I watched Fantastic Four for a number of reasons (really). First, because I liked one of the previews to the second one. Second, there is a recently released on DVD extended cut. Third, I wanted to compare and contrast it to the unreleased 1994 version. Fourth, to give movielens a run for its money (it’s currently predicted at 11⁄2, which is whopping in my opinion). Fifth, as the film’s so hated by comic book fans, I figured–as usual–my response would be somewhat opposite. Finally, because a friend of mine was recommending The Stop Button as a perceptive and effective online film review site and navigated to it and found a review of Ghost Rider, mortifying him. I figured Fantastic Four would be even worse… but, really, it’s quite the reverse.
I’ve had the extended cut for a few days and have been dreading watching it, as I assumed I’d just turn it off after fifteen or twenty minutes (on the outside). I even started it and the first scene–not the rather nice opening credits–did nothing to change that prediction. Ioan Gruffudd seemed ineffectual and Michael Chiklis seemed like he was mugging it a bit heavy. But I stuck through that first awkward scene and when Julian McMahon and Jessica Alba showed up, it got engaging. McMahon is great throughout–except when he’s got on the Doctor Doom mask for the final fight scene. He’s phoning in a voice over performance in that part. Alba’s interesting. I’ve only seen her in Sin City–let me quote that review–and in it, she “was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe.” She starts out in Four mediocre, then she gets good. The age difference between her and Gruffudd disappears. Their romance, which is ludicrous by any reasonable standard, becomes a touching part of the film. Gruffudd’s okay, nothing more. He gives the film’s most unremarkable performance–he’s effective as the romantic lead, as the friend to Chiklis (particularly in the beginning), but as the super-smart scientist, he falls flat. He’s not a believable genius. The script doesn’t really present him as one either, but Gruffudd more plays the role like an eighties teen romantic lead (and not even the kid from Real Genius). Chris Evans has a freaking ball with his role (though he and Alba come across as siblings on paper, not in reality). Still, taking her age at the time (twenty-four) into account, she gives a rather good performance. And I already said McMahon is great.
So what’s wrong with Fantastic Four. First, the easy part. Tim Story can’t compose a Panavision shot. The action scenes are pretty damn neat (though the special effects are terrible), but the other scenes… medium shots, close-ups… Story’s out of his compositional depth. The long shots he tends to be all right with, maybe a C (at best). It depends on the characters interaction in the scene, which might be where Four is so surprisingly effective… because the script, in terms of plot, is terrible. The dialogue’s fine (as it should be, Mark Frost has a lot of experience on fine projects). It makes absolutely no sense with any consideration of reality. I can’t imagine watching this film and thinking about the comic book, because Story spends so much time referencing other films–Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark–the film, with those stylized opening credits, establishes itself on its terms. Ones where common sense and a level of believability don’t exist. And it’s with those terms. It never breaks them, which might be another factor in its (moderate) success. Though it’s really the cast. McMahon, Evans and Alba.
However, I do need to mention one more thing about Tim Story. There’s a scene where the blind sculptor, played with earnest zeal by Kerry Washington–who frequently substitutes vigor for acting talent, to an acceptable degree here–washes rock-encrusted Thing Chiklis. It is the finest, most romantic sex scene I have seen in a long time. There’s a lot of bad editing in Fantastic Four, particularly in the first act (not to mention the extended cut including two versions of the same scene), but that scene is perfect. It’s masterful… something I never thought I’d be saying about this film.
Directed by Tim Story; written by Mark Frost, Simon Kinberg and Michael France, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by William Hoy; music by John Ottman; production designer, Bill Boes; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad and Ralph Winter; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom), Hamish Linklater (Leonard) and Kerry Washington (Alicia Masters).