So this is the Fantastic Four in 2007. Body by CGI. Direction by Kodak. Fantasticar by Dodge. Yeah, it’s got a Hemi.*
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby launched a new era of comic book superheroes with this team. They were real(ish) people with relationships and problems…like a grumpy Mole Man living under New York City. Campy even in 1961, at least it was new. Now the quartet is already tired — they even talk about quitting — and they’ve barely painted our silver screens. Not even a trilogy! This sequel might nab a few chuckles from the kids, but it’s dramatically short on plot and, even as it tries to scorn tabloid journalism, long on celebrity and superficiality.
In 2005, I was able to extend some goodwill to The Fantastic Four based on the fact that Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis nailed the Human Torch and The Thing, respectively. This time, I vaguely respect Mark Frost and Don Payne for giving Jessica Alba more to do as the Invisible Woman. Even though the film’s most memorable line reduces – or is that elevates? – her to the ‘hottest woman on the planet. How about ‘most powerful’?
But once again, Tim Story, with Frost and Payne, manages to get a lot more wrong than right. The plot has the Four trying to get the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm off the ground while fending off unwelcome space visitor the Silver Surfer and colluding, against their will, with a revamped and re-faced Victor von Doom.
Already, Ioan Gruffudd less resembles a mighty intellect than a henpecked husbad. And the Four’s core enemy remains a scheming fop rather than a gauntleted king. Dr. Doom again manages to not intimidate or terrify. And that voice – you can’t tell me that Doug Jones wouldn’t cut it as the Surfer, but Julian McMahon does as Doom? (I like McMahon in other projects. He can be great, but here he’s horribly miscast, again.)
Without an origin story to worry about, we’re thrust into the lives of celebrity superheroes. But the script milks cheap gags at the expense of all else. So the team that has free run of a massively technological building in the center of the most expensive real estate in the world is forced to fly coach when the Surfer’s visit knocks out power across the planet. Wow, the Thing really isn’t meant for the middle seat! That’s because he’s big! And how about if Sue Storm ends up naked on the street again? What a photo op! They’re powerful and famous.
Tim Story continues to tell someone where to put the camera. His action scenes are staged with the complexity of a Hot Wheels racetrack and his comedy with the levity of a mass grave. Pick any third-tier rock band and Story would be the drummer, tubthumping boom! blap! in a dull migraine rhythm to every song. Would someone please give this guy a sampler and a crate of cinematic breaks? Can I get a remix?
Story’s big chance to prove himself as an imaginer (sorry Disney, a check’s in the mail) is Galactus, the massive world-eater and employer of the Silver Surfer. And we get ______. What’s that? The sound of a blockbuster director not coming up with anything at all. Galactus is a fucking cloud, alright? I can’t keep it inside. If you think David Chase copped out but Galactus works, please never speak to me.
Granted, Galactus as envisioned in four-color isn’t exactly what we want to see on the screen. Big guy, big boots, bigger helmet. (There’s a brief hint of that helmet, incidentally, when Galactus passes across Saturn. Or so I seemed to see.) But in a film where you can do anything with CGI, I feel I must demand at least an idea. And in the big climax we see…hm…um, does that look like an ant lion to you? Hermit crab? Dustbowl?
Let nothing demonstrate story’s incompetence more than the Surfer himself. You’ve got Doug Jones in the suit, and all you need do is look to Pan’s Labyrinth to see how a living, breathing director can assist Jones in creating something out of nothing. Here, it’s the opposite. It could be anyone on the board, until they zoom in close. So Laurence Fishburne glossed his voice (fairly well) and you dumped CGI on his physical performance but kept his overbite? I want to scream like Craig T Nelson at the end of Poltergeist.
The Surfer does have a few moments. His origin is perhaps the most elegant and succinct story told in a recent comic book film, and his affinity for Sue Storm (see the origin story) makes enough sense that his eventual alliance with the FF works just fine. And when so many comic book villains don’t translate to the screen, the Surfer’s presence connotes power and an unswervable fate.
Which means of course, that he’s got to be separated from his board so that Doom can become unstoppable and the fickle power of cosmic rays all channeled into Johnny Storm to save the day. I like the Super Skrull version of the Human Torch, made super-powerful by the abilities of his teammates, and there are moments during his appearance where the film’s CGI manages not to look cheap. And I don’t envy any writers trying to pen a cool climactic battle featuring four characters with powers as weird as the FF’s. But to shoehorn them all into one character is perhaps even lazier than turning one of the universe’s most potent beings into an Oort cloud.
But lazy is the keyword for Fox’s Fantastic Four. It’s not a particularly unpleasant film, all told — a bunch of kids should definitely catch this rather than Hostel Part II or Joshua. I even laughed at a few jokes. One the other hand, it’s not able to make good on even the story’s most basic character concepts. Rise offers forgettable action, misplayed characters and hackneyed jokes. Ha ha, the Thing squished Mr. Fantastic into a wall! Me laugh. Me pay ten bucks. Me sad.
4.5 out of 10
*No, I’m serious, That’s actually a joke in the movie commercial movie.