Dir: Tim Story. US. 2005.105 mins.
The title characters inMarvel's longest running comic book series form a dysfunctional family ofsuperheroes who struggle to cope with the emergence of their superpowers andthe celebrity that results. So maybe it's appropriate that the lightweight butenjoyable movie version of Fantastic Four, with its playful, slightly old-fashioned feel,is likely to work better for families and non-comic book fans than it is forthe more usual audience of teens and picky genre purists. The big question ishow that kind of appeal will affect the commercial fortunes of a film Marvel ishoping can erase the memory of recent disappointments such as ThePunisher and Elektra.
Opening in the US thisweekend (against the second week of War Of The Worlds and new release Dark Water) through worldwide distributor Fox, FantasticFour will benefit from being basedon one of Marvel's best-loved properties but suffer from a lack of star powerand relative paucity of big effects. In the end, a domestic theatrical grosstowards the middle of the range achieved by previous Marvel pictures seemsprobable, with a strong DVD performance to follow.
Opening day-and-date withthe US in Australia, Brazil and Mexico, and later in July in most otherterritories, the movie looks set to emulate other non-Spider-Man Marvel titles and gross slightly lessinternationally than domestically. The presence in the cast of the UK's IoanGruffudd and Australia's Julian McMahon might, however, perk up business inthose markets.
Many comic book fans areaware of the film's tortuous production history, involving five directors, aslew of screenwriters and German producer Bernd Eichinger. But the finishedproduct, directed by unlikely choice Tim Story (Barbershop and the US remake of Taxi), shows little of the inconsistency that the historysuggests.
The heroes are scientist DrReed Richards (Gruffud, last seen in King Arthur); his astronaut best friend Ben Grimm (Chiklis, fromTV's The Shield); scientist andformer girlfriend to Reed Sue Storm (Alba, from Sin City); and Sue's hotheaded younger brother Johnny Storm(Evans, from Cellular).
Caught in a cosmic stormduring a research trip into space, the four are transformed into Mr Fantastic,who can contort his body into any shape; Invisible Woman, who can also generatepowerful force fields; the rock-like and supremely strong The Thing; andthe flying and fiery Human Torc
The script, by MichaelFrance (Hulk) and Mark Frost (TwinPeaks), has Reed, who feelsresponsible for the accident, searching for a way to reverse thetransformations when the team returns to its New York base. Eventually,however, the four friends come to accept their new powers and personas and usethem to foil billionaire industrialist villain Victor Von Doom (McMahon), oldcollege rival to Reed and suitor of Sue.
As drama, it's notterrifically eventful. But there are other elements to the story thatkeep the film watchable. There's a lot of quite effective humour in the earlysequences, a touch of social critique in the outside world's response to thenew superheroes, some pathos in Ben's rejection by his wife after he becomesThe Thing, and some nice romance between Reed and Sue.
And though the cast is notparticularly starry it does produce some enjoyable performances. Evans is a lotof fun as the likeably cocky Johnny and Chiklis manages to project some emotionthrough his heavy make-up. Gruffudd is appealingly nerdy and - though thescript does little to help her come over as a believable scientist - Albaoffers some warmth as well as her good looks.
Those elements will appealto older audiences but younger, more devout comic book movie fans are likely tofeel let down by the rather cheesy effects. An early action set piece in whichthe Four use their newfound powers to avert a disaster on the Brooklyn Bridgeworks well, and scenes of the Human Torch in flight are quite effective. Butelsewhere the movie makes do with less impressive flashes of CGI work. Andshots of Mr Fantastic using his superpowers sometimes make the film seemincongruously like a live-action version of The Incredibles.
Prod cos: Twentieth Century Fox, Constantin Film, MarvelEnterprises.
Worldwide dist: 20th Century Fox (excluding Germany),Constantin (Germany).
Prods: Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad, Ralph Winter.
Exec prods: Stan Lee, Kevin Feige, Chris Columbus, MarkRadcliffe, Michael Barnathan.
Scr: Mark Frost, Michael France, based on the MarvelComic Book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
DoP: Oliver Wood.
Prod des: Bill Boes.
Ed: William Hoy.
Mus: John Ottman.
Main cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, MichaelChiklis, Julian McMahon.