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8/9/15

FANTASTIC FOUR (2005) - REVIEW


Thinking about it, 2005 was a pivotal year for comic book movies.

The first Fantastic Four movie was released after the first wave of modern superhero films reached its peak with the likes of superior sequels Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2, the same year that the gritty Batman Begins came out to reclaim the Dark Knight's validity and just before further dire sequels pretty much killed those franchises until Iron Man several years later.

It should have been no surprise, then, that the film was both very much a product of that first wave in spirit and yet also the start of the subgenre's decline quality-wise.

The Fantastic Four were always a lighter, more colourful bunch so making a live-action version of the comics would require some pretty high-end special effects to pull off the characters' unusual abilities and a script sharp enough to not let the film devolve into farce. With no Roger Corman in charge this time and an audience who accepted Spider-Man as a legitimate live-action hero, the film had every chance to succeed in what it was trying to do.

Shockingly, casting Jessica Alba did not help.

While the overall casting for the film was admittedly decent with a pre-Captain America Chris Evans having one heck of a good time as Johnny "Human Torch" Storm, Michael Chiklis a spot-on choice for Ben "The Thing" Grimm, Ioan Gruffudd selling the smarty pants/elastic thing rather well and Julian McMahon being appropriately unfriendly as Victor "Nip/Tuck" Von Doom, the casting of Alba as The Invisible Girl remains one of this franchise's biggest no-no's. There's a just a serious lack of emotion to her performance that's really distracting and her line reads are never convincing, bordering on funny-bad at times.

You could argue the film's plot spends too much time focusing on the Fantastic Four trying to get rid of their powers instead of being proper superheroes but that part actually works, somehow. The idea that they (minus Johnny Storm, of course, who is loving it) would see their powers as a disease before realising the positive aspects is interesting. Plus you still get a very entertaining action scene on a bridge and a big finish. Dr Doom, however, is left mostly walking around looking angry, killing the odd dude until he finally becomes the film's main villain in the last 10 minutes of the movie, which feels a bit rushed.

The special effects are probably as good as they could have been 10 years ago and although a few shots look dopey by today's standards, they're, for lack of a better word, OK. Having The Thing be a guy in a costume was a gamble and audiences either appreciated it following a fully CGI Hulk in the 2003 film or just dismissed it as a rubbery mess, it still remains debatable today. Really, the film's biggest shortcoming is its script: there are just too many corny in-jokes and cheesy lines, not to mention a misguided emphasis on the Sue Storm/Reed Richards/Victor Von Doom love triangle which belongs more in an episode of Sunset Beach than it does in a big-screen superhero flick.

Also Jessica Alba is terrible.

Not sure if I mentioned that.

Overall, with the new Fantastic Four doing very poorly at the box-office with a grittier mood and a younger cast, one wonders why that reboot decided to change what actually worked in this 2005 outing. Sure it was a bit silly, very flawed and didn't live up to the superhero films that preceded it (and the comics) but its colourful, upbeat vibe, the action, the characters and (most of) the casting did make this a fun, often charming popcorn movie and, in the end, isn't that what you want?

Uneven but likeable.

The Incredibles still did it better a year prior, though.

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