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A couple of weeks ago, I was stuck in Akron, Ohio on a business trip. I don't know anybody in Akron and the weather was threatening tornados. What better to do than head to the local theater (made of nice, sturdy cinderblocks) and catch a movie?
The choices were abysmal. After considering the movies that were already underway and the stinkers that I could still watch all the way through, I elected to see The Fantastic Four. I had heard nothing but bad things about the flick since before it came out and wasn't entirely psyched about seeing it, but figured it was better than watching Spanktravision in the local Hampton Inn.
First, though. . . PREVIEWS!
The Transporter 2 is coming. Luc Besson is doing his thing, directing the sequel to one of those few action films that really impressed me. This one involves a kidnapping and has Matthew Modine. Though I suspect it will be excellent, that Modine element might throw things off. I'll still see it on the big screen.
And now, on to our feature motion picture!
I admit that I went into this film expecting a complete stinker. I was never a huge fan of the comic book - I went in more for GrimJack, the Badger and the Question - but I really appreciate it when the makers of a film try not to deviate too much from the comic origins. I was skeptical going in to this one, because the previews showed me right away that this wasn't going to follow the comic. The first thing that hit me was the casting - what were they thinking?! I always pictured Reed Richards as perpetually being in his forties, and this movie makes him out to be early thirties. Jessica Alba as Sue Storm? Yes, we're supposed to take her seriously in this film despite the fact that we just finished seeing her "act" as a stripper who never gets nekkid in Sin City. The critics were tearing Alba up over her acting in this one a full month before the film came out. Another major deviation was the presence of Victor von Doom on that ill-fated space flight that bathed our intrepid heroes in cosmic rays, giving them their powers. Vic Doom wasn't supposed to be on that flight. He's not supposed to turn into metal. Most of all, he's not just some financier who gets others to do the thinking for him. Vic Doom was a freaking genius whose gift for invention was probably right up there with Tony Stark. . . I'm geeking out. I'll rein that in, for now.
Sounds wretched, right? Sounds like an absolute bomb that has little to do with the comic, right? Let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. By going into this thing with the worst expectations possible, I set myself up to enjoy a relatively good summer popcorn flick. It's not Shakespeare, but Stan Lee never claimed to be doing that. It's a movie based on a comic book, and doesn't suffer from aspirations to be something more. While Spider-Man and Batman Begins could possibly be great films if the comics had never existed, Fantastic Four doesn't artistically aim quite so high. Instead, Tim Story asks us to embrace the idea that this whole thing is a movie made from a comic. A lot of comic lovers insist that movies be exact replicas or extensions of the comics, and are only happy with products like Sin City. People who enjoyed comics but don't mind artistic license as long as it makes a good film are far more likely to survive this outing.
Reed Richards is a scientist who wants to study the effects of cosmic radiation. He has put together an idea for a mission to space to do this. The mission winds up being funded by Victor von Doom, a ruthless and rich guy who apparently stole Sue Storm from Reed two years ago. Sue is going along as the botanist (or something, I didn't pay attention to that part), and her test-pilot and former underwear model brother Johnny is brought along to pilot. Benjamin Grimm is Reed's oldest friend, Johnny's ex-CO and HAD been slated to pilot the flight. Once in space, they realize that they have miscalculated and that the cosmic storm is upon them. While all aboard the space station are bathed in radiation, Ben Grimm was caught while spacewalking outside. Strangely, though, all of them seem to come through everything alright.
Well, we all know that these folks develop interesting powers. Reed develops a super-cool white streak in his hair, as well as the ability to stretch every part of his body like Silly-Putty (thanks, Brodieman). Sue finds herself getting more frequently emotional around Reed, and he freaks out a tad because she keeps turning invisible. She also finds that she can create invisible force-fields that she can use to knock Reed on his ass. Johnny Storm discovers (during a puerile but amusing snow skiing incident) that his whole body can become engulfed in flames without being consumed. Unfortunately, Ben Grimm got a much larger dose of cosmic rays than anyone else. He is transformed into a giant made of craggy, orange rock. Thus, we are introduces to Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, the Human Torch and the Thing.
After that, it's pretty standard superhero fare. Von Doom is changing into a man made of metal who can control electricity. Three of our foursome are trying to figure out the implications of having these powers and how to control them. Reed and Sue want to find a way to become normal again. Johnny, on the other hand, thinks that turning into a human torch is about the coolest way to meet women that he's ever seen. Ben, on the other hand, has turned from a generally jovial guy into a bruiser who hates the world.
Michael Chiklis deserves kudos for his role as the Thing. I love the guy for his role on The Shield, but he really did this role justice. He's perfectly believable as a man who has gone from proud to mocked, from being respected to being feared as a freak. With a face made of orange rock, it's hard to believe that an actor could manage to convey the emotion that Chiklis does.
Chris Evans is a treat as the hot-headed Johnny Storm. He's even more over-the-top than the character from the comics that he portrays, and he makes it work for him. Watchers will feed the urge to smack the hell out of him at the same time that they feel a little twinge of jealousy that they don't live like he does. His love of his own life and all things in it is palpable, though sometimes annoying.
Jessica Alba did a better job than the critics would give her credit for. She's no master thespian, but she doesn't fall on her face and she fills out a bodysuit well. Most people, that's enough to get them to check it out. She has some good tension with Reed, although her relationship with her brother is not believable by any stretch of the imagination. In a minute I could probably name a dozen actresses who could have played the role. Still, Alba did fine and was pretty to look at, and I can't really hold her work in this film against her.
Ioan Gruffudd - Welsh for John Griffith, a big stupid kid who grew up down the road from me - very quietly did something well. I came into this movie thinking that the role of Reed Richards had been astoundingly miscast. I thought that Reed should be older, more distinguished. This Ioan guy grew on me. He kept the dignity of the character without being stuffy about it. His almost palpable level of anxiety in response to Sue's feelings will look familiar to any guy who didn't know how to talk to a woman (yes, I know what I'm talking about here).
All in all, this was a fun, stupid, almost-corny romp through the world of one of the best-loved comics of all time. It didn't stick strictly to the comic. Some decisions were made that I don't agree with. It is definitely worth seeing on the big screen, though, if only at the dollar movie. When you hear Johnny yelling, "Flame on!" for the first time or hear Ben Grimm say, "It's clobberin' time!" it will feel as familiar to you as if you'd picked up one of their comics that you didn't know you had. It's not great. It's not spectacular. It was worth charging to my expense account and blowing two hours in a theater. Hell, I'll probably take the kids and check it out again.
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