Fantastic Four

In 1994, a low budget film was created in order to preserve the film rights to one of Marvel Comics popular series The Fantastic 4. Created by comic legend Stan Lee, the comic tells the ongoing tales of four people who were endowed with amazing powers after accidental exposure to an element in space.

The film was never released and has gone on to become a popular bootleg amongst comic fans. The ensuing rights for the film were also sold, and for almost a decade Fox has worked in bringing the comic to the big screen.

After years of languishing, the film finally got on the fast track and under the helm of Director Tim Story and features a dynamic cast headed by some of the biggest emerging superstars in Hollywood.

Ioan Gruffudd stars as Reed Richards, a brilliant yet recently bankrupt scientist who, along with his friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), is visiting famed scientist Victor Von Doom (Julian Mc Mahon), in an effort to get his latest venture funded.

Reed is convinced that an approaching storm in space is the key to unlocking vast amounts of genetic secrets and that the shielding on Doom’s space station allows for safe study of the very rare phenomenon.

Doom agrees to the venture in exchange for 75% of all revenue generated from the findings and that he gets to assign certain people to the mission. Among them are Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), and her pilot brother Johnny (Chris Evans). The fact that Sue is Reed’s ex is a source of tension within the group, as she is obviously still hurt and bitter over Reed’s inability to look at her and life in ways that are not based upon analytical science.

Despite the issues, the crew arrives at the station and the test is going according to plan. That is until an unexpected situation arises, which causes the team to get caught in the storm with the shields lowered, exposing them all to the storm’s radiation.

Back on earth, the crew awakens to find themselves in quarantine and suffering no ill effects from the accident. The failure of the mission is of great concern for Doom. His investors are using this as a reason to pull their support, which in turn is causing his stock to drop rapidly.

In time, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben start to show amazing abilities resulting from their exposure to the storm. Johnny can become a human fireball, Reed can stretch his body to amazing lengths, Sue can become invisible and project force fields, and Ben has become a living wall of rock, capable of great feats of strength.

Since Ben is no longer able to pass as a human, he feels like a freak and is shunned by his wife, causing him much anger and depression. It is due to this that the team becomes noticed by the media who dub them the Fantastic 4 after watching them in action.

The resulting fame causes the team to withdraw, save for Johnny who basks in the glory and attention heaped upon him. It is against this changing dynamic that the team must find a way to restore themselves to their normal state and to discover what is causing their new found abilities.

The Fantastic 4 are not the only ones who changed. Doom is becoming more and more angry and violent as he blames Reed for the failure of his company. Victor also has the ability to hurl deadly bolts of energy from his body which is quickly becoming metallic.

As fans of the comic know, it will not take long for Doom and the Fantastic 4 to face off, paving the way for a final confrontation. While I went in not expecting much from the film, I must say I was surprised. Yes, the film has a thin plot, and fairly basic characters and action, but it is also above all fun.

The dynamic between the characters is enjoyable, as is the humor which accurately captures the tone and feel of the comic. Some purists will take exception with some of the liberties taken, such as Doom being on the trip to space and other variations on his character which are not part of the original comic.

Alba and Evans tend to come off at times as airheads but they stay true to their characters throughout. Gruffudd plays Reed with modesty and charm that works well in the film and shows that he is a star on the rise. Praise should be heaped upon Chiklis and McMahon who could easily have become lost behind their costumes. Theygive very human and compelling performances. Chiklis captures the duality of Grimm as he battles his despair over his physical appearance with his desire to do what is right. McMahon does riveting work as the man pushed over the edge and becomes fueled by a desire for revenge and power. The fury and evil upon his face and in his walk shows him as a man of menace and danger.

I for one would have liked to have seen a bit more action in the film but as it stands, it is not as bad as some of the trailers hinted that it might be. If you do not mind thin plots and characters, you may be able to sit back and enjoy this film for what it is, a simple summer escape. Here is hoping that we will see the “Fantastic 4” up on the big screen as the next franchise series from Marvel.

3.5 stars out of 5