By virtue of its intention and the level of effort put into it, 2005’s Fantastic Four film is already a step up from the 1994 Roger Corman schlockfest before you even watch it. Sure, it hasn’t exactly had its share of critical success, but the 2005 film at the very least attempted to be a superhero film that fans could enjoy. For the most part, it was a fair adaptation of the iconic team’s origin and it tries to have fun with the powers of its heroes and the inherent goofiness of the original comic. The 1994 film on the other hand was worse than a blatant cash grab: it was never meant to be released. Its only ambition was to claw into the film rights of those characters for another ten years and to avoid putting even a modicum of effort into the production or its story. It goes without saying that any Fantastic Four movie will turn out better than a no budget loophole to a rights contract. Now, as to exactly how much better the 2005 one is…..it’s debatable.
Setting aside some minute modernizations, 2005’s Fantastic Four provides a fairly faithful adaptation of the super-team’s origin story. Professor Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) approaches former classmate and rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) in order to fund an experiment with cosmic energy that could be the key to evolution. Doom agrees and the pair venture into space along with astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Richards’ former lover Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), and Sue’s pilot brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). As expected, the experiment goes awry: bathing the five in cosmic rays that alter their biological structure and grant them superpowers. Upon returning to Earth, the five of them struggle with their evolving powers and their relationships with one another as they are forced to live and work with each other. Eventually, Doom becomes consumed with his own murderous new powers and it’s up to Richards and company to pull together and defeat Doom as the Fantastic Four.
At its core, Fantastic Four is a character-driven story that should have probably been more plot-driven. That’s not to say character-driven stories are bad, as those are usually my favorite kinds of narratives to delve into. However, a balance between character and plot is optimal since the characters’ actions are more organic when coupled with a resonant narrative. Fantastic Four is burdened by a fluff piece of a plot that make every character shift feel undeveloped and forced. When you get right down to it, all the plot entails is five people getting superpowers so that the audience can watch them have superpowers. Certain character arcs and elements are present throughout the movie, but they are never adequately explored and feel like unnecessary padding for the film’s running time. Sure there are some fun spots, particularly with Chris Evans’ Human Torch with his impulsive personality and the flagrant demonstrations of his abilities standing as fairly clever and entertaining. But the other character relationships fell flat and even became derivative of other superhero films at times. This is especially apparent with Doctor Doom, whose character arc is nothing more but a Norman Osborn rip-off. The plot doesn’t connect or provide any meat for these characters: it just awkwardly shuffles them around like an amateurish puppeteer.
Not that the execution of this film is that much better than its script or conception, as a lot of the acting is lackluster enough on its own. Of the cast, I’d say that the most effective are the aforementioned Chris Evans alongside Michael Chiklis as they fit into the film’s comic book goofiness seamlessly compared to the rest. It is supremely evident just how much fun Chris Evans is having with his scenes and while the consequences of Johnny’s impetuousness are hardly addressed, Chris Evans himself suits Johnny’s brashness perfectly. As for Chiklis, he provides a lot of humanity for Ben Grimm despite his prosthetics and even manages to elevate the relative truncation of Ben Grimm’s tragic transformation into the grotesque Thing. However, the film meanders every time Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba are on screen, as they make the relationship between Reed and Sue irreconcilably bland. Gruffudd couldn’t look more bored with the technobabble his character has to spout out, and Jessica Alba fails to sell Sue Storm as even a semi-intelligent person, let alone a brilliant scientist on par with Richards or Doom. As a result, the romantic tension between the two of them feels repetitive and ultimately stands as little more than a footnote despite the storyline’s lengthy screen time. And as for Julian McMahon, he never goes far enough with Doctor Doom’s megalomaniacal side and just woodenly spouts all of his lines. Doctor Doom in name alone isn’t exactly subtle, so injecting even a tad of excitement into one of Marvel’s most iconic villains would be appreciated. Instead, we’re given a lame, cookie-cutter antagonist who can only lend himself to a boring attempt at a climax.
Occasionally, Fantastic Four can be a lot of fun. The visual effects have a few dated spots, such as Mr. Fantastic’s elastic abilities, but they are mostly well-done; the makeup for Ben Grimm especially. But there isn’t enough here in the story or characterizations to leave much of an impression and honestly, it feels bloated despite its relatively short running time. I appreciate the greater effort and sense of fun that the movie has with itself, but I can’t say that I’d recommend this over the greater majority of Marvel’s films.
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