There’s a prevailing theory that all you have to do to make a great comic book movie is keep it as close to the source material as you can and everything should turn out peachy. Other films have proved this line of thinking wrong by substantially changing things around and still being a great film, but no other comic adaptation has achieved the opposite effect than 20th Century Fox’s 2005 attempt at Marvel’s first family. By this I mean that the script gets a whole lot of the details correct while still producing a finished product that impressively sucks cosmic balls.
Bankrupt uber scientist Reed Richards has a plan to utilise cosmic winds for various science-y uses to benefit mankind (somehow) but needs to convince rival Victor Von Doom to let him use his space station to realise his goal. Von Doom agrees but as he’s more into “fast food strip mall science” (whatever the Hell THAT means) and because his surname is Von fucking Doom, he obviously plans to take advantage of anything Reed finds. Thankfully along for the ride are Reed’s gruff best friend Ben Grim, his ex Sue Storm and her brother, the hot-headed Johnny (this time all explained away as making them scientists or pilots instead of it being the comic’s hideously ill-advised family road trip to space) who are all dosed with cosmic rays and upon return to terra firma find they have varied and fantastic powers. Reed has the power to harness awful CGI to allow him to stretch any part of his body, Sue can hijack the FX team behind Hollow Man to turn sort of invisible while being able to create blatantly visible invisible force fields, Johnny can light on fire like a Vietnamese monk on a 1963 news reel and Ben tragically turns into a bright orange rubbery rock man. While the four explore their new found abilities with varied emotions from excitement to depression, Von Doom finds that he himself is transforming too, his skin becoming the consistency of metal which gifts him with the skill to manipulate electricity. It also gifts him the skill of becoming an out and out fruitcake so he pulls on a metal mask and a green cape and attempt to eradicate the so-called “Fantastic Four” for no other reason than that’s what supposed to happen in a movie like this and so the movie shuffles through the usual superhero tropes to it’s predictable conclusion.
It’s tough to think of a superhero film of recent times that is quite so badly miscast as this one. Oh, not Michael Chiklis, he’s perfectly cast and emoting his ass off through awkward looking full body prosthetics and easily playing the greatest Thing to date. And not future Captain America to be Chris Evans either, who takes the potentially unlikeable Johnny Storm and infuses him with a sweet, frat boy exuberance. No, I mean the three other leads the film boasts, the first of which is Ioan Gruffuud as an oddly clueless, socially inept Mr Fantastic who plays him far too weak to credibly play as someone who can lead this band of well meaning freaks. Next is Jessica Alba who portrays one of Marveldom’s strongest female characters as an insufferable nag who has to endure frequent jokes taking advantage of how “hot” she is and who manages to blow a third of her line readings making any cool moment she has null and void. And finally we have Julian McMahon who at the time was pretty big thanks to the show Nip/Tuck, who elects to play possibly Marvel’s greatest villain as – you guessed it – exactly like his character in Nip/Tuck before he’s all but swallowed up by Doom’s signature mask. Give thanks to Kerry Washington in the small but pivotal role of blind sculptress Alicia Masters who tackles her potentially silly romance with the depressed Thing with a dignity the script probably doesn’t deserve. In fact the worse match to the material here is director Tim Story who truly seems out of his depth with the scale of the production which ultimately make everything seem cheap and compromised. However, to give him his due, every now and then the film pops a scene direct from the books right in front of you and you can’t help but smirk (the textbook moments when The Thing flies off the handle and Mr. Fantastic has to wrap around him to subdue his temper tantrum is recreated to a tee) but the bad ultimately outweighs the good by a comfortable margin.
As it plods along, the film attempts to be more exciting than it really is by chucking in so many unnecessary action sequences involving extreme sports you start to question whether or not Red Bull had a say in production, but the numerous attempts to seem “cool” by randomly including scenes involving snow boarding or stunt biking just activate a cringe reflex that can’t be subdued. And yet when you get to the ACTUAL superhero action scenes, you kind of get why they’ve padded things out so much. A rescue mission involving a car crash on a bridge (which they cause) is so clumsily handled it almost beggars belief with shockingly bad CGI, clunky timing and an excruciatingly unnecessary bit where Sue’s powers malfunction just so we can see Alba in her underwear that would even seem crass in a Carry On film.
The grand finale disappoints too, as you patiently wait and watch each member of the team square off against Dr Doom separately, hoping for the battle to kick off fully and for the team to band together as one, but when they do it’s all over as Doom is taken down with the groups first and only manuver and that’s it. It’s deeply unsatisfying and is the last straw for a movie that was standing precariously on thin ice to begin with.
A fantasic chore…