Written by: Michael France & Mark Frost
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon
Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes and their powers typically match their personality in some way. It brings us back to the old idea of money not making people better or worse, but rather amplifying who they have always been. A constant recurring cycle displayed following some of the most foundational characters Marvel has to offer in Fantastic Four to a middling degree.
With the idea of heading up to space for a potentially groundbreaking scientific breakthrough, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) traverses up high with friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), former love interest Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother Johnny (Chris Evans), and the financier of it all Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Once up there, they encounter some strong space radiation, which begins to give them powers they discover when they get back down to Earth.
As classic as can be, the characters in Fantastic Four have been Marvel royalty and it made sense for them to try and bring them to the big screen. With it being the 2000s, success was already found with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Another set of A-listers the common person would know makes for the next logical step. While this film has its moments worth praising, overall it lacks a level of quality with its storytelling and overall logic.
The highest points this film has to offer comes from the struggle of what these powers present to each of these characters. Reed gains the ability to stretch his body, Sue can turn invisible along with creating force fields, Johnny and turn into flames along with flying, and Ben becomes a rock man. Obviously Ben gets the raw end of the deal in all of this and the film certainly goes out of its way to sympathize with him. When turning into this rock figure, it depicts his personal struggle through the relationship with his fiancee, Debbie (Laurie Holden). At the beginning of the film, Reed explicitly states Ben and Debbie represent the perfect couple, which ultimately tees up the inevitable turn of heartbreak when she sees Ben looking like this rock creature.
This moment works for the emotional struggles of Ben but the way they get portrayed becomes quite laughable in execution. Take the first instance where she sees Ben. She receives the call as Ben spoke from a payphone just outside her apartment. Debbie happens to already be in some suggestive nightwear the average woman would probably not wear to bed if living alone. She believes he’s home from the trip to space and heads outside in the nightwear as if she was heading to her backyard, not the streets of New York. She screams at the sight of him and runs back to the apartment. Jarring for her, yes, but it only gets laughable during the Fantastic Four’s coming out scene on the bridge. An accident occurs and these super-powered individuals step up to save the day with Ben playing a large part of it. A moment meant to be triumphant for all but out of nowhere Debbie appears, begins to weep, and drops the engagement ring on the ground as she runs away again. Now, we’re meant to believe Debbie saw the commotion on the bridge, ran over amidst all of the traffic and the mass of people to get to the center of the action for Ben to see their engagement come to an end. I had to laugh because these are things you’re left to think about when nothing great can distract from it.
It becomes a shame because this struggle for Ben does carry merit seeing as his power appears to be a curse as compared to the others within the crew. Sure, he has super strength and tough exterior skin making him difficult to harm, but his physical look has been altered so dramatically. The other three get to look exactly the same. This leads to major moments in the story as he attempts to get back to normal, but the way this all gets handled feels weak at best.
Outside of this particular emotional struggle, the film has its basicness within this genre but with a real 2000s vibe. Johnny really represents the Chris Evans we all knew and loved before his turn in as Captain America in The First Avenger. A good amount of cockiness to display and he simply loved extreme sports. Johnny Storm apparently worked as a pilot for NASA, was too cool for it and now enjoys doing rad sports like intense snowboarding and BMX. It leads to a scene where they spend time recovering that made me roll my eyes to the point where I felt they would pop out. They’re in some undisclosed area recovering from their impact of radiation. Johnny decides he wants to go snowboarding, which prompts an attractive nurse to notify him this isn’t some ski lodge. He insists he does not care and asks the nurse to ride with him. It then cuts to them jumping off a helicopter in full gear as she happens to be an excellent skier and Johnny begins to shred on his snowboard. The level of “2000s extreme” just summarizes the pitfalls of this film overall.
The villain comes with no real flavor, the effects lack quality, and the story of Fantastic Four feels so basic. It contains far too many moments that will make you laugh at its serious attempts to tackle something like Ben Grimm’s struggle. As a film, it serves as a good time capsule for the type of superhero films made within this particular era and a good reminder of how much it has gotten better since then. Everything else can be tossed.