Fantastic Four (2005)
(Release Date: July 8, 2005)

But I haven't seen Fantastic 1, 2, or 3 yet!

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Comic Magazine... Oh, I mean, CRITIC!

It was more than twenty years ago when, looking through a stack of my Dad's old books, I found an unread copy of a book called The Fantastic Four, with the subtitle of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine". Sure, this must have been an accident because my dad generally cared as much about comics as Jacques Chirac cares about the Anaheim Angels. Opening it, I found that this book was actually a collection of the first six issues of the original FF comics in four full colors as originally presented by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! Back then, "Trade Paperbacks" weren't sold at comic shops, and in fact, few of such stores even existed. Therefore, this book was about the size and thickness of your average John D. Macdonald bestselling Paperback.

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And from the first page, I thrilled to the adventures in that book. I already loved comics, and knew of the Four, however, this was different. This was the last ditch of Lee and Kirby before they became the Comicdom answer to Lennon and McCartney. The book was edgy and somewhat dark, with the "heroes" appearing to do some decidedly villainous things, and once you knew who the good guys actually were, they still didn't wear any traditional superhero costumes until around Issue #3 (essentially because the idea of "normal" clothes being impervious to flame, stretching for miles and turning invisible wouldn't cut it for long). In their origin story alone, four friends break into a military base, and steal a NASA style rocket ship, are bombarded by cosmic rays and return to Earth as four different kinds of Monsters. Reed Richards, the scientist, had become Mr. Fantastic, "able to mold himself into any shape". His girlfriend, Susan Storm had become The Invisible Girl, no matter how much Fan Boys wanted to look at her! Her baby brother Johnny had become The Human Torch, a living fireball. And then there was Test Pilot Ben Grimm whose street-punk lingo belied his rich education. His tough guy inside made its way out and his flesh turned to stone, making him The Ever-Lovin' Blue Eyed Thing!

They were a family, of course, and fought like family... with their super powers, and when villains like "The Mole Man", "The Skrulls", "Miracle Man" weren't attacking at will, the Four were attacking each other, burning pictures, beating the crap out of each other and even running away, leaving only the "Fantastic Three" (we won't talk about "Herbie the Robot"). And then, of course, family tensions got even worse when Sue's erstwhile love interest, "The Submariner", and Reed's former college buddy, now the deformed and insane "Doctor Doom" in his great armored visage popped up to throw disharmony into absolute anti-harmony. Yeah, okay, I'm a fan-boy!

Now, after Cartoon Revivals and a lame, ne'er released Corman flick, The Fantastic Four are finally given Big Screen treatment, with a big budget to boot. This condensed and amalgamated story, is all about the Fantastic Four and Doctor Victor Von Doom... but behind the scenes, it's all about the Benjamins. Yep, Comic Movies have become a Cash Cow, and the latest in the milking trough is the FF.

The Fantastic Four film is heavy on the eye-candy and fills its plot holes with laughs, and in that respect it's great fun. However, this film also greatly abbreviates much of what makes the Fantastic Four interesting, and transposes many ideas for the sake of convenience and teenage fun. Make no mistake, textual accuracy here is almost a complete Retcon. Folks, it's about as accurate as Enron's 2001 Accounting Books! As a movie in and of itself, though, it can be fun, can be interesting, but also can be silly, campy and downright illogical from second to second.

Ioan Gruffudd brings us Reed Richards, a handsome, young scientist of indeterminate accent down on his luck, who, with good buddy Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, more Shield than Thing) is forced to ask a wealthy old friend for help. Victor Von Doom is here portrayed by Julian McMahon, that goofy guy from Charmed. He's only too happy to help Reed reach outer space to study the effects of Cosmic Rays, for 75% of the profits. That slice of Humble Pie comes with a side order of crow, seeing as how Reed's ex, Sue Storm is coming along for the ride, as is her obnoxious younger brother Johnny.

While Johnny (Chris Evans) is the wise crackin' hot head, X-Games womanizer, clearly in the film to bring in a certain Teenage demographic, Jessica Alba brings us Sue, and I'd sue if anyone else was cast. Of course, she's in this film to attract a certain demographic as well... and Cha-ching! It works! If the entire rest of the movie had sucked I couldn't give this one a Dog just based on her looks alone!

Naturally, you can guess what happens next. Those cosmic rays bring out the super powers in all of them (including Doom, this time), and the Fantastic Four is born. Director Tim Story takes his sweet time bringing the powers out, of course, and does it in exceedingly comical ways, padding out the holes in the script (by Marvel regular Michael France and Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost) with comedy, laughs, and one visually stunning scene of Alba in her little bra and panties!

Still, once it finally becomes a Super Hero flick, it's easy to simply get lost in the battles and silly, over the top victory cries. Never once did I forget that I was watching style without substance, and the Fantastic Four movie is more of a Jolly Rancher than a good steak dinner, but hey, I'm a vegetarian anyway.

Like most movies lately, casting for cash is much more important than casting for accuracy. While Alba is fantastic as The Invisible Woman, and fills out her unstable molecule costume with jaw dropping beauty, Ioan still seems to be working hard to sound like a young American than feeling comfortable in the nerdy scientist role of Mr. Fantastic. Chris Evans has the hot-head (no pun intended) of Johnny "The Human Torch" Storm down pat, but misses many of the more human elements of the character. And, while Chiklis doesn't look much like Ben Grimm, he certainly has the attitude and mannerisms of The Thing perfectly portrayed.

The hardest to swallow here is that Anakin Skywalker meet's Oz' Tin Man villain. Yeah, I mean McMahon's goof-ball Dr. Doom. While McMahon is actually a fine enough actor, Doom is whitewashed here into a metallic mutant, not a brilliant armored monarch. The subject of home country "Latveria" is relegated to a mere mention twice, and McMahon sounds like a typical Los Angeles actor, rather than an Eastern European whom John Byrne described as sounding "Like Arnold Schwarzenegger". Why nitpick this? Can't he use his own accent? Sure, kids, sure, but mark me, he isn't using his own accent anyway. McMahon is Australian, the son of a former Prime Minister. If he can sound like he's from L.A., can't he sound like he's from Eastern Europe? By molding the character so malleably into the story and mostly ignoring what makes Doom such a great villain, the real character is sanitized out of existence to the point that he's, really, nothing special. Just a standard villain filling a space any stock baddie in a black hat could fill.

I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what a flying man on fire would look like, nor am I quite sure what a human arm stretched for ten feet looks like either, but I can't help but wonder why the special effects were so unconvincing. When Johnny's in full "FLAME ON!" mode he looks like an action figure, and Reedy-boy's stretches truly succeed in stretching the old imagination. The Thing's missing brow-line aside, he sort of looked more like a big orange turd than the "Mister Bricks" we know and love so well. Everywhere you turn you see another acceptable, but still lacking effect, and while these thankfully exceed the previous attempt at a film franchise (I'll speak nothing on this), it's still notable that so much money bought so little. But again, with Alba in the film, who needs special effects?

In short, it's not bad, in fact, it's great fun, and there are enough laughs, silly pop musical interludes, and looks at Jessica to maintain your attention, especially if you're fifteen. However, the story is truly nonsensical, and Producer Driven "EVENTS" trump the flow of the story every time (check out some of the "choices" the characters make... you'll see what I mean). So, because it's better than I thought it would be, but not as good as I'd hoped it would be, I'm throwing out a big fat Three Stars out of Five for Fantastic Four. It's not Fantastic, or Incredible... but it's definitely going to make plenty of money... it was calculated to do so. Say, ever notice that Tim Story is a film director and Roger Director is a story writer? Shouldn't that be the other way ar-... Never Mind. So until Cosmic Ray Storms cause Roger Director and Tim Story to exchange jobs, I'll see you in the next reel, and then, IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!

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Fantastic Four (2005) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is responsible for the content of this whole web site and the fact that he knows who Molecule Man, Annihillus, Malice, Hate Monger, Psycho-Man, and your Mother are in real life.
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