Based on one of Marvel Comics longest running title, Fantastic Four was released in 2005 and was the third major studio comic book release of the year following Batman Begins and Elektra. Directed by Tim Story it took over $330m at the box office from a budget of $100m making it a mild commercial success.
Genius scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) supposes that evolution is actually the bi-product of cosmic energy hitting the earth millions of years ago. Noticing that another wave of such energy is passing near to the planet, he convinces former University colleague Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to let him travel up to his personal space station to monitor the energy readings. Along with Reed’s friend, former NASA pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Victor’s gene specialist Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans), they are all exposed to the radiation in space, which causes them to develop new powers. Back on Earth, Victor is fired from the board of his own company and begins to use his powers for his own ends, leading to the other four teaming up to stop him.
As a standard origin story, Fantastic Four does a decent job of introducing the audience to its central characters. No time is wasted getting the quintet into space and having the effects of their exposure to radiation become apparent and the film focuses almost solely on their exploits. Unfortunately this is also problematic as the world they inhabit feels isolated and small, thus reducing the tension and the impact of their attempts to save it. There are few supporting players so all the drama rests on their shoulders and this is where things really fall apart.
Fantastic Four’s central couple of Reed and Sue are blandly realised. A by-the-numbers genius geek scientist and his pretty, to be admired, girlfriend give little to cheer for. The secondary couple of Johnny and Ben are at least have some humour to keep them interesting, although the makeup on The Thing is distracting and reduces the intimidation that is key to his appearance. But the worst aspect is far and away the villain. McMahon’s Doctor Doom begins as a smarmy corporate type, who quickly descends into Supervillain, which in itself is fine, but it’s the insistence of wise-cracking throughout that makes him so thoroughly disengaging.
At just over 90 minutes Fantastic Four is the perfect length for are popcorn blockbuster, but because of the limited characters, each of them weak and not particularly interesting and the breakneck speed at which events happen, no thought is given to pacing, tension or drama. We jump from one set-piece to another, making sure to tick all the necessary boxes, but rarely exploring what has made the comic book so popular and long-lasting. Obviously one of the weakest comic book adaptations, Fantastic Four is a constant disappointment and anything positive is quickly drowned out by one of Johnny’s annoying wisecracks or a joke about Mr. Fantastic being able to stretch any part of his body. Disappointing.