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FANTASTIC FOUR
Extended Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington
Director:  Tim Story
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  111 Minutes
Release Date:  June 5, 2007

"Don't even THINK about it!"

"Never do."

Film ***

My DMC comrade-in-arms Gordon has earned a reputation on the web for standing up for fun action flicks he felt were unfairly panned by critics.  Now it's my turn. 

The overall reviews of Fantastic Four were nothing to write home about, but I've seen the movie three times now, and have an entirely different opinion:  this is a solid slice of movie entertainment.  Does it rank with some of the best superhero movies, like Superman, Batman Begins, X-Men or Spider-Man 2?  No, I wouldn't go that far.  But it's still a nice bit of fantasy and action, with some good special effects, memorable characters, and a tremendous sense of fun.  It won't change the way you view motion pictures.  But for the couple of hours it's on the screen in front of you, it's a helluva good time.

Origin stories by nature are sometimes a little clinical and by-the-numbers.  Fans of the comic book already know how the Four become what they are.  But it's a new movie, so we start from the beginning and work our way forward.  The only real inherent complaint is by the time they start acting like a team of superheroes, there's not a lot of time left.  But if a sequel is in the works (and it sounds like it from the talk on the commentary track), the foundation is well-poured, and the possibilities are near limitless.

Dr. Reed Richards (Gruffudd) is a brilliant but frequently failed scientist hoping that his latest project, which involves exploring a cosmic storm passing close to the earth to learn about possible life origins, will put his career right again.  He and his faithful friend Ben Grimm (Chiklis) can make it work, if they can use a space station owned by billionaire Victor von Doom (McMahon).  Doom agrees (for a huge take of the profits), and adds himself and his love interest Sue Storm (Alba) and her brother Johnny (Evans) to the crew.  The one time romance between Sue and Reed is a chemistry problem all in its own.

In space, an unforeseen timing error leaves the group exposed to the rays.  Back on earth, everything seems fine for a while.  But then strange things begin to happen.  Johnny's body temperature is unusually high, and he seems to be able to summon fire at will.  Reed begins to stretch and shape his body as though it were rubber.  Ben undergoes the most astonishing change, turning into a solid, rocky mass of power and weight.  And all of them soon find they can see right through Sue...literally.

Even Victor begins to undergo a change of his own, as his body grows metallic and he learns he can control electrical and magnetic powers.  But while the other four deal with their strange new powers and newfound fame, he retreats into a dark plan to exact revenge on those whom he believed were taking everything away from him.

The Fantastic Four were always an interesting entry into the lore of superheroes for a couple of reasons.  One, they had no secret identities to retreat into.  Once they team up to prevent a catastrophe high up on the Brooklyn Bridge (a spectacular scene), the world knows who they are and what they can do.  Two, they were a true team in that even though they each had great individual powers, it was nothing compared to what they could do as a group.

Dealing with their physical changes in the public eye is just one of the story lines that makes the movie work.  Johnny, who dubs himself The Human Torch, loves his new powers and the notoriety that comes with them.  Sue and Reed may be The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic, but they still have to deal with their past and possible future together while trying to find answers about what happened to them and whether they can change back.  But it's Ben who summons the tale's real pathos.  His transformation makes him feel like a freak, and despite the tremendous strength and power he commands as The Thing, all he really wants is to be normal again.

But when Victor takes on the persona of Dr. Doom and plots to rid the world of The Fantastic Four, they have to put everything personal aside and unite to save the world.  It's a great confrontation, but as mentioned, it takes a while to get there, and for my money, was over a little too quickly.

But we're not talking the sinking of the Titanic here.  The whole movie isn't about The Fantastic Four vs. Dr. Doom.  There's a lot of fun and pleasure to be had getting to the final point.  The characters are well drawn and memorable, particularly the hot-headed and reckless Johnny and the sorrowful Ben.  All the actors are terrific in their roles, but it's really Michael Chiklis who stands out.  As an avowed fan of the original comic, he brought all the right touches to The Thing, including a great gravelly voice (his own; no special effects added), and playing the character for real instead of letting CGI do the work for him.

I had a great time watching this movie, and there's certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a film for big, noisy entertainment value.  Thus, I respectfully disagree with my brethren in criticism who didn't find viewing this picture a positive experience.  I have Citizen Kane for my cerebral days, but when I just want to shut the world out for a little while, Fantastic Four delivers the goods.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Keep an eye out for a cameo from creator Stan Lee...it's a performance he pretty much just mailed in.  ;-)

Video ****

"FLAME ON!!"

This anamorphic transfer is another knockout from Fox.  The colors look terrific throughout, whether the lighting is bright or dark, and images are crisp, clean and well detailed all the way.  The Torch's fire looks great against the night sky and other dark backdrops, and the brief outer space scenes, which are sometimes troublesome on DVD, are first rate.

Audio ****

"It's CLOBBERIN' TIME!"

You have a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS surround tracks.  Both serve the movie well.  Dynamic range is extremely potent; there will be places where you feel the floor vibrating beneath you.  The surrounds are constantly active, and the subwoofer delivers amazing punch.  Dialogue balances well against the special effects.  In other words, everything you'd want from an action movie and then some!

Features ****

"Am I the only guy who thinks this is cool?"

Some fantastic features accompany this double disc set, starting with a fun commentary track with stars Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba and Michael Chiklis.  It's a fun listen.  There's also commentary with director Tim Story with his producers and screenwriters.  You can also opt for either the theatrical or new slightly longer extended cut of the movie.

There are also some extended/deleted scenes, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer Trailer,
Silver Surfer Featurette, Heroes Are Born: The Making Of Fantastic Four Documentary, The Baxter Building: Declassified Featurette, The World's Greatest Comic Magazine Documentary, Jack Kirby: Storyteller Documentary, Visiting The Stately Ross Museum Featurette, From Comic Book To Film Featurette, pls Multi-Angle Scene Studies and Still Galleries.

Summary:

Fantastic Four is fantastic fun.  It isn't as substantial as some of the truly great superhero films, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.  This is a terrific popcorn movie filled with laughs, action, thrills, and best of all, a quartet of great characters you'll be happy to see united again.  Recommended.

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