By Vic Holtreman
Short version: You'll forget about this terribly miscast movie (that is *almost* made bearable by Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans) as soon as you leave the theater.
In this post about the Fantastic Four movie, I said:
"It's the first one [trailer] that actually shows the tiniest bit of depth as opposed to a low cleavage, snappy dialogue, special effects bonanza of a movie."
I'm here to tell you that the "tiniest bit" is all you're going to get in Fantastic Four as far as depth of character. On the bright side, Michael Chiklis (as "The Thing"/Ben Grimm) and Chris Evans (as Johnny Storm) both do a great job individually and as an ever-arguing pair. On the other hand, when the best performance in a movie comes from the off-screen puppeteers manipulating a latex mask, you know you're in trouble.
I suppose I should get to a few details about the movie...
The film opens with Reed Richards (played by Ioan Gruffudd) and Ben Grimm arriving at Victor von Doom's corporate building. The fact that von Doom (played by Julian McMahon) has a huge ego and that Richards, although (supposedly) brilliant, has all the self-confidence of a scrawny, pimply-faced 14 year old is immediately established. How it is that Reed and Ben came to be friends isn't really established, and after Reed's presentation we learn that von Doom, Richards, Ben and Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) all know each other from way back when.
Reed needs von Doom's space station in order to conduct genetic experiments in the midst of some sort of cosmic cloud that will be passing close to Earth's orbit. Reed is a pie in the sky scientist who is supposedly a genius that can't seem to find practical applications for his discoveries. Von Doom is a capitalist and a pragmatist who only looks for the profit to be derived from scientific discoveries.
Von Doom agrees to allow use of the station (for a 75% cut of any forthcoming profits). They go on up, cosmic storm hits, experiment fails and they return to Earth apparently suffering no ill effects. Of course soon their powers start to manifest and they have to deal with the effects this will have on their lives, especially Ben Grimm who is turned into a rock-like monster.
Due to the failed (and very expensive) experiment, von Doom's company is in dire financial trouble and eventually he snaps and goes to the dark side. On the good guys end, Johnny Storm is reveling in his new found fame while the others want to stay low key and find a way to reverse the effects of the radiation. Eventually things come to a head between von Doom and the others, big battle ensues, yada yada yada.
Right from the start of the movie something just doesn't feel right about the characters and their backgrounds. Here they are, with a wide range of ages, all supposedly sharing some common background from what is implied to be about 10 years ago. If we assume it was college (as in the comic book version of the characters) then why aren't they all around the same age?
Especially ridiculous within this context is the casting of Jessica Alba as Sue Storm: Look at the image above... the studios have spent months promoting her as a "come-hither" hottie. When Victor von Doom introduced her as his "Director of Genetic Research" I had to stifle the urge to laugh out loud!
The screenplay as written isn't terrible... OK, with a notable few exceptions, as when prior to leaving for the space station Reed remarks "What's the worst that could happen?" My eyes rolled up into my skull with that one. But I digress, as my point is that although the Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm characters were cast correctly, the other three were not and it stands out like a sore thumb. Von Doom, Reed, Sue and Ben should all be within a year or two in age, and the director would have been wise to have cast actors in their late 30's to early 40's, as he did with Chiklis.
Sure, Julian McMahon is 38, but making him a contemporary of Ioan Gruffud (who is 32) makes McMahon seem younger. Jessica Alba is only 24 (and looks even younger)... so did Reed and Sue have a serious relationship when he was 22 and she was 14?? The tone and content of the opening scene would have made more sense if the characters were older, wiser and had looked like they'd been around the block a few times instead of seeming like they just graduated college two or three years ago.
While Chris Evans was great as the young, impulsive and charming Johnny Storm, Jessica Alba (who is the same age as Evans) is supposed to be the older, wiser and more levelheaded sister. She shouldn't be the same age as her brother. Chiklis brought a great gravity to the role of Ben Grimm/The Thing and was the one character that I cared about at all in this movie. Although the Johnny Storm character was fun to watch, I didn't really feel like I should care much about him. McMahon as von Doom was pretty one-dimensional as well.
The biggest Achille's heels in Fantastic Four are Alba and Gruffudd. They were both horribly miscast, but in Gruffudd's case the character was poorly written to boot. In the original comic Reed Richards is brilliant and confident, not sheepish and unable to turn his discoveries into profitable inventions. Not to mention having him pine for Sue Storm like a puppy dog... that was truly annoying.
As far as the Sue Storm character, I thought that if they had stuck a more mature actress in the role it would have worked as written. It was just a case of the wrong person delivering the right dialogue.
Another MAJOR issue I had with this film is that I utterly and completely did NOT buy the Reed/Sue romance. Not even for a micro-second. It was about on par with the Anakin/Padme relationship from Star Wars. I didn't see a glimmer of a reason for why she would be attracted to him. Nothing, nada, zip.
As far as the action sequences and special effects, they were OK, but nothing that left you dropping your jaw in amazement. Actually during the final battle I felt kind of detached from the whole thing. It's amazing how a movie can show things blowing up, cars flying through the air and such with the whole thing lacking any emotional "punch". Of course what can you expect when the director's last two films were Taxi and Barbershop, both comedies and one a very poor one.
On a final note, I'm left scratching my head over Executive Producer Avi Arad's repeated comments of this being the "feel good movie of the summer" and that "there won't be a dry eye in the theater".
Maybe he's talking about the Director's Cut...?