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Fantastic Four

In a classic example of filmmakers having no idea whatsoever what to do with the property they've optioned, another Marvel title has been slapped onto the screen in a half-baked fashion, disregarding all reasons why anyone should wish to pay money to see the thing. "The Fantastic Four," created by Jack Kirby, first hit the comic book racks in 1961 and became the flagship title for Marvel, helping form the entire universe in which future Marvel heroes would exist. They were a different sort of superheroes from the beginning, eschewing costumes and never bothering to keep their identities secret. The origin of their powers was unique — when an experimental rocket flight planned by scientists Reed Richards and Benjamin Grimm was canceled, the pair — joined by Susan Storm and her younger brother, Johnny — snuck onto the launch pad and took off in the rocket themselves. Outside the Earth's atmosphere, the rocket was subjected to bizarre cosmic radiation, which changed the foursome on a biological level. Richards found he was able to stretch his body into any freakish configuration, and became Mr. Fantastic. Ben Grimm turned into The Thing, his skin a rocky, orange crust, and his strength multiplied to extraordinary levels. Johnny Storm became The Human Torch, who could fly and control fire. After the crash, Susan Storm went missing, but she was found by the sound of her voice — she had become invisible. When she learned to control her abilities she became The Invisible Woman, able to fly and create invisible force-fields. Their arch-nemesis was Victor Von Doom, a genius born in the European country of Latveria to a gypsy tribe and, briefly, a college roommate of Reed Richards. A laboratory accident — caused when Von Doom flew into a rage over Richards reading some of his notes — turned him into a madman who created a metal suit of armor for himself and set out to rule the world.

All of which has entertained comic book fans for over four decades. So, as part of Stan Lee's and Marvel's commitment to throwing every property they own on the screen to rake in cash following the success of Spider-Man and X-Men, a truly crappy movie was made starring The Fantastic Four (fun fact: a 1992 FF film was produced by Roger Corman and never released, giving it an almost mythic status among comic geeks). Here, we meet the four as top-notch scientists — and old college pals, every one! — when Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) proposes a pointless "Hey, let's go into space!" field trip to billionaire (and also old college buddy) Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). Dr. Von D. says sure and, the very next day, they all go into space! Without any preparation! Or a crew! Out in the deep blue, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Sue's zany, loose-cannon brother, Johnny (Chris Evans) are magically irradiated by something or other. They develop their various powers of invisibility, stretchiness, flame creation and, ah, turning-into-a-rock-guy-ness, then spend the entire film angst-ing about how to turn back into normal humans. In a separate subplot, Von Doom stresses over his company's IPO as he turns — biologically! — into a metal man. That's it. That's all you get. For 90 minutes, The Thing mopes about being made of stone (and creates a desperately dangerous situation on a bridge, putting hundreds of people in peril, but gets applauded when he manages to not kill them all), The Human Torch acts like a spoiled adolescent, and Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl work out their relationship issues. It isn't even until the end of the film that Victor turns into Dr. Doom and has a supremely silly street-fight with The Thing — by which point you'll have hit the fast-forward button about 15 times, hoping something, anything, will happen. The Fantastic Four has cheap-looking special effects, idiotic dialogue ("Reed, you gotta be flexible!"), uninspired direction by Tim Story (Barbershop) and is, in all ways imaginable, dumb and illogical. For example, 24-year-old Alba and 42-year-old Chiklis went to college together? Superhero movies should be about big events and kicking butt. Fantastic Four, with its characters spending so much time talking about their feelings, seems more like a spandex-clad support group session. But less interesting.

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Fox's DVD release of Fantastic Four is probably very good, but as their review copies are emblazoned with a message running along the bottom of the screen that says "Property of 20th Century Fox," it must be said that reviewers are not seeing legitimate retail copies. It looks as if it's a bright, slightly harsh anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), and the audio — in DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1 in English or Spanish, with English and Spanish subtitles — is very good, especially if you like your movies very loud and filled with non-stop, wall-to-wall noise from explosions, water sounds, Foley effects, and blaringly insistent music. There are a lot of extras, most of them as unimpressive as the movie — a commentary track features cast members Alba, Chiklis, and Gruffudd, with McMahon popping in briefly, and it's really, really dull. Four deleted scenes are offered, and they're nothing special — in fact, they're really bad examples of film hackery, including a moment where Richards, talking to Sue Storm, briefly makes himself look like Wolverine as a joke. The "Fantastic Four Video Diary" (19 min.) covers, believe it or not, the actors on the press tour for the film. There are also three behind-the-scenes featurettes, all basic promo fodder: "Making of Fantastic Four" (5 min.), "Fantastic Four: Making a Scene" (8 min.) on the filming of the annoying bridge sequence, and "Fantastic Four: Casting Session" (8 min.), a talking heads piece focusing on the filmmakers. There are also two music videos — "Everything Burns" by Ben Moody and Anastacia, and "Come On, Come In" by Velvet Revolver; plus a music soundtrack spot and trailers. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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