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PCR # 277  (Vol. 6, No. 28)  This edition is for the week of July 11--17, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Fantastic Four"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova
Three stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

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20th Century Fox     
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon
Directed by: Tim Story
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 1 hours 46 mins

Anyone who's read comics and watched movies for decades knows first-hand how hard it is to faithfully translate the comic book to the big screen. In the distant past, usually the primitive state-of-the-art special effects or a miniscule effects budget crippled the scriptwriting to a lowest base denominator of what could be pulled off (the 1950s TV show The Adventures of Superman being the most notable exception here).

Before the turn of the millenium, I can honestly say only the '70s Superman the Movie got it pretty close to exactly right. I give Tim Burton's 1988 Batman points for re-introducing the goth concept back into the storyline, but not much else. Don't get me started on The Matrix, which was based on at least three comics, but never officially acknowledged as so.

After Y2K, things started to improve amazingly with The X-Men 1 & 2, and Spider-Man 1 & 2. Not so much with Daredevil, Electra, The Punisher and Hulk (just goes to show an increased budget and unlimited CGI effects can't always save 'em). This summer's Batman Begins is a thrilling return to the comic's Dark Knight concept, successfully ignoring earlier entries (with the possible exception of the "body-armor" type Bat-suit, a concept I still have problems with, but I digress...)

The Fantastic Four, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and launched by Marvel Comics in the early '60s has defied every attempt to bring it to either TV (except for animation) or the movies. The 1994 attempt at a movie, never officially released by Roger Corman's company, was the last time it got even close (and about the less said, the better).

The simply-put comics version: Reed Richards, a brilliant but rather socially inept scientist, his wife Sue Storm, her brother Johnny, and pilot Ben Grimm (an old pal of Richards), take off in a rocket to indulge in space experiments. While out there, they are bombarded by cosmic rays, and upon crashing back to earth, realize the rays have changed their physical and chemical structure so that all have gained amazing powers: Richards can stretch his body to amazing distances. Sue can make herself invisible and also project force fields. Johnny can self-ignite into a literal human torch, and Ben....well, depending on your viewpoint, Ben got the sh*t end of the stick by being transformed into a repulsive, rock-like thing, but with incredible super-strength. Before leaving the crash site, they vow to use their powers to aid humanity as The Fantastic Four. One of their greatest enemies is Dr. Doom, former college student Victor Von Doom, who attended the same university as Richards (I think they might've been roomates, too), but through a terrible accident involving both, the incredibly vain Doom blamed Richards on a resulting disfigurement and became his sworn enemy. (I always thought there were echoes of the ancient Lex Luthor/Superman mythos here, where Lex blamed his baldness on Superman and became his life-long enemy!)

The simply-put movie version: Reed Richards, a brilliant but rather socially inept scientist, is able to convince powerful and vain businessman Victor Von Doom to finance a risky, but potentially profitable space experiment using Doom's own space station as a base of operations. Doom's assistant, Sue Storm (an old flame of Richards), is hired on as some sort of liason (it is hinted she and Doom are in a current relationship). Ben Grimm, a pal of Richards and sort of his greek chorus is reluctantly allowed by Doom to be the pilot. I forget how young Johhny got on board except he is Susan's brother, and apparently has a previous military(?) association with Grimm. Together (Doom included, in case there's any glory in it), they take off for space. Unfortunately, the cosmic storm orignally thought to be hours aways is literally right on top of them. Unprepared, they are all hit hard by the rays and changed forever. Returning safely to earth (no crashes), they are all hospitalized where their powers are revealed.

The "powerful businessman" concept for Dr. Doom is likely going to be where most hard-core fans of the comic are going to have major problems with this screenplay. I didn't mind it myself, but I must admit, the "old formula" school of screenwriting rears its ugly head as a dependable cross-polination between Lex Luthor (there's that name again) from Superman and Norman Osborne from Spider-Man. I figure the producers thought that was reliable 'cuz it always worked before (to be fair, Doom's legendary Latvarian connection is referred to a few times during the movie, but it's barely relevant to the story). The romantic Sue Storm angle was thrown in to intensify the hatred and jealousy Doom holds for Richards.

But let me tell you where the filmmakers got it absolutely right: the personal interplay between the main characters is dead on, and the costumes and effects are very faithful to anyone's (I should think) memory of the comics and animated cartoons. The Thing's costume, arguably the most difficult concept to realize, really works here, as his rocky countenance is both repulsive and sad. The sad expression is probably the thing that makes The Thing work, and Michael Chiklis (with a little effect of some sort on his voice) exudes Thing-ness. Chris Evans' Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, is absolutely the hot-headed punk we've always known him to be, and the only one of the group who thinks seeking a cure for their condition is madness. The Invisible Girl, Sue Storm, played by the sultry Jessica Alba, is not exactly the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl-next-door of the comics, but in this context she still pulls it off, with a decent blend of sensitivity and kickass-ed-ness (her starring role on TV's Dark Angel comes to mind). I wouldn't have cast Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards, aka, Mr. Fantastic, but here again, taken as a whole, he conveys the right characteristics from the comics.

The only other complaint that hard-core fans may have is so much time is spent on character development, it cuts into the affordable action time. To that I would counter, well, maybe, but when the action is on screen, it's really in your face!

Look for a delightful cameo by Stan Lee as mailman Willy Lumpkin, as he hand-delivers mail to Reed Richards in the Baxter Building; and yes, it's a fairly significant speaking role.

While I don't think FF will stand the test of time quite like The X-Men, Spider-Man, or Batman Begins, neither will it languish in the netherworld of coulda-been-contenders like Hulk, The Punisher, or Daredevil.

On a scale of zero-to-four stars, I give Fantastic Four  Three stars!

This week's movie review of "Fantastic Four" is ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.