Marvel’s ‘Fantastic Four’ is FUNtastic
At about the halfway point of “The Fantastic Four,” it becomes obvious this film is not aiming for the same superhero movie heights attained by its Marvel counterparts like “Spider-Man,” “Spider-Man 2” or the “X-men.” “Fantastic Four,” the comic book that put Marvel on the map 45 years ago and paved the way for countless supes and their evil nemesis, has much less on its mind. It aspires to be merely FUNtastic.
This turns out to be an inspiration because in this genre, true satire is as rare as comic relief in a Sean Penn movie. Purists who grew up reading “Fantastic Four” may condemn this lighthearted treatment, but for the average movie fan the bickering and sarcastic tone of the film is a welcome touch in a summer filled with brooding caped crusaders and world-warring aliens.
Much of “The Fantastic Four” is spent showing how the five main characters obtain their superpowers during a cosmic accident, and their process of discovering how to harness those powers.
Reed Richards (Welshman Ioan Gruffudd — don’t ask how it’s pronounced) is the genius scientist who achieves the ability to stretch and takes on the name “Mr. Fantastic.” Sue Storm (“Dark Angel’s” Jessica Alba) is Richards’ former love interest and can become invisible. Her reckless, cocky brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans of “Cellular”) is gifted with the ability to create fire and fly like a “Human Torch.” Ben Grimm, (Michael Chiklis of “The Commish”) is a fellow astronaut from Brooklyn who gains incredible strength which comes at the cost of a permanent disfigurement that makes him look like a cracked asteroid. Hence, his moniker: The Thing.
Sue’s current beau is billionaire megalomaniac Victor Von Doom (“Nip/Tuck’s” Julian McMahon), who’s also caught in the radioactive storm that alters everyone’s DNA. But while the rest want to use their new talents for justice, Doom wants to use his ability to control electricity, to get revenge, to rule the world, yada, yada, yada. After all, that’s what billionaire megalomaniacs do, right?
The backstory and the meager plot are really irrelevant. The film doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. Seeing what “The Thing” does to hotshot Johnny’s new red Porsche induces a popcorn-spilling, laugh-out-loud moment that’s nearly worth the price of admission.
The actors’ portrayals mirror their superpowers. Evans’ narcissism is white hot funny. Gruffudd shows flexibility as the awkward brainy leader, Chiklis’ solid-as-a-rock performance is the most nuanced, and Alba’s acting ability is nearly invisible but we overlook such minor details in a genetic scientist that looks like a supermodel.
It would be easy to call “Fantastic Four” a dumb movie because its terror is never threatening, its special effects never transcend the average, and its action sequences never get the pulse pounding. But by surprising us with unpretentious superheroes and a devil-may-care spirit, “Fantastic Four” is a refreshing blast.
Before you think it’s a bad bootleg attempt to copy the more fully realized “Incredibles” benchmark, remember the Fantastic Four has been around a lot longer. We just didn’t know they were this funny.
Rated PG-13 for violence, mild profanity sexual innuendo.