Directed by: Tim Story
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm/The Thing), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom)
As source material goes, The Fantastic Four is an inky gift from the gods. One of the most important comic books of the last 50 years, it tore the industry from its slump, igniting the superhero revolution that brought us every Marvel big-hitter from Spider-Man to the Hulk. With Stan Lee’s hip scripts fused to Jack Kirby’s dynamite art, it delivered cheap, potent pulp thrills that set your mind to melt mode. It seethed with ideas, devouring huge concepts issue after issue – Galactus, The Eater Of Worlds! Rama-Tut, Pharaoh Of The Year 3000! The Inhumans! The Negative Zone! – but at its core were the people, a flawed family of heroes you cared passionately about.
In the end, though, the creative muscle of modern Hollywood couldn’t match the imaginative firepower of two guys armed with only a typewriter and a pencil.
What’s missing is vision and spirit. There’s no Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer or Christopher Nolan to arm this flick with love and intelligence. It’s a Happy Meal, an aggressively marketed slice of fast food superheroics that feels like it’s been micromanaged to within an inch of its life. It’s a film that screamed out for a bold, explosive visualist, someone who could translate Kirby’s kinetic universe to the screen, but Tim Story is too much the journeyman, coating the tale with the bland sheen usually reserved for romcoms or Disney fare.
The casting is truly weird: half spot-on, half way off. Ioan Gruffudd is fundamentally dull as Reed Richards. He’s an amusing klutz around Sue, but the comic book Reed was also driven, inspiring and terrifyingly clever. Jessica Alba is equally miscast: Sue Storm is the Earth mother of the Marvel universe, but Alba plays her as a bizarre brew of whiny bitch and empty lust object, perfecting the brand of dialled-in disdain that Halle Berry pioneered in the X-Men movies. Julian McMahon’s Dr Doom, meanwhile, re-invents the gothic ruler as ranty stock broker.
It’s left to the tag team of the Thing and the Human Torch to bring some life to the screen. Michael Chiklis sweats it out beneath an unconvincing boulder suit but brings real soul to the rock-bound bruiser, while Evans is near-perfect as Johnny – all asshole charm and fratboy cockiness. Scrapping, wisecracking and bagging the best gags, these two alone edge tantalisingly close to the human spirit of the comics.
Also on the plus side, the film does deal with one area left unexplored by other superhero films: because the Fantastic Four are not masked heroes, they become celebrities. And when the film is dealing with the impact of celebrity culture it develops a spark of life. But is that really what we wanted a Fantastic Four film to be about?