Fantastic Four is less than fantastic, but it is four times better than the first movie attempt. As I said before, the Fantastic Four may be the most important Marvel superheroes ever created. Without Marvel’s First Family, we never would have had the Silver Age of Comic Books. Stan Lee was close to leaving Marvel, but his wife persuaded him to make the comic he wanted before exiting. The Fantastic Four #1 debuted in 1961 with the collaboration of long-time artist Jack Kirby. The team was an unexpected success that changed superheroes forever. By having no secret identity, no costumes (until issue #3), and the realistic bickering you’d expect from a family.
The Fantastic Four are actually my personal favorite superhero team and second favorite Marvel comic to read when I was a kid (after Spider-Man). So I was already well aware of who they were before I turned 10 in 2005. It’s the fun team dynamic and colorful adventures that I loved more than anything. I was very enthusiastic to discover a big-budget movie was finally being made. Unfortunately, Marvel foolishly sold their rights to 20th Century Fox for the third time in a row. After already owning X-Men and Daredevil. Since the unreleased film was strictly made to keep the rights, Fox quickly jumped in to make a real movie. Although lower quality directors that eventually became Tim Story, weren’t a good sign. Despite seeing Fantastic Four 2 times in theaters, there’s a noticeable lack of big screen presence to the movie…
Fantastic Four won me over the moment I saw the first teaser. Which was the first trailer I saw On-Demand. The quick flashes of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, the Thing, and even Doctor Doom were enough to hook me. My brother and I had action figures, got all 5 toys from Burger King, and I even subscribed to receive 13 issues of Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four is one of the last Marvel movies I enjoyed without giving it a second thought. I ended up watching it more on FX and that made it feel more TV quality than they probably intended. A big reason is the fact that none of the stars were big names in Hollywood. Almost all of them were more known for TV or lesser roles in movies.
Welsh actor with the difficult to pronounce name Ioan Gruffudd, had a starring role on a British series and limited movie appearances to his name. Jessica Alba was rapidly becoming a sex symbol after starring in the series Dark Angel and appearing in another comic book adaptation the same year. Long before he was Captain America, Chris Evans was that guy from Not Another Teen Movie. Michael Chiklis was almost exclusively known for his role on The Shield. As was Julian McMahon for Nip/Tuck. Since Kerry Washington’s most notable TV role was still a ways away, she was closest to having a big screen presence. Fantastic Four may feel less cinematic, but it’s nothing compared to Fox’s previous “effort” with Elektra. The main theme is alright, but it always sounded too similar to the Spider-Man theme.
The opening follows scientist Reed Richards and his best friend/muscle Ben Grimm. Reed seeks funding for a space project from the always ominously named Victor von Doom. Doom is dating Reed’s ex-girlfriend Susan Storm. Sue brings her brother Johnny Storm along for the expedition where they’re struck by cosmic rays just like the comics. Unlike the comics, the four aren’t just astronauts making an unauthorized rocket flight to the stars. Reed uses the space shuttle of his college rival Victor. Who attends the mission to test the effects of cosmic rays on biological life. Since the movie needs to explain Doom’s origin sooner rather than later. Although it’s a crucial moment in the comics, the team doesn’t discover their powers after crash landing on Earth. Instead they all wake up in a secure hospital where they discover their powers one by one.
Reed is the smartest man in the Marvel universe, but Gruffudd’s scientific dialogue always sounds forced. He’s also about 10 years younger than his comic counterpart. Which is why the cosmic rays are what gives Reed his white temples. Reed gains the ability to stretch his body like rubber. Something live-action special effects can never make look convincing no matter what. The CGI always looks cartoony. Sue rightfully gains the intelligence she received later in the comics, but it’s difficult to take seriously from Alba. As one of the hottest celebrities, the movie finds any excuse to get her out of her clothes. Not that I’m complaining. Sue gains the ability to turn invisible and project force fields. Something CGI is equipped to handle.
Johnny is a major highlight, because Evans perfectly captures his youthful rebellion and womanizing. Along with a sexy nurse, New York is filled with attractive women. Johnny fully embraces the ability to create & catch fire. Which is where most of the CGI budget went. Ben experiences the pain of becoming a monster so well that Stan Lee called Chiklis’ performance his favorite in a Marvel movie. While it makes sense for the closeness of the team, creating the Thing with makeup was a bad call. He’s not big enough and his orange rocks are duller with less prominent eyebrows. Like the comics, the team has a family dynamic. Reed and Sue’s relationship is explored in a lot of detail. If only Gruffudd and Alba could sell it better. Sue and Johnny bicker like siblings, but it’s hard to buy Alba and Evans as brother and sister. Since Alba is a very hispanic woman given blonde hair & blue eyes.
The strained relationship Ben has with the rest of the team is at least well represented. As is his sense of humor. Ben finds love again after meeting his blind sculptor love interest Alicia Masters. Apart from the race change, Kerry Washington is a convincing highlight. The Thing and Alicia’s relationship can be seen more in the Extended Cut. Which also contains a reference to H.E.R.B.I.E. and Reed stretching his face to resemble Wolverine. Fox may have dropped the ball on the X-Men costumes, but at least the blue costumes the Fantastic Four wear look accurate. The team gains celebrity status after saving people on the Brooklyn Bridge. Which leads them to set up shop in the famous Baxter Building. Where Stan Lee has one of his best cameos as mailman Willie Lumpkin. His only cameo as a comic character. Although it’s faithful to the comics, the Fantastic Four doing nothing but sit around and explore their powers is one of the biggest problems with the movie. There’s a scientific study, family hijinks, Johnny doing extreme stunts, media coverage, dating, and fighting amongst the team. All more than an hour in without any superhero fighting whatsoever.
Doctor Doom is the greatest villain in Marvel comics, but McMahon doesn’t come close to replicating that. Doom is supposed to be a power hungry foreign dignitary from Latveria with the powers of technology and mysticism. Here Victor pines for Sue, loses his company, becomes jealous of his archenemies, has a metallic facial scar, and creates generic electricity. Although it could have very easily been PG, Victor shoots holes though people just to warrant a PG-13. Victor’s plan is to manipulate the machine Reed’s been working on to cure Ben. The metal mask and green hood Doctor Doom wears is like the comics, but it’s ruined by a weird trench coat. After curing Ben, Doom goes after each remaining team member. Mr. Fantastic is frozen, the Human Torch finally says “Flame on!” and out flies a missile, the Invisible Woman is subdued by Doom, but the Thing returns in time to say “It’s clobberin’ time.”
The Thing and Doom take their fight to the streets where we finally see some action. The New York climax makes good use of all the powers of the Fantastic Four. Until Doctor Doom becomes a statue. In the end, Doom is shipped off to Latveria, the team have a party in their honor, Reed proposes to Sue, Ben is happy with Alicia, and Johnny creates a “4” in the air. Fantastic Four may be bland with lame attempts at humor and barely any fighting, but I actually feel like Tim Story wasn’t too far off with his interpretation. Almost like the MCU if their winning formula had the opposite effect. A genius level scientist, frequent jokes, a team that has arguments, a misunderstood monster, Chris Evans in his first of many comic book roles, Fox just couldn’t make it work back then. It didn’t help that The Incredibles already did their job way better the year before. But Fantastic Four is still a childhood pleasure that’s the only version that comes close to being watchable.
Followed by: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer