for or even a villain that’s even remotely interesting, Fantistic Four is loud, shiny, pretty to look at and ultimately empty.

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