It's been a while since I've ventured into review land, but for the first time in a long time, I find myself needing to say a little something that perhaps did not get said during this film's theatrical run. I'll begin by saying that by no means is Fantastic Four the greatest comic book adaption of all time. It would need quite a bit of work to equal such films as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men or even Tim Burton's Batman. But when all is said and done, I fear that many reviewers, (and perhaps because of them) many audience goers did not really appreciate what this film offers.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, this film ranked a 26% positive rating. That's pretty darn low. And I think misses the point of what one could take from the film. I readily admit that I am not schooled in the story of the Fantastic Four. I've always been an X-Men man myself. In fact, I know far more about Batman and Spiderman. I just did not read that many when I was a tyke. But I know the basic characters, and this film does a fair enough job in introducing them. Enough for a novice, anyway. Sure, the Fantastic Four Fanatic will have plenty to complain about, from what I understand...but how many of those exist? Most kids going to the movie theatre these days have little knowledge of this foursome. What they are looking for is an hour and thirty minutes worth of some back-story, some excitement and no little amount of special effects. I have to say - at least for myself - this film delivers.
First of all, we get the backstory and it does not require the entire film to tell it. But at the same time, it moves easily into a larger arc that includes that story and helps transform the characters into the ones that comic book readers would recognize. I enjoyed that, frankly. I hate it when the backstory is shortened to the point that all of the sudden, our hero is exactly as recalled from past reading or knowledge. But at the same time, I hate it when the entire first film turns into "the entire backstory" without giving one the thrills that they want to see when they see a superhero on screen. Superman did this the best, in my opinion. It straddled the line very closely, giving both the origin and the hero we all know. X-Men and X-Men 2 have been superb in providing non-stop origins while also providing that very same action. This film is no match for them. But it does the job in an entertaining fashion. Maybe it's because I'm not as knowledgable, as I said, but I can't really complain.
Our four heros go to space to do some scientific testing and come back changed. Their nemesis, Victor Von Doom, goes along and finds himself changed as well. By the end, they have come to appreciate their powers, some moreso than others, and we get a final "shoot out" between the major players. It's screenwriting 101, to be sure. But there is a reason it is taught that way - because it works. You leave the theatre entertained. Nothing more and nothing less. It's the reason I think The Mummy works. It's not Hitchcock...but it's good old fashioned fun. Not every film has to be Bergman or Kubrick.
The actors move from extremely well done to basically just screen fillers. This, I think, may be the most valid complaint of the film. Yes, Ioan Gruffudd is as stale as a four day old peice of toast as Mr. Fantastic, aka Reed Richards. There are a few flashes from him, but not many when one is talking about the leader of this band of four. It strains the imagination to think that he could be such. But then the film represents him as a reluctant leader, if not a reluctant man considering his relationship with Sue Storm, the eventual Invisible Woman. And though many have questioned Jessica Alba's performance, I am not prepared to do so. She's not Katherine Hepburn, folks. I'm not sure who thought she would be. But she sure is damn pretty to look at (surely a major factor in casting her for the role) and she brings plenty to the character as a heroin, and a strong one at that. Her years in TV's Dark Angel served her well in this role. If anything, that factor is under-used.
The shining lights for the actors are Sue's brother, Johnny Storm (played by Chris Evans) and especially Ben Grimm, aka The Thing (played with great ability by Michael Chiklis.) Evans brings much comedy and even a certain amount of counter-emotion as the Human Torch. When all others are rejecting their newfound powers, he wants to embrace them. His actions in doing so provide plenty of smiles and certainly their fair share of tension with the rest of the group. And Chiklis brings just the right tone to The Thing. He is certainly the most talented actor working in the group. And he uses that talent to show exactly what a hardship it is to be the only one that cannot hide their change (or for him - his deformity.) He was one of the few that actually got some credit for the work here, and it is deserved!
And rounding out the cast, we have Julian McMahon playing Victor Von Doom, aka Doctor Doom, the nemesis of the Fantastic Four. I enjoyed the performance even though there were a few over the top moments. But over the top moments have never kept me from enjoying a film. In fact, the only thing that saves a film like Natural Born Killers are the over the top performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey, Jr. When all is said and done, the transformation from the nasty Victor Von Doom to the evil Doctor Doom is done well. Not too much and not too little, if you ask me. The character, and the man playing him, work very well in the context of the film.
The special effects were perfectly fine for me, if not better than that. This is not WETA or ILM. But I did not find them obtrusive in the slightest. In fact, I thought the work done on The Thing to be outstanding. The showcases of each one's power looked perfectly believable and none of it drew me out of the action. Frankly, that's all I'm asking for with special effects. I think too many people today expect to be wowed that they give far too much acceptance to subpar effects. If it's not big and beautiful, it's "shite." Well pardon me for liking something a bit more subtle. And to me, the effects were just subtle enough to enjoy, and just big enough to appreciate.
When all is said and done with this film, I personally think they have done a fine job in providing a backstory and origin film that can easily be parlayed into a longer series. Of course this is what the producers want. Unfortunately, I wonder if the luke-warm reception it received will allow for that. Avi Arad has a mixed bag so far, as far as comic book adaptions are concerned. His Spiderman films have been outstanding, as have his X-Men films. Daredevil? Meh. The Punisher? I don't think so. The Blade films have done well, even if I don't quite get into it. The Hulk got much press, but I was not impressed. And Elektra was no great shakes, even with the beautiful Jennifer Garner. If anything though, I applaud the man for bringing these stories to film, and doing so in a way that is as faithful as possible to the original story and still entertaining enough for an hour and a half film. He ain't quitting any time soon. And I don't want him to. I'll have to see what he does with X-Men 3 to really know if he's in it just for the money or still has that commitment. But so far, even with his misses, the films have held audiences captive. What more is film supposed to do?
Art is there to either educate or entertain. The best works do both. But does that make those that succeed at just one a lessor piece? I could argue both sides of it, to be sure. But for film...or movies if it makes you feel any better...I just like to be entertained. If I get something else out of it...then that's gravy. After all, I really don't expect that much out of Hollywood anymore these days. That something more seems to only come around Oscar season. And even that seems to be falling short recently. But I'm no film snob. When I see a movie that entertains me, I'm happy. And this film did so. Deal with it. If you have not seen it, give it a try. You may very well be disappointed. But then again...you may actually be entertained. Don't say you haven't been warned. That is all.