Fox // 2005 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // September 18th, 2011
Fantastic. Fabulous. Fun.
Heady in the rush that followed the success of Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man, Marvel decided that it was time to get down to cases and bring their other flagship title to the big screen. However, whereas Columbia and Marvel spared no expense in bringing Webhead to the screen, Fox and Marvel took a low-rent approach, starting with a director (Tim Story) with no action film experience, and with a cast drawn primarily from the ranks of television. The results are middling at best, and it doesn't take long to figure out why while watching Fantastic Four (Blu-ray).
Actually, the cast is decent (Jessica Alba, Sin City) is a reach as a genetics specialist, but it's easier than buying Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist), production design is good, but not spectacular, special effects are OK, but not, er, fantastic. Part of the problem is that the movie is stripped down to an absolute minimum; while most origin movies clock in at over two hours, Fantastic Four has been pared down to 106 minutes. That might not seem like a big difference, but when you consider that the movie covers origins for five different characters -- it's just impossible to give them anything resembling development. The result is a set of cardboard cutouts moving about the screen. In the commentary track, the cast talks about there being a lot of character scenes that were cut; unfortunately, none of them are included.
The real problem is that the script sucks bloated donkey balls. It is one of the most uninspired paint-by-numbers scripts this side of Catwoman, featuring weak characterization and sloppy plotting. The entire subplot with Doom suffering a business setback and then taking vengeance had already done (better) three years earlier in Spider-Man. And then there's the scene in which Reed and Sue argue with Johnny outside, while offscreen, Ben crushes Johnny's car into a small ball. Without making any noise (so as not to spoil the comic reveal when Ben throws the ball down in front of Johnny). Then there's the quality of nurses hired by Doom after the accident. And then --
No, wait. This could go on forever. Let's just use one particularly egregious example. When the gang arrives on Doom's space station, Reed (Ioan Gruffudd, W.) says that the cosmic storm is seven hours away. OK, so, no need to rush. Then, without any warning, the storm is only nine minutes away. Either the storm was moving much faster than initially thought, or it accelerated dramatically. This conundrum raises some questions:
1. How can Reed -- supposedly one of the smartest people on the freaking planet -- possibly make such a stupid miscalculation?
2. Why doesn't anyone else on the station notice that the storm seems to be moving a hell of a lot faster than initially measured?
3. For that matter, why isn't someone monitoring the storm at all times?
The answer to all the questions is the same: Screw logic; we've got to hurry up and get these guys fantasticized and get on with the movie. Bottom line: it makes no sense whatsoever. That can more or less be applied to the movie as a whole. The moldy cherry on top of this ghastly confection is Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon, Nip/Tuck), who is transformed from one of the most shrewd and cunning of all Marvel villains to a low-rent Electro. There are a number of nice moments here and there, usually some reactions or some comic bits, but the story itself plods along on auto pilot, never really generating much in the way of suspense. Ben's fight with Doom is pretty impressive -- but the end is somewhat anticlimactic and poorly staged.
Acting is...decent. Ioan Gruffudd physically is a good choice for Richards, but can't quite manage the mealy mouthed dialogue he's given (His "I will not rest until" speech to Ben is particularly painful). Alba is wooden at times, but she looks fantastic in her uniform, and that's all they were going for anyway; making matters worse, she and Griffudd have little chemistry. Michael Chiklis (The Shield) and Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger) fare a little better, partly because they get some nice comic relief moments. It's also fun to compare Evans' brash performance here with his work as Captain America. Chiklis in particular does good work, effectively selling the pathos of the Thing's existence.
The MPEG-2 encoded video would get high marks if it were a standard DVD, but it's remarkably unremarkable as a blu-ray, with inconsistent blacks and a consistent softness, particularly in exteriors. The DTS-HD audio, on the other hand, is a winner, with effective mixing and use of the rear channels. The only extra of note is a commentary track with Chiklis, Griffudd, and Alba. They're having fun, but it seems a little forced, and for the most part, it's not particularly interesting. Chiklis offers some nice bits here and there -- for instance he was very health conscious during the shoot because he was terrified at the thought of wearing his Thing outfit with a cold or sinus infection. The packaging incorrectly states that the commentary also includes Chris Evans and Julian McMahon.
The best superhero movies all have one thing in common: A director with a certain visual flair and a sense for the theatrical. Donner, Raimi, and Nolan all imbued their films with a certain style -- scenes and shots from the movies leap into mind, unbidden. Even Bryan Singer, Joe Johnston, and Kenneth Branagh brought a larger-than-life perspective to the party. Fantastic Four has no distinctive style, and, with a particularly weak script, never really had a chance to become anything other than a generic superhero movie. These characters deserve so much better than that.
Guilty of a complete lack of inspiration.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG