There are four of them, and they are fantastic. Idealistic scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) has a reach that exceeds his grasp. Beautiful and brilliant Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) loves him but feels that he doesn’t really see her. Her hotheaded daredevil brother Johnny has impulse control issues. And their friend Ben (Michael Chiklis) is the rock they rely on. When they get hit by cosmic rays, their DNA is changed and they develop superpowers. Reed becomes elastic, Sue becomes invisible (and can create invisible force fields), Johnny turns to flame and can propel himself through the air. And Ben turns into solid rock, strong enough to throw an SUV.
All of this takes up most of the movie, and then there is something about a bad guy near the end.
When people decide to make a movie about comic book heroes, they need to remember that origin stories get published after the characters and their powers and adventures are already well established. We know it all too well — exposure to cosmic rays, confusion and then exhilaration on the part of the supes, suspicion and then vindication on the part of the community and the cover of People. What should have taken up only a portion of the credit sequence gets dragged out so long that the big confrontation plays like an afterthought.
That aside, however, the movie is an entertaining summer popcorn flick. And one benefit of taking its time to get going is that it spends some of its special effects budget on scenes that are less violent than the usual superhero fare. This movie is about the relationship between the four main characters; the villain is all but incidental.
The best fight scene in the movie is between Reed and Ben. And some of the best special effects are the small ones as Johnny tries out his new powers, snapping his fingers like a cigarette lighter or casually making a pan of Jiffy Pop without using a stove.
The Fantastic Four were a transition between the cardboard-y good guys and the post-modern, noir-ish heroes. They didn’t have secret identities or sidekicks. They were unpretentious and nerdy and they bickered with each other and had to cope with life in the city. All of that is not as surprising as it was in 1961, when the FF first appeared. But it still gives the film a loose, engaging quality that keeps things buoyant in between action sequences. And those sequences are well-staged and exciting (aside from a completely unnecessary and distracting X-treme skateboard scene) without being too terrifying or gratuitously destructive. If it is not exactly fantastic, the movie is a lot of fun.
Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of peril and comic book-style action violence. In most cases, no one is hurt, but some characters are injured or killed. Characters use some strong language (including “Oh, Jesus!”) and there are some mild sexual references including implied (non-sexual) nudity and a bit of crude humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about what kinds of superpowers they would most like to have and what they would do if they had them.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the comic books and the animated series as well as other comic book adaptations like Spider-Man and X-Men and their sequels. Hard-core FF fans will want to track down the legendary first movie version of the story, which was made quickly and cheaply in 1994 just to maintain the rights to the characters and was never intended for release. And they may be amused at reading about the 2002 disclosure that, as long suspected, Ben Grimm (the Thing) is Jewish.