Reviews

Fantastic Four (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

The superpowers bring trauma, anger, and confusion, and eventually a sense of responsibility, as the crew decides to do good with what they've got.


Fantastic Four

Director: Tim Story
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2005-12-06
Amazon affiliate

A self-identified Marvel Comics fan, Michael Chiklis says that playing Ben Grimm was something of a dream fulfilled. It shows in the film, Fantastic Four, in that he's about as convincing as anyone could be in his oppressive latex fake-stone-thing suit, and quite frankly more convincing than anyone else in the cast, in any capacity.

He also shows himself to be a generous, charming guy during the commentary for the Fantastic Four DVD, along with costars Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd. Watching the mostly silly-explosive scene where the titular four characters are blasted by a space cloud, Chiklis -- whose Ben has to hang out in space against green screens -- makes an unusually upbeat observation. While many actors describe working with this technology as tedious, he suggests, "It really calls on your child inside, to play, to pretend, 'cause, heck, there's nothing there." All right, you think, he's hinting at a deeper conversation concerning the future of filmmaking. At which point Alba breaks in, "Running in those boots was such a pain in my booty." So much for discussion of craft and imagination.

The explosion leaves the primary characters genetically altered according to their emotional sensibilities. So, wishy-washy Reed (Gruffudd) turns elastic, his feeling-ignored girlfriend Susan (Alba) turns invisible, her hotheaded brother Johnny (Chris Evans) becomes the "human torch," and Ben, Reed's best friend and crew enforcer, gets hard. Also along for the ride (and the zapping) is their mission financier, the egotistical and fatefully named Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), whose body slowly changes to a human-metallic alloy. As he also loses control of his corporation, he determines to take his revenge on his four former employees when their mucked up mission loses him billions. Victor bullies his employees even before he turns metallic and literally cold, assuming he'll win the competition over Susan (Reed being so indefinite and all) and scheming to destroy them once they're freaks.

The plot is what it is, comic-bookishly familiar. The superpowers bring trauma, anger, and confusion, and eventually a sense of responsibility, as the crew decides to do good with what they've got. While their routes to this end aren't precisely inventive, Chiklis gives the Thing thing a run for its money. Ben's story begins in the first scene, as he's standing around getting ready to enforce for Reed, gazing up at a huge statue of Victor. Oh-so-wily Reed explains that the statue is intended to create "feelings of smallness" and "inadequacy." The camera looks down on the pair from over the statue's giant shoulder: they do look small, but Ben's demeanor suggests he's going to be fighting such designation.

Ben's own interests are mundane and romantic. He's devoted to "Debs" (Laurie Holden), whose photo he keeps close at all times. The future he imagines, however, is quite undone by his post-cloud transformation: he groans and smashes furniture during the process, while the others just sort of marvel at the cool new stunts they can manage. He's also stuck with his super body: the Thing does not turn back and forth to Ben. Still, he wants to be loved, to be seen as the same cuddly Ben he was before. So his first stop as the Thing is home, where he stands on the corner outside the apartment he shares with Debs (next to the Big and Tall Men's shop), inexplicably calls her to the street. She appears in a flimsy nightie; Alba, bless her, opines, "I'm a little mad that she came out in her slip in the middle of New York." Chiklis agrees, "I questioned it on the day... It's a little kitschy, no doubt."

Ben is flummoxed when Debs takes a look at his gargantuan, scary new self, complete with trench coat and fedora, and rejects him outright. (And Chiklis admits that he stole the bit where Ben looks up to reveal his face, from Spencer Tracy.) Also inexplicably, Debs shows up at the site of the crew's first joint superheroic stunt, so his friends can witness his humiliation and horror. While regular folks cheer the Thing, Debs looks distressed and leaves her ring on the pavement, where he can't pick it up with his colossal three fingers. As Chiklis observes, this set piece falls into the "'You know you're in a huge Hollywood movie when...' category." Contrived and prolonged, the scene took five weeks to shoot and included the services of a pigeon wrangler to poop on the Thing. (The DVD includes "Fantastic Four: Making a Scene" is the eight-minute piece on the Brooklyn Bridge scene that ran repeatedly on Fox Movie Channel at the time of the film's release.)

This scene grants Ben a chance to show his "feelings," and also starts with the inconsistencies -- as when Ben's abilities to feel anything on his rock surface change, or when Susan's clothes remain visible when she fades out, meaning that she needs to strip to be invisible, while Reed's clothes stretch to accommodate any move he makes, and the ways that the terms genetic "alteration" and "disease" are traded off depending on the moment. (Alba notes of the invisible girl bra and panties shot that turns into an Alba in her bra and panties shot, "They wrote this in after they hired me and right before we shot it... It was the worst day of my life, I hated it so much." (And then she made Into the Blue.)

Whatever Susan's costume issues may be, Ben's stuck with a condition that seems a disease, making him fearsome and less inclined to participate in the superhero campaigning that his regular-looking buddies take up with gusto. Especially thrilled by his new hot form is Johnny, who is actually called "hot" more than once by a nurse in snow-bunny drag, who looks like she might have walked off a soft porn set. He returns from their tryst with her pink parka wrapped around his waist. His most intense joy is reserved for self-celebration, however, revealed in a couple of extreme sports montages -- snowboarding and motocrossing -- where he gets to show off his new gifts of speed and flight, as well as the team's specially zapped costumes (a.k.a. "second skins").

Johnny likes to surround himself with girls in bikinis and pose for photos after he saves a citizen, a preference that grants the movie another dimension (aside from Ben's odd melodrama), which is: the complicated relationship between superheroes and celebrity. Because his sister, Reed, and Ben are all more stay-at-home types, Johnny's desire for the spotlight situates him as cocky and immature, that is, designed to draw a specific demographic for the FF box office. That he has a tendency to shout "Flame on!" while leaping off buildings and wearing that sharp blue body suit does make him seem slightly less uncomfortable with the whole gay-inclination thing than his stuffy elders. You could say that he seems comfortable in his second skin.

The same cannot be said for Reed, who strains his face and watches his arm extend into some extraordinary position -- under a door, off a bridge -- while looking quite removed from his body. His confusion concerning Susan "extends" throughout the film. He looks appropriately embarrassed when someone asks whether every part can be elongated, but his most erotic moment comes when he has to hold down Ben from running off. Reed's face strains again, his upper body not so well effected (that is, looking stiff and removed) as his rubber arms wrap around and around his best friend. At last, Ben relents, and Reed can unwrap. Saved from a homoerotic clinch!

The fact that Ben finally finds love with a blind girl, Alicia (Kerry Washington), is a little disturbing. The problem is not that she likes him, but that the film presumes only a blind girl could. Alba says Alicia will be "a lot more in the next one, too... as a surprise," though the guys insist she shush about particulars. There's a case to be made that they bond as characters who feel isolated from the mainstream, even as they're being sucked up into it as emblems of tolerance and diversity. Perhaps the surprise has to do with how they manage this trick.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.