Fantastic Four (2005)

Following the uber-success of films like Spiderman and Batman Begins, as well as grown-up comics like Sin City, (and forgetting fiascos like Catwoman and Hulk) it’s inevitable that pretty much any comic franchise will be treated to a movie update. In direct contrast to the decidedly dark turn most of these adaptations have taken, however, The Fantastic Four is remarkably light and fluffy. It’s a properly family-friendly movie, focussing on all-American style values of loyalty, love, and of course the family unit itself.

After a freak accident in space, a group of scientists discover that their DNA has been radically altered. Reed Richards’s body becomes elasticated, stretching to all kinds of improbable lengths, much like mostly forgotten child’s toy Stretch Armstrong – his new moniker of “Mr Fantastic” is a pretty lame one, but we’ll overlook that for now; Sue Storm earns herself the title of the Invisible Woman, though essentially she has gained the ability to control and manipulate light; Johnny Storm becomes the Human Torch through his ability to create fire; and poor old Ben Grimm becomes some sort of cornflakey ogre, unimaginatively titled “The Thing”. The gang have only one another to rely on as the media works itself into a frenzy, though their reactions to their newfound superpowers are all different.

There wouldn’t be a movie without a villain, though – enter Victor Von Doom. They couldn’t have made it any more obvious that he was going to be the bad guy if they’d called him Doomy Von Doomerson, and the fact that he’s played by Source of All Evil Julian McMahon doesn’t help. Reed and Victor were at university together, but while Reed’s principles and desire to work for the good of all mankind have left him bankrupt, Victor’s ruthless ambition has earned him millions. Oh, and he got the girl, too; Sue Storm, Reed’s ex-girlfriend and love of his life is now Victor’s right hand woman. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how the movie’s going to unfold, but there’s still a great deal of pleasure to be had in watching it happen.

The light-heartedness of it all is refreshing after all the doom and gloom of other cinematic superhero outings. The only one who really suffers for his powers is poor old Ben; his beloved wife, willing to love him when he looked like a flesh-coloured giant Coke can, finds her inner shallowness and rejects him heartlessly when he returns from space looking like a tree trunk. That’s probably the thing that requires the movie’s biggest suspension of disbelief; sure, the guy’s ugly now, but he was before, and now he’s also a superhero, and he’s still the man she married! What a cow. It’s okay, though, because Ben ends up with a hot blind girl. Which is amusing in itself, because – well. It’s not that his personality overcomes his looks, per se, because she can’t bloody see him, so obviously ugly people are not entitled to love; secondly, it’s handy that she’s hot, because we couldn’t let the hideous 2-ton beast see through anyone else’s physical shortcomings; and thirdly, how on earth is that going to work out? If there’s a Fantastic Four 2, it’s going to open with her being squished to death.

Still, it wouldn’t be a happy ending if everyone wasn’t cosily coupled up (except the Human Torch; the obligatory serial womaniser, but then who wouldn’t fall for someone who could set themselves on fire?) and the ending has, handily, been left open for a sequel. I actually hope there will be a follow-up; the first instalment in any franchise is bound to be a little over-explainy, whereas a second movie would have more space to play with its characters, having already established them. It’s also nice to see such a happy movie. There’s no bitterness, no darkness, no overwhelming cynicism here; it’s like a return to some sort of innocence, a good old-fashioned superhero adventure where everyone lives happily ever after at the end. The interactions between characters, particularly the Human Torch and The Thing, are interesting and funny enough to carry at least another movie; the characters are emblematic enough to inspire plenty of cash-in movie merchandise, and there’s enough action and adventure to prevent the movie from ever becoming dull.

It’s a pity about “Mr Fantastic”, though.

IMDB link

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