Often it bothers me when people are having fun, particularly in America, where they become extremely loud and obnoxious, and yet just the other day I was walking among some cavorting Americans and their dogs, and my reward for this was the sudden appearance of a curiosity up in the sky. A small airplane was describing a smoke-circle — indeed, tainting the very firmament with advertising, but at least the result was interesting: I was nearly certain we were about to see the formation of a peace-sign…perhaps even with a catchy phrase such as “WAR IS BAD” billowing briefly beside it. No such luck. The pilot then completed his (or her) angles to fill the smoke-circle with a smoke-‘4’…which remained undeniably interesting: “Hm…a large, ringed smoke-‘4’ in the sky…on the 3rd of July, no less…what could it mean?”
Well, what it meant was that Fox had a little ad money to burn for their new movie, Fantastic Four, which is a reasonable ploy, although I would have preferred for them to light an executive on fire and shoot them into the sky to produce the aforementioned logo. Beyond that, you’re not going to get much bitching here from me. This umpteenth comic-book adaptation is everything it is supposed to be and nothing more (which I’m guessing is also true of the unreleased 1994 version), and I had a perfectly okay time watching it. Here, now I’ll tell you about it:
You know those high-tech scientific teams composed of young, sexy people (except for the burly, bald one)? The Fantastic Four are one of those. They are led by Ioan Grufffffuddddd (pronounced “Jeff Smith”), who is Welsh and an excellent actor and smart enough to say yes to errors like Black Hawk Down and King Arthur in order to keep getting paid en route to becoming The Next James Bond. Grufffffuddddd is thoroughly likeable as Dr. Reed Richards, a really, really brainy physicist who knows — as many do — that the best way to learn about DNA in order to save sick and dying people is to go up into a huge space station while it’s being bombarded by a huger radioactive space storm. After this event, he becomes extremely stretchy but otherwise fine apart from some intermittent greying to his temples.
Of course, Reed doesn’t go up there alone. He brings along his burly, bald friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) who is burly and bald. These two are accompanied by a couple of hipster siblings who carry the popular surname of “Storm” — Johnny (Chris Evans) and Susan (Jessica Alba). As far as acting goes, Chiklis does that “lovable galoot” thing non-stop (and rather well), while Evans does that “cool guy apparently inspired by Ryan Seacrest” thing (with the painful enthusiasm of a commercial). I honestly do not understand why Alba exists, apart from helping to move the current issue of Rolling Stone.
These people get powers, too. Grimm transforms — permanently? — into a large, orange, rubber suit which looks like rocks and can deflect bullets and crunch speeding vehicles. The male Storm can become flaming (but not in a way that will help him land roles in Hollywood) — and he gradually learns to fly. The female Storm becomes invisible whenever she has a mood-swing (if only!), and she can sort of make a force-field thing happen when people are about to hurt each other — for instance, during a brawl in front of the most shameless collage of on-screen advertising since last year’s equally brilliant Torque. Although all four of these people are egghead scientists, none of them pause to ask why each (with respective spandex suit) has acquired a completely different power from being hit by the exact same cosmic cloud. They also fail to ask why they bothered going up into space at all, since within minutes Dr. Reed develops a machine to recreate the space storm from the convenient vantage point of a New York (Vancouver, duh) penthouse suite. (I liked the elevators a lot, especially the doors.)
Naturally, due to The Media, these Four quickly become heroes with nifty superhero-names: Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Human Torch, and…um…um…oh yeah, Invisible Woman. Thus, they require a nemesis, so it is very convenient that the bratty capitalist Victor Von Doom also happened to be present in his space-station with them during the…whatever they were doing up there. His power? The actor playing him (Julian McMahon) looks like an undeveloped fetus which somehow grew to adult height, not unlike a “pod person” or the like. Thus, he simply looks scary. In addition to this, his flesh transforms into a metallic-organic alloy and he learns how to shoot electric blasts out of his appendages by practicing on the chest of a rival corporate executive (i.e., “a good start”). Much of the movie then concerns itself with these five leads exploring the range of their new abilities, at which I enjoyed looking, even though this not-very-aptly-named Dr. Doom proves to be about as daunting as, um, something which isn’t very daunting.
Much of the middle of the movie involves the heroes moping about a lab in semi-quarantine, featuring the highlight of Mr. Fantastic stretchily reaching for toilet paper — segments which, in sum, somehow reminded me of The Breakfast Club, sans spontaneous dancing sequence and with more pyro effects. (Speaking of the effects — which look nice — the producers have made a big hoo-hah over how new and inventive and unprecedented they are; no offense, but Terminator 2 was how long ago now?)
Heck, I liked the first two X-Men movies just fine, even when they took themselves too seriously, so it stands to reason that I have no desire to thrash this breezier, good-natured superhero-clique movie. The fights are okay, but I particularly appreciate its romantic struggles, which perfectly match the passions of the average, old-fashioned comic-book nerd: Self-absorbed Invisible Woman becomes attracted to Von Doom because he is a bully with money (big surprise there), and she also punishes Mr. Fantastic for being intelligent and a nice person. The Thing’s inherent inhumanity ironically loses him his stupid blonde bimbo fiancée (Laurie Holden) only to gain him an alcoholic, blind black woman (Kerry Washington) who can tell that a walking pile of rocks is sad by touch. The Human Torch does those “extreme games” kinds of things whilst accompanied by loud “Seacrest” jams, because that’s what entertainment executives have decided the abdomen-obsessed idiot girls (present and accounted for here) are into these days. In this playful corner of the Marvel universe, this all somehow jells. Series co-creator and comic-book Svengali Stan Lee (who shows up in a cameo as a postman) and director Tim Story (Barbershop) and screenwriters Mark Frost (Twin Peaks) & Michael France (Hulk) don’t even pretend to emulate any consistent emotional reality with their fantastic movie. While this isn’t a comedy, they’re just playing around, and the result is adequately amusing. What do you want — a dark, wrenching movie about a rubber guy and an orange rock guy?
But just ask the non-professionals: After the screening, I overheard some more of those fun Americans outside, appraising Fantastic Four. The males said exactly these things: “It’s fun…it’s……fun” and (more penetratingly), “It moves really fast.” The females were noncommittal and speechless, and smiled blankly so as not to provoke anything whatsoever. Doubtless, they all went off in their fun-loving way to have some more fun which moves really fast. Perhaps that ‘4’-shaped cloud will work on others. Seems like a well-staged opening weekend to me.
Entertainment Value: 8/13
Philosophical Insight: 5/13