I know, I know. You’ve been clamoring to hear my thoughts on a movie that everybody is sort of okay just forgetting about. But, listen up! Fantastic Four… is not actually that bad. I mean, it’s not great or anything, but it’s not the flaming pile of garbage you might have thought it was. What more could you want from a movie? (Probably something that you’ll remember thirty minutes after watching it, but whatever).
– The movie is surprisingly well cast. I hadn’t seen it since it first came out so I didn’t remember much about it, but the one thing I’ve seen repeated since its release was that Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch and Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing were the particular standouts in the movie. And while I’d agree with that, I think the rest of the cast is actually rather solid. Jessica Alba does a decent job with Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman considering she’s not given much more to do than be the stick in Reed’s and Doom’s tug-of-war. And though they’re not exactly comic accurate (Reed is more a Peter-Parker-goofy nerd here instead of a calculating, cold scientist who’s so bent on bettering the world that his morality is often questioned; Doom is just an egotistical, vengeful businessman instead of a megalomaniacal genius who wants to perfect the world through his brutal dictatorship) but Ioan Gruffudd and Julian McMahon, as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Victor von Doom respectively, serve their parts admirably. McMahon’s cold whispers and sly smiles actually make the tired “trick one good guy into thinking other good guy isn’t that good” trope sort of work.
– The movie has some serious problems with women. As mentioned, Sue is often reduced to just an object used to progress Doom and Reed’s rivalry as well as their respective character arcs. She gets a few good moments in the final fight with Doom but compared to the other team members her powers are really underutilized. On top of that, the filmmakers couldn’t resist showing off that they had Jessica Alba in their movie, who, if you forgot, is an attractive woman. Her introduction of the team’s costumes, where her zipper is pulled comically low to show off her cleavage, is unnecessary and the scene of her getting undressed in front of a crowd of people as she tries to get a grasp on her invisibility powers is so utterly and embarrassingly pointless that it brings the whole movie down with its blatant, low-bar attempt to appeal to its audience. Other than Sue, the only other major women are the one-dimensional, attractive ladies who fawn over Johnny, Ben’s wife who ends their marriage without a single word of discussion after she sees his rock-monsterness, and Ben’s love interest who gets exactly two scenes. The movie is not exactly filled with interesting or well-written women with their own arcs or things to do.
– The movie goes for a sort of light version of Raimi’s pseudo-60s style in Spider-Man. It doesn’t fully commit to it the way Raimi does with his camera and editing, but it works well enough here. It’s got silly, winking jokes that are meant just for the audience (Reed is always “stretching for the stars”; Ben does the “heavy lifting”) but it’s all harmless enough.
– The special effects certainly haven’t aged well though. The movie comes from that awkward era of CGI where everyone thought it was good enough to do consistently throughout the movie but wasn’t actually good enough to start blending seamlessly with the practical stuff. The result is that every CGI element is immediately apparent the second it appears on screen. Doing a fully practical costume for The Thing is admirable and, for the most part, it works, though the hands look really awkward.
– Most of the movie is dedicated to the four just trying to figure out their powers and their relationships with one another. We see Doom develop his powers and character arc, but he’s mostly kept separate from the FF for the middle third of the movie. I always enjoy the parts of superhero fiction where newly-powered people learn about their abilities and have to test them out to see exactly how they function. Most of Fantastic Four is spent on that aspect as well as exploring how the FF work together as a group, most of which works well thanks to the cast. Though, that does mean there are genuinely only two scenes of superpowered action in the whole movie. There’s the scene on the bridge, which is fine, and the finale, which is surprisingly short and anticlimactic. But I’m okay with that because I like the quieter, more subdued powers stuff.
– Also, it occurs to me now that the movie never really explains why these four people want to fight crime and be superheroes. They never actually fight crime (the bridge scene is saving civilians in a traffic accident and the finale starts with Doom outright attacking them personally) and they never talk about their desire to make the world better through their powers. Reed mentions at the start wanting to use science to make the world better but we never get a sense of the problems that exist in the world or how their powers could be used to fix them. It’s just like the movie knew they had to be superheroes so the characters just sorta gravitate toward it for no apparent reason. There’s no “great power, great responsibility” or murdered parents or any motivation really. Instead, they become superheroes because… Well, just because. The movie is all How, and no Why.
By the time Fantastic Four came out we had already gotten the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies, the first two X-Men movies, and Batman Begins had only come out just a few weeks before. Superhero movies were maturing and tackling bigger issues and more complex characters, and that’s exactly what Fantastic Four isn’t, so I think most people were quick to dismiss it. Fantastic Four is well-acted, simple, superhero fun and not much else.