The Fantastic Four (2005)

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The Fantastic Four (2005)

Post  BoG on Mon Nov 03, 2014 3:02 pm


This was the 2nd live-action version on this original quartet since they first appeared in the 1961 comic book to inaugurate the Marvel Age of Comics. It doesn't matter to me that the 1st version (early nineties) was never released. Marvel now has two (2) tries at this and they nearly flubbed it again (much like with The Punisher). It's not quite the deal breaker that a lot of fans believe it to be, with just enough of the spirit and accuracy for the characters to pass the grade. Just - and it's disappointing that what should have been the premiere sample of what Marvel Comics is about turned out kind of lightweight and inconsequential. However, my main problem is not with the four heroes, but the villain. The film follows the basics of the famous origin story - 4 individuals go into orbit - outer space - are bombarded by cosmic rays - and, back on Earth, soon realize that they have various super powers. The difference here is that there's a 5th person up there - the villain - and his powers manifestation takes a bit longer; in the books, the villain had no actual powers, just unparalleled genius and an armored suit, so this change in the story takes some liberties with an iconic, classic villain.
Michael Chiklis as The Thing/Ben Grimm is great. He grumbles & groans as I've always imagined he would if stepping out from the 4-color pages, even though his human appearance (bald, stocky) is not quite what I expected.  He provides half the humor. The other half is provided by Chris Evans as The Torch - not quite the Johnny Storm of the books, but there's just enuff there with his repartee with Grimm and his kid brother standing with Sue. Frankly, I found the comic book Johnny kind of boring when he wasn't arguing with Grimm. And yes, I don't like Evans' buzz-cut, but oh well. Jessica Alba as Susan & Ioan Gruffudd as Reed have been getting a bad rap; I think this is fallout from the other two having all the best lines and scenes (hmm, sort of like in the comic books!). Alba's performance was not embarrassing and, yes, she was bossy in a scene or two - playing Johnny's older sister, as in the comic books. Gruffudd was overly awkward as a young scientist lacking social skills but he was always less colorful, character-wise, in the books. Some of the later writers (after Stan Lee) in the books (in the eighties) made him even more boring than he is here. I did feel that this version of Reed did not live up to his Mr. Fantastic code name as well as could be; he wasn't quite the genius I expected and came off as too timid, too youthful, almost snot-nosed by comparison to the professorial yet confident comic book version. But, it was telling, in the final battle scene, that Reed did take command (finally).
And now we come to the villain, as essayed by Julian McMahon. Dr. Doom is, was and will be the greatest super-villain ever created by the biggest comic book company in the world. Here is where the film falls into travesty, from which there is no redemption. By contrast with the books, we have Victor Von Doom as interpreted by a TV actor who doesn't alter his performance one iota from the characters he played in Nip/Tuck & Charmed. All right, some may argue, what if an audience has never seen those TV series for comparison. Sorry, no can do. McMahon shows he has no range whatsoever; forget 'limited range' - NO range! His inflections & line readings are the same, regardless of what the scene calls for. It's all done with the same, slightly smarmy tone. There was nothing to be done with his actual voice, I suppose, but - for future reference - let's have Doom possess a commanding, domineering voice, as he was meant to. And, most of all, let's have his motivations be correct; none of this lusting for Sue, this petty griping about money. That's just not Doom - it's some Doombot or his loser cousin.

The problems with Doom outweigh some of the liberties taken with the FF's history. I would've given almost anything to see the FF crash-land a space shuttle in a deserted area after exposure to the rays in space, as visualized in my mind for 35 years. I could have done without Grimm's traumatized girlfriend (Laurie Holden), a clumsy attempt by the writers to give The Thing more angst. The version of Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington) is kind of banal. The central action set-piece is on the Brooklyn Bridge and basically involves a traffic jam - not very awe inspiring. I don't know why the screenplay was unable or unwilling to just start with Doom in Latveria (picture Doom seated on his throne as news of the FF breaks out: "Hm, I'll have to delay my plan for global conquest until I dispose of these 4 clownish freak-isms."). But, those are all the breaks and just quibbles. At least they managed to include Willie Lumpkin. As entertainment, this FF film outstrips The Hulk (03) handily and is not quite up there with X-Men (2000). I was hoping that the sequel would move things up a notch, influenced more by some Jack Kirby spectacle - but the 2007 follow-up was more of the same.  BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10
Fantastic Trivia: this probably has the best and most substantial cameo of all the Marvel films by Stan Lee - he plays the famous mailman, Willie Lumpkin; Chris Evans would go on to a big career playing more super-heroes - he bulked up for the Captain America role in 2011.
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