OK, let’s get this straight right off. Fantastic Four is no Spider-Man 2, a marvelous marriage of a classic comic-book tale, incredible special effects and a powerful underlying storyline that speaks to an inner-most urge of every person to be a hero.
And, given the structure of last summer’s hit The Incredibles, the characters of Fantastic Four may seem familiar, unoriginal and redundant, especially to those who haven’t read the longest-running Marvel Comic Book series and weren’t around for the 1970s Saturday-morning cartoon show.
And it’s definitely not fantastic. Granted, there are some very nice special-effects, but there’s little the average movie-goer will remember after emerging into the summer heat that rivals the coolness of the theater’s air-conditioning.
But, judging the film on what it seems to aspire to be, a B movie that provides a couple hours of diversion during the dog days of summer, Fantastic Four achieves its minimalist purpose. This isn’t going to revive Hollywood’s slumping box office, but neither will it disappear from your local Cineplex after a week.
The plot is simple. An experiment in space led by Reed goes awry, giving super-human powers to four scientists and the experiment’s financial backer, who emerges as the film’s antagonist. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), dubbed Mr. Fantastic, is able to bend and stretch his body. Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), the Invisible Woman, can disappear and generate force fields. Her brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), the Human Torch, can fly and serve as the conduit for Super-Nova-like heat. Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), the Thing, has incredible strength with skin that takes the shape of armadillo-like plates. For the project’s financier, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), the botched result leads to financial ruin and provides motivation for using his new abilities for power and vengeance.
The PG-13 film as a whole is pretty predictable:
- A love triangle between the principle protagonist, the female lead and the villain.
- Having lost the girl and his business, the billionaire industrialist seeks world domination.
But the film has a few things to offer.
Each of the Fantastic Four tries to understand his or her new powers and wrestle with questions over responding to this new sense of destiny. At its worst, Susan Storm can’t deal with the choice of needing to be naked for her gift to work. At its best, Ben Grimm faces questions about what he values in life when he experiences rejection from the person who he thought was his loving wife over the Thing he has become.
Another interesting subplot is Johnny Storm’s reckless personality, the relationship of that to the super hero persona, and his characterization as a cross between shameless huckster and a shrewd image consultant in marketing Fantastic Four to their world. Super heroes do take risks, but in Storm’s approach the cost is never ascertained before making the leap of faith.
By contrast, Reed Richards is an over-cautious perfectionist, whose professional and personal failures are rooted in his inability to take anything on faith or move forward without complete certainty in the outcome.
Those instances illustrate best why the Fantastic Four worked as team – just as the individual Beatles never achieved the success resulting from their synergy as a group. And just as the church, the body of Christ, is incomplete without each part fulfilling its necessary function.
In a similar way, Fantastic Four as a film fulfills its necessary function – a temporary relief from a hot summer afternoon, a soon-to-be cheap DVD rental, a dose of entertainment that will do little to occupy anyone’s thoughts beyond its 123-minute running time. Others, perhaps, may think it should have achieved something more. I’ll let you ponder that question further, because I’ve already given it more thought than the movie sought or merits.