Less richly realized than the X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN films, this live-action adaptation of the long-running Marvel series favors light action over character dynamics. Scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) believes a cosmic storm could be the key to many genetic ailments, but must turn to his old college nemesis, billionaire Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon),...read more
Less richly realized than the X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN films, this live-action adaptation of the long-running Marvel series favors light action over character dynamics. Scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) believes a cosmic storm could be the key to many genetic ailments, but must turn to his old college nemesis, billionaire Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who owns a high-tech space station, for funding. Victor, Reed, Reed's loyal friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and ex-girlfriend, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), as well as her brother, Johnny (Chris Evans), all arrive at the space station together, only to discover that the storm is mere minutes away. They appear to weather the experience intact, but after returning home begin to notice strange physical changes in themselves. Johnny gets all fired up literally while snowboarding; Sue discovers she can disappear and Reed finds himself as flexible as elastic. Ben undergoes the most dramatic alteration: His flesh takes on the consistency of craggy, orange rock, even as his personality survives unchanged. Brokenhearted when his fiancée rejects him, he inadvertently causes a traffic accident that nearly escalates into disaster. But the others use their new abilities to avert catastrophe and are quickly dubbed the Fantastic Four: Sue is the Invisible Girl, Johnny the Human Torch, leader Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic and poor Ben is renamed the Thing. While Reed tries to find a cure for their mutations, Victor is seething at the publicity they've attracted. His company in a shambles, and he's hiding the fact that he too has changed at the genetic level: Victor is now nearly all metal and able to harness electricity. In his fury, he plots to destroy the Fantastic Four and gain world domination. True fans will quibble that Dr. Doom should never have been aboard that space station, but the film has larger problems, starting with some lackluster effects and an uneven script. Superheroes' origin stories are inherently background-heavy, but director Tim Story and screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Michael France and Mark Frost spend too much time on setup. The cast is uneven: Reed Richards may be physically hyperflexibile, but Gruffudd plays him as a wooden good guy. Alba brings little more than phenomenal looks to her underwritten role and McMahon seems more narcissisticly peevish than truly evil. On the plus side, Chiklis finds the heart in the conflicted man-mountain and Evans nails the light tone Story seems to have wanted for the film overall.
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