Fantastic Four

Before X-Men there was Spider-Man, and before Spider-Man there was the Fantastic Four. This was the first of many Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creations that helped revolutionize the comic book industry. Unlike the god-like heroes of the DC Universe, Marvel Comics had characters that were just like everybody else. Spider-man was a nerdy teenager. The X-Men were outcasts, hated because they were different. And the Fantastic Four was one big dysfunctional family that just happened to have superpowers. As Corporate America grows increasingly savvy to the potential profits of synergy, they are leveraging the large bank of characters in the comic book universe with an eye towards turning them into lucrative franchises. But with so many comic book adaptations coming into theaters, many are focusing more on profits than on stories.

Fantastic Four is a case in point. It is like the first issue of a comic book series. It just sets up the team for potential sequels. Normally, a sequel would be the result of a successful first film, but those days are gone. This trend is really getting annoying. And because of this, the plot of Fantastic Four is marginal at best. There's not much of anything here, except for lots of cheeky familial bickering, extreme stunts, and big explosions. Screenwriters Michael France (The Punisher, Hulk) and Mark Frost (The Repair Shop, Storyville) focus a bit too much on the family dynamic, forgetting everything else. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud, King Arthur, Black Hawk Down) is the hyper-intelligent scientist who is an emotional idiot. His ex-girlfriend Susan Storm (Jessica Alba, Sin City, Honey) is...uh...gorgeous. Her brother Johnny (Chris Evans, Cellular, The Perfect Score) is a hot head interested in little more than women, fame, and money, and Richards' friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, Do Not Disturb, Carlo's Wake) is his pilot/bodyguard.

Inventing things does not quite pay the bills. Richards is studying the effect of cosmic storms on human DNA, and appeals to his old college friend Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, Meet Market, Chasing Sleep), a fabulously wealthy businessman. Doom owns a space station, and Richards wants to use it for his research. Storm works for Doom, and her reappearance unsettles Richards. She broke up with him two years ago after his inability to express his feelings for her. All five head up into space, and are hit by the cosmic storm, which arrived earlier than calculated.

Director Tim Story (Taxi, Barbershop) spends most of the film having all five adjust to their powers. Richards (Mr. Fantastic) can stretch his body. Susan Storm (The Invisible Woman) can turn invisible. Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) can ignite his entire body, and Grimm (The Thing) changes permanently into a huge rocky behemoth. The emotional effect is worst on Grimm, who finds himself hated because of how he looks. He will do whatever he can to become human again. The four become the latest cause celebre, while Doom's company falters and his personal fortune tanks. Doom is also slowly transforming, but he keeps this a secret from everybody else.

Eventually, Doom decides to exact his revenge on the Fantastic Four. Not only did they ruin him financially, but Richards is also winning back the heart of Susan Storm. But getting to this point takes a long time, and there's not much in the meantime. Story doesn't necessarily do anything bad; it's just not that good. To their credit, the filmmakers did try to take the superhero film in a different direction, but the sitcom route did not work as well as they hoped. Yeah, all of their superpowers mimic their personal quirks, but Brad Bird did the same thing to much better effect in The Incredibles, which ironically was in part an homage to the Fantastic Four.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some suggestive content.

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