Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unextraordinary Superhero Movie, Sigh. Again. Fantastic Four Isn’t Fantastic.

The Good: Moments of Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon's Acting
The Bad: Story is predictable and trite, Almost no character development, special effects, Other acting
The Basics: In an unremarkable superhero movie, superheroes barely rise to the occasion of defeating a late-to-the-movie villain.

The very least I want out of a movie based on a comic book is to be entertained. I want my heroes to be cool, though I usually like them dark, and I want my villains to be evil, compelling and intelligent enough to win or make it a fair fight. With Fantastic Four, I was not even entertained. To jump ahead to the bottom line, this movie was a serious disappointment.

Three scientists, a pilot and businessman go into space and are exposed to cosmic rays which mutate their DNA. With suspension of disbelief in full effect, one man begins to stretch in improbable ways like rubber, one becomes combustible, the woman is able to make herself invisible and the third man becomes a giant lumbering rock. And no one bothers to ask what happened to the fourth man, but the businessman begins to turn into metal. The prior four work to understand and reverse what has happened to them and in the process, they leave themselves open to the machinations of businessman turned supervillain Victor Von Doom, who decides he's a bit of a god. The Fantastic Four, then, form to combat Dr. Doom while fighting among themselves on the meaning of their transformations.

Before I saw the movie, I heard mixed reviews that all included the idea that the scene worth watching in the movie is the bridge scene. Personally, I think the scene just prior to that does all the essential things the bridge scene does, so the bridge scene is neither revelatory nor terribly exciting. In short, we know the characters' powers before they reveal themselves to society on the bridge, so it's not as dramatic as it could or ought to be.

Even worse are the special effects. The point of a big budget special effect action adventure movie is to dazzle the viewer. Perhaps director Tim Story realized the dated and realistic limitations of the characters he was working with because Story cheats around a number of special effects. In the bridge scene, for example, Reed Richards' exercising of powers is cut around so the viewer doesn't exactly see how far he stretches. Odds are, it was such an improbably length that the special effects looked goofier than any they actually showed.

The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) isn't terribly impressive an effect either, nor is Sue Storm (the Invisible Girl). Even worse, though, is Dr. Doom when Victor Von Doom makes his transformation near the climax of the film into the fully villainous persona. He ends up looking more silly than scary.

The special effect that the movie gets right is The Thing (Ben Grimm, played by Michael Chiklis). Chiklis makes the special effects work by making his face as animated as possible for being suddenly made of rock. He connotes a great deal with his eyes and that makes the appearance of the Thing work.

But Ben Grimm doesn't work as a character. His motivation seems to be that he has lost the love of his wife through his freakish transformation. This is a compelling motivation. Unfortunately, the film can't sustain even this basic character conflict; Grimm suddenly seems content to let his wife abandon him when a blind woman looks his way.

The superlative aspect of this movie is the acting of Julian McMahon, who plays Victor Von Doom. The character isn't much and the special effects for the character are terrible near the end, but for the majority of the piece, McMahon (best known from Nip/Tuck) makes the film bearable and barely watchable.

It is ultimately unsurprising that the extras on the DVD are rather thin. There are only three deleted scenes and they are basically reworking dialogue that appeared in the movie.

Ultimately, Fantastic Four is anything but. It's a disappointment that relies on too little story, character or special effects to be worthwhile. It's a shame that they (the producers) already made a sequel; I'd wait until the stink blows off this one before committing to another.

For other movies based upon the Marvel comic books, please check out my reviews of:
X-Men: First Class
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk
Blade: Trinity


For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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