I have to admit that I didn’t see the first ‘Fantastic Four’ movie, mainly because when I saw the trailer it looked like the most generic superhero film ever, with nothing really distinctive about it. To an extent this is always going to be a problem with putting the FF on screen, as part of their appeal is that they’re the larger-than-life celebrity superheroes – and with all the Marvel movies offering big, bold versions of their characters, it’s hard to make the FF stand out.
However, when the first trailer for the sequel appeared, I was quite impressed: a single action sequence of Johnny Storm chasing the Silver Surfer, it looked good and displayed far more confidence than running through all the typical beats of the genre, showing that all the bases were going to be covered.
Although this movie does make some efforts to play up the FF as celebrities, this is really just a bit of window dressing: the issues they face are the same as most superheroes, those of responsibility and the desire for an ordinary life they’ll never have. Accordingly, the 4 are nowhere near as rounded as Spider-Man, Batman or the X-Men have been in their outings during the present decade. It’s one of those films that seems to have been given a final rewrite aimed at making the dialogue a bit crap: not awful, just a bit lifeless. Which is surprising, what with it having been co-written by Mark ‘Twin Peaks’ Frost. Some good lines have made it through and it’s far from bereft of laughs, but there are also a number of little underwritten comedy scenes that don’t work because the gag’s so obvious.
Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are capable of lifting the material: to be fair they have the more interesting characters anyway, but Evans in particular shows great ability and, as a pretty boy who can really act, is bound to be in demand. With Chiklis given little to do, Evans emerges as the best thing in the film. Ioan Gruffud never looks comfortable and Jessica Alba is a black hole sucking the life from every scene she’s in.
The fact that this woman is the reigning FHM Sexiest Woman In The World should be a source of great shame to all concerned. When the Silver Surfer comments that Sue Storm reminds him of the woman he loves, it’s tempting to comment that this is probably because she looks like every blandly pretty blonde you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that the character as written is the spoilsport who nags Reed to quit the FF and have a nice normal life, but Alba brings no spark: her chemistry with Gruffud is zero, and with the film coming in at a trim 92 minutes, one wonders whether it’s been edited to skew towards Evans.
Or maybe the length has been kept down because this movie is aimed at a younger audience than other Marvel films: less violence, fewer deaths, straightforward themes and unsubtle humour. If you’re going to skew a comics movie towards the kids, FF is not a bad choice: ironically, given that they were the characters who kickstarted the much vaunted ‘realism’ that characterised 1960s and 1970s Marvel, they’re simpler than most by virtue of not having dual identities. They are superheroes 24/7: their ‘real’ lives aren’t an issue, which is handy as kids are less likely to care about that stuff.
And although I could criticise this movie all day, I didn’t dislike it at all. It isn’t particularly cool or stylish but it’s entertaining, with a plot that moves smoothly and delivers what it promises. It also doesn’t feature any action sequences that are too fast for you to actually see what’s happening, which is a bonus. Any disappointment that Galactus isn’t a giant bloke in a purple helmet are tempered by the realisation that that would have been rubbish. It’s decent: this shouldn’t stop us from demanding better, though it’s good to have a superhero flick that’s genuinely family-suitable.