Fantastic Four (July 7/06)
One thing's certain: it would be a mistake to walk into Fantastic Four expecting another Spider-Man, X-Men, or Batman (the new Batman, not the Joel Schumacher Batman). While the film is essentially entertaining throughout, it never becomes anything more; unlike the aforementioned movies, Fantastic Four seems content to operate on the level of pure eye-candy. Michael France and Mark Frost's screenplay is packed with cheesy jokes and silly double entendres, ensuring that the film will likely play best among younger audiences - while adults with substantially lowered expectations just might find something here worth embracing.
After a space mission goes disastrously wrong, four scientists - Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) - along with an evil businessman named Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) return to earth with unexpected changes to their bodies. Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic, and receives the ability to stretch any part of his body, Ben turns into Thing, a big piece of rock; Susan is the Invisible Woman and can disappear on command, Johnny's ability to create fire transforms him into the Human Torch, and Victor can control electricity (his pseudonym: Doctor Doom).
The bulk of Fantastic Four follows each of the five characters as they attempt to come to terms with their newfound abilities, along with the resulting consequences. Yet despite a midsection that's devoted to so-called character developing sequences (read: it becomes slow and talky), we don't really know much more about these people at the film's conclusion than we did at the outset. This is essentially the anti-Spider-man 2; where Sam Raimi's flick featured crackling dialogue and a heightened sense of realism, Fantastic Four is chock-a-block with wink-at-the-camera moments and an unmistakable air of puerility (ie one of Mr. Fantastic's first stunts is to reach across the hallway and grab a roll of toilet paper - while sitting on the toilet).
Were someone to mention the words "comic book movie" about ten years ago - before the resurgence of the genre with 2000's X-Men - this is exactly the sort of film one would've expected. It's bright, colorful, and loud - while also lacking in the depth that filmmakers like Bryan Singer and Chris Nolan have brought to the table. Director Tim Story - best known for last year's horrid Taxi remake - tries his best to imbue the movie with a distinctive sense of style, but proves to be completely incapable of such a feat. The performances are engaging but far from stellar; Evans, as the ultra-cocky Johnny Storm, is the film's only real stand-out. Alba isn't as terrible as everybody might've expected, though asking the audience to accept her as a scientist is admittedly a ludicrous proposition.
Fantastic Four is essentially campy fun; this is the sort of movie Schumacher's Batman and Robin was trying to be. And while the movie's over-the-top modus operandi might be a tough swallow for audiences expecting something more complex and deep, there's no denying that the movie works as a mindless piece of summer entertainment.