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fantastic four

It had to happen eventually. With all the comic book properties being gobbled up like marbles during a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, the A-list has been whittled down to a select few and now the replacements have been called upon. I’m not saying that the Fantastic Four are not up to par with X-Men and Spider-Man, but those films enjoy such a deep following from their fans, you just didn’t see the kind of press and pure hype for Four as you did for Spider-Man.

Thankfully for us no one decided to come dressed up as The Thing, or worse, the skin-tight clad Mr. Fantastic.

Having never been a fan of the comic book series in which the movie was based, I’m basing this review on the theatrical merits of the script, characters, and storyline and not how well they preserve, or change, the comic book counterparts.

In the film version, the Fantastic Four are formed when five a astronaut, scientist, pilot, corporate mastermind, and a hottie journey to a space station orbiting the earth for a series of experiments as a cosmic storm comes our way. In the vein of every other movie, something goes wrong and all five are exposed to the deadly radiation, only they don’t die, they manifest superpowers. Brother and sister team Sue (Jessica Alba) and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) become the Invisible Woman and Human Torch, respectively, while mission leader Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) becomes the stretchable Mr. Fantastic. Rounding out the four is astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) checking in as the rock-solid The Thing. To add an antagonistic foil for the four Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) seeks revenge on his former schoolmate for turning him into a metal-clad freak and taking his girl.

Fantastic Four takes a more comedic tone with the entire film rather than the dark X-Men, semi-lighthearted Spider-Man, or brutally realistic Punisher. From the very beginning you know the film is going to be a fun ride providing enough one-liners (mostly from Evans’ Torch) to keep you chuckling and enough action to keep you entertained.

Still, there are some glaring problems in the way the film is executed. Director Tim Story may not be the ideal choice for a director (especially after Taxi), but with the script he was given, at least he tried. One of the first real problems you come across is that the villain just isn’t that menacing. McMahon does a great job bringing the obviously underwritten role to the screen in grand fashion but the film seems to concentrate more on the conflict between the Fantastic Four rather than with Doom. That may be okay to do in the second or third movie of a franchise (a la Spider-Man) but after being introduced to these characters no sooner than 30 minutes ago, I don’t want to see them about to duke it out. This holds the relationship between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm as an exception because that’s where all the films entertainment comes from.

You can also see why Fox nearly freaked when they saw Disney’s The Incredibles as several of the superpowers are identical here (invisible girl with force fields, nearly indestructible strong guy, and stretch-inclined person). While the powers themselves are pretty cool, they just don’t compare to Wolverine’s claws or Spidey’s webslingers.

The film’s climax comes off rather weak as well, lasting no more than a few minutes, and the “everything will be all right” ending rubs you the wrong way. Grimm had wanted to be freed from his craggy prison since it encompassed him, yet with a way out he merely lets it fall by the wayside, has a few drinks, and laughs it up.

I’m not going to rush and judge the franchise by its lead off film, but where other Marvel properties like Spider-Man, X-Men, and Blade managed to make a huge mark with well written, well directed firsts, Fantastic Four does not. Chock it up to stagnating in development hell for years, an inconsistent director, or a lame-duck villain, but I’m hoping the sequel offers up more of a film than an eye-candy spectacular peppered with comedy.