Tripping the Four Fantastic

Columbus Alive | July 8, 2005
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s 1961 response to DC’s Justice League, The Fantastic Four was the superhero team as dysfunctional family, and it quickly proved to be a potent vehicle for the two men’s wild imaginations, laying the groundwork for what would become the Marvel Universe.

But despite Kirby and Lee’s volcanic creative output, the Fantastic Four never achieved the sort of pseudo-mythic grandeur of later creations like Spider-Man and the Hulk. The book and the characters were springboards instead of destinations, occupying a charming but cheesy world that could never take itself too seriously because Lee and Kirby had built unseriousness into its DNA.

So it’s fitting that the big-screen adaptation seems like a series of half measures, a movie at odds with itself and its own clashing tones—Fantastic Four is ramshackle and at times half-assed, but a lot of fun in spite of that (or maybe because of it).

Brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and his friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) convince rich guy Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) to let them use his space station to test cosmic radiation. Along for the trip are Reed’s ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny (Chris Evans). It turns out the effects of cosmic rays on attractive young scientists are a lot like the effects of super spiders and gamma radiation—it turns them into superheroes.

Not much happens once the four become fantastic and Victor gets his Ph.D. in doom—they become celebrities, get some funny montages, and do battle in what seems like a sudden and rushed climax. Each of the protagonists is assigned just one note, but the four leads nail that simple note over and over: Chiklis is the down-on-his-luck blue-collar monster, Gruffudd is the absent-minded professor, Evans is the cocky playboy, Alba is hot. Well played if not well rounded, at least they’re fun to hang around a movie theater with.

There are only two serious problems: Fans will rankle at the re-imagining of Doom as just another corporate shark-turned-maniac, much like Willam DaFoe's Green Goblin from Spider-Man or any of the post-Gene Hackman takes on Lex Luthor.

And worse still, Pixar’s Incredibles, the best Fantastic Four movie ever made, beat the actual Fantastic Four to the silver screen, making it one more time that the Fantastic Four pale in comparison to something they and their creators originally inspired.

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