Fantastic Four

If you’re looking for action, look elsewhere: For the majority of the new Fantastic Four movie, pumped-up, poofy haired, fourth-rate actors stiffly spit their lines at each other. It’s like a porno with all the sex scenes deleted. Marvel’s latest attempt to translate a comic book classic into a cash-cow film franchise borrows minor details from the Spider-Man and X-Men movies while ignoring what made those films work: believable, sympathetic main characters, united toward a common goal. In contrast, this film shifts from cliché to cliché without any sense of purpose, its heroes bickering pointlessly for more than an hour of screen time before snapping into action just in time for an underwhelming, overly computer-generated finale. It may not be the worst superhero movie to recently hit the screen — that title goes to Ben Affleck’s laughable Daredevil — but when you consider the missed opportunity, it might be the most depressing.

It’s a relief to see a blockbuster that doesn’t feature an ear-piercing, brain-pummeling action sequence in its first 10 minutes, but director Tim Story (Barbershop, Taxi) commits a greater sin: He front-loads the movie with dry, flat exposition. The tale is set into motion — a slow, crawling motion — when would-be brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and his burly astronaut buddy Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) show up at the offices of the Trump-like mogul Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Reed wants funding for his sketchy mission to harness the energy of an outer-space storm, for which he’ll need the assistance of his lukewarm ex-lover Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her extreme-sports brother Johnny (Chris Evans).

Reed’s former classmate Von Doom deviously fronts the cash, and before you can say, “What’s the worst that can happen?” — which Ben actually does say — the five are subjected to a cosmic force that gives them super powers. While Von Doom keeps his powers in the closet, as it were, the remaining four are thrust into the public eye, where they’re arbitrarily celebrated and ostracized. Each earns a nickname: The fire-generating Johnny calls himself the Human Torch; the hulking, granite-bodied Ben becomes the Thing; Sue’s disappearing act earns her the stamp of Invisible Girl; and the nerdy, elastic Reed is dubbed Mr. Fantastic.

The bulk of the movie dwells on the origin story — how they come to terms with their superhuman abilities — and it’s shockingly tedious. Fantastic Four lacks the giddy sense of discovery Tobey Maguire brought to Spider-Man, and Story doesn’t bother working up a sense of mystery the way director Bryan Singer did for the introductory scenes of X-Men. When action occurs, it’s usually because the foursome have brought it upon themselves, either by causing devastating traffic accidents or creating unnecessary spectacles in public. But the biggest crimes are committed by the cast. Gruffudd takes his character into new realms of unlikable dorkiness, and Alba seems lobotomized. Chiklis barely registers under his stony costume, and Evans’ tiring frat-boy shtick seems charismatic only by default. Apparently a graduate of the Kevin Spacey School of Smarmy Villainy, McMahon can’t even muster enough enthusiasm to chew scenery. While inflicting bodily harm upon Mr. Fantastic, he utters the line, “Painful? You don’t know the meaning of the word!” The same could be said of being forced to watch Fantastic Four.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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