During a space mission to do something confusingly scientific, a strange storm affects reticent egghead Reed Richards (Gruffudd), his ex-girlfriend Sue (Alba), her arrogant boyfriend Vincent (McMahon), her cocky younger brother (Evans) and their grouchy buddy Ben (Chiklis), inbuing them all with special powers.
It’s been a strangely cloudy summer. We’ve had plenty of quality gloom – the dark reawakening of a dormant knight, an earnestly enjoyable retreat from a galaxy far, far away and a socio-political alien invasion – but we’ve not, in the purest sense of the word, had a lot of fun. You know, big, dumb expensive fun. Fantastic Four is big, expensive and dumb in spades – but also unforgivably dull.
The protection of Marvel’s flagship supergroup property has infused the whole movie with a sense of nervousness, leaving it unsure whether it’s a pure action comedy or looking to be something deeper. It’s certainly not a movie made for critics, miserable creatures that we are, but it does assume an arrogant level of idiocy in its audience. It emerges as a studio accountant’s dream of product placement with a lazy eye on the early teen market, providing just enough effects shots to make a good trailer and sell some baseball caps.
Yet surely even the teeniest cinemagoer now demands more than occasional cleavage and sloppy CG? Spider-man, for example, became the biggest superhero franchise because it spoke to an adolescent insecurity experienced by all, while X-Men deftly spliced puberty and alienation. If Fantastic Four has a message it’s that being a celebrity is, like, super hard. Well, who cares?
Director Tim Story fails to either inject any real sense of joy into his silliness or even extend the quartet’s powers, played with in a few fun asides, into a single sustained action sequence. Like the movie, his Four spend much of their time confined to safe areas, afraid to do anything that might be dangerous or upset the public.
Story’s stylistic flatness also infects his (mis)cast. Gruffudd is too sweetly anonymous to emerge as a reluctant leader, McMahon too preening to be anything other than camp and then there’s Jessica Alba. Expecting anyone to buy her as a “Director of Genetic Research” was always wishful thinking of Cinderella proportions, but an acting range extending from hurt pout to scowly pout makes her the movie’s low-point. Praise be, then, for Chiklis and Evans, who as The Thing and Johnny Storm inject respectively a degree of heart and humour sorely lacking whenever they leave the screen. They alone lift this above pay-per view advertising.
Fleetingly enjoyable in very short bursts, this is the most cynically constructed event movie in recent memory, its heart purely in its wallet. A fantastic bore.