Fantastic Four (review)

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Kiddie Ride

Oh my, but we’ve been spoiled for comic book movies these last few years, haven’t we, with X-Men and Spider-Man and Hulk and Batman Begins. I just get all warm and squishy and totally turned on thinking about anguished, neurotic, potentially psychotic, not-at-all-well superheroes who need desperately to be hugged and coddled and, ahem, comforted after indulging their angsts and neuroses while beating the living crap out of bad guys bent on world domination or somesuch. What girl doesn’t?

And then — what the hell? — we have Fantastic Four, which is like a kiddie ride when I’ve been primed to expect the biggest, baddest, meanest emotional roller coaster of a sexy action movie when it’s all about guys in tights. They should put one of those scary clown signs outside the theaters showing this flick, the standup pressboards things that hold out a hand and say If you’re taller than this sign you cannot ride. Cuz if you get on anyway and you’re anything like me, then it’s like sitting with your knees banging against the tiny car in front of you and the bar won’t go down in your lap and the little train chugs along pretending it’s a real roller coaster when it’s really just going up and down a few gentle slopes in a slow circle and you want it to go faster and be scarier and make you scream and laugh and get all pretend-frightened even though it’s perfectly safe (and you’re trying not to think about those news stories about how roller coasters make your brain slosh around in your head and will probably give you Parkinson’s or something eventually) and all the while there’s some awful tinkly tinny music playing that sounds like it belongs on an ice cream truck. Maybe it’s scary for little kids, but it ain’t doin’ it for you, who has ridden the goddamn rattling wooden terrifying monster Cyclone on Coney Island which actually gave you a minor case of whiplash which you acknowledge as a badge of honor.

And the hell of it is, it’s not like the deliciously corruptible niceness of Ioan Gruffudd (King Arthur, Horatio Hornblower: Duty) hasn’t been, well, corrupted before in the name of entertainment — man, have you seen Solomon and Gaenor? His Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic is like a mad scientist who’s been cured, or maybe like a merely slightly dotty scientist who can’t be bothered with the mess of actually going mad — he’s got all the accessories, the Brundlfly lab with the cool gene-altering pod thingies, and even the urban secret lair at the top of a neat Art Deco skyscraper, but what he really wants to do is save wounded baby kittens, or something. He’s even got an archvillain, played by the already deliciously corrupt Julian McMahon (or, at least he’s deliciously corrupt on Nip/Tuck), but he’s not a very interesting archvillain — though his name is Victor Von Doom, fer pete’s sake, his major claim to bad-guy fame is that he stole Reed’s girl from him. And Reed’s major beef with Von Doom (oh, what a proper supervillain could do with that name!) is that he is apparently slightly less vanilla than Reed himself and hence contributed to the fact that the girl (Jessica Alba: Sin City, Honey) let herself be stolen.

We do at least get the increasingly wonderful Chris Evans (Cellular, The Perfect Score) as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, who’s like that cocky and bored operator of the kiddie ride who threatens the kids pseudo-menacingly with “Do you want to go faster? Do you want to go FASTER?” Evans can’t actually make the choo-choo go any faster or be any scarier, but he’s trying, dammit, to give you the full experience.

Granted, Evans has all the best lines, and I’m not at all suggesting that Gruffudd or McMahon are to blame for the fact that Fantastic Four is so fantastically unexciting — they just have nothing in the least bit interesting to do, with is quite a feat considering that one of them can stretch his body in all directions and the other one is turning into metal. (The characters, that is, not the actors.) Nooo, this has deliberately been rendered a blandly unoffensive kiddie ride. There’s no other way to explain how two writers like Michael France — who wrote The Punisher, which was of course quite bad but was at least very dark, and Hulk, which was grandiloquently somber — and Mark Frost — who wrote the glorious mindfuck TV series Twin Peaks — ended up creating a tale that’s little more than a disjointed collection of unenthusiastic action set pieces with an emotional content of precisely nil: they were instructed to do so. They were told: Don’t give us a scary dragon roller coaster. Give us a tame choo-choo ride and just paint some dragons on the wall for the kiddies to look at as they chug by, you know, to suggest something fascinating.

Oh, and be sure the big stone Thing (Michael Chiklis: Soldier) gets to pass gas from some orifice or other — the kids, they love that.

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