Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four as an editorial imperative: Invent a superhero group to cash in on the popularity of DC Comics’
Justice League of America. In transporting Lee and Kirby’s epochal creation to the screen, director Tim Story and writers Michael France and Mark Frost have much the same task—in the wake of the massively popular
X-Men franchise, streamline 40 years of comic-book history into an easily marketable 105-minute film. But while Lee and Kirby reworked an old formula into something wholly new, Story’s superficial alterations only bring the picture in line with tired tent pole storytelling, forcing our heroes to fight off evil clichés when they should be fighting Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon).
Lee and Kirby’s ultimate contribution to their art form was their unique blend of dynamic action and fallible human characters. Story’s
Fantastic Four misses the mark on both counts. As in the Marvel comics, Reed (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue (Jessica Alba), Johnny (Chris Evans), and Ben (Michael Chiklis) are transformed by exposure to cosmic radiation. But the action sequences reek of drudgery rather than adventure, and with the exception of Chiklis’s remarkably soulful performance beneath 60 pounds of orange Thing makeup, all of the characters are flatter than their two-dimensional counterparts.
Before the inevitable and surprisingly anticlimactic battle with Doom, we are treated to two extreme-sports demonstrations, several training montages, an ill-advised love triangle, and a scene where massive billboards for Burger King, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and SoBe dwarf our heroes. Fantastic four, indeed.