Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fantastic Four Review (2007)

3 Stars:

If the critics had their way, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer would never have been made. They pretty much unanimously bashed the first Fantastic Four film, yet the film went onto a very respectable 56 million dollars opening weekend en route to a 154 million dollars overall.

I haven't yet seen the first film but if it's anything like the sequel, it isn't too hard to see why critics might feel like this franchise is a second-tier version of X-Men or Spiderman. The special effects can be pretty impressive at times. The London Eye sequence, for example, and the airborne battles are great set pieces. If I hadn't been introduced to Google Earth in the last couple of years, I would have been blown away by the scene where the Human Torch first chases after the Silver Surfer where the frame zooms out of Manhattan to a satellite photo of the Eastern seaboard as a flaming red speck and a silver fly across it. The problem, however, is that the special effects and the world they're set in do not seem well thought-out. Having the Human Torch and Silver Surfer bounce around from New York to Washington D.C. to outer space and Cairo without much second thought, almost feels like something out of a ripe-for-parody 1950's B movie.

That's the case for a lot of this movie: a villain with the name Dr. Von Doom (could they have been any less subtle?), this general blasé feeling by every character in the film about the world ending, etc. Take a film like "Independence Day" to see a somewhat more grandiose vision of our world as it faces a doomsday scenario. In "The Fantastic Four," Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) massages her husband's shoulders as he's being a work-a-haulic and says, "Relax, it's not like the whole weight of the world is on you." Actually, that's kind of EXACTLY WHAT IT IS. Batman is a superhero franchise that's set in "Gotham" and with it, this dark otherworldly atmosphere and Superman weaves together the world of the mundane in Manhattan with extraordinary abilities of Spiderman and his villainous counterparts. On the contrary, Fantastic Four, just appears set in Manhattan out of a lack of anywhere better to film it in. In short, Fantastic Four doesn't feel like a fully realized superhero film in tone.

What makes up for it, in part, is a certain kind of camaraderie between the characters. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chilkis) both are characters imbued with a sense of humor and form a sort of Abbott and Costello chemistry. Besides just being eye candy, Sue (Jessica Alba) brings a sort of feminine balance to the group. Reed (Ioan Gruffudd) is the actual superhero of the group: the equivalent of Peter Parker in Spiderman or Wolverine in the X-Men series. Much of the drama centers around the choices he makes. When you see these four in interviews or press conferences, there's a chemistry between them all that makes them that much more appealing on screen.