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The Yawntastic Four

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July 15, 2005 16:41 IST

Fantastic FourIf this film had been made a couple of decades ago, we might have sat transfixed, our bright smiles (and the Human Torch's, well, heat) lighting up the dark, applause-smattered theatre.

As it stands, currently, it's one big, unspectacular yawn.

It's all been done before, you see. Marvel Comics' oldest superhero set -- predating Spidey and the X-Men, titles that flew into more high-profile orbits simply because of deeper, darker subtext – and the First Family of Comicdom just doesn't cut it anymore. The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comic has had a deep, undeniable impact on global pop-culture. Unfortunately, this film is so late in the coming that we know (and love) those influenced creations far more than this eventual product.

The Fantastic Four includes one who stretches, one who combusts on will, one who turns invisible and projects force-fields, and one who is really rock-solid. And they're a family. It sounds great on paper, and is a superbly compelling comic book. But in this day and age, it's an unimpressive The Incredibles clone, which is just sad.

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The film opens with a plodding origin story, something which really should have been done in character-to-character conversational flashback. Instead, we're treated to a weak-on-CGI interpretation of an interstellar catastrophe wherein something barely goes boom, and our gang's DNA gets altered forever. This should have been half an hour; it's not. We drudge through the not-riveting lives of these people and a bad billionaire, just hoping they are about to turn interesting. News flash: they're never really fun.

Let's be honest. I expected a dreadful film, an irredeemably awful assault on my Marvel-loving senses, and a lot of cheese. I wasn't wrong, entirely. The script is bland, boring, and with plotholes large enough for The Thing to swing through. And yes, it's cheesy enough to make you groan.

But it does have a couple of moments to make you smile. They're not many, and they're not substantial -- you laughed? Hang on, what at? -- but these blink-and-miss times are almost enough to indulgently call this film tolerable. Seriously, avoid theatres, smirk when the film reruns on cable.

The cast, that all-important factor, isn't great, and that's a big flaw. Julian McMahon plays Victor Von Doom, arguably one of the Marvel Universe's greatest and most lethal villains. Here, he's rich, spurned, and nowhere near as dictatorial as he needs to be. He lacks the gruff, despotic authority that comes instinctively to the Latverian monarch, and, in yet another 'too late' moment, his trademark mask -- his crucial tool of fear and loathing, of self-disguise, Stan Lee's Alexander Dumas nod, wherefrom he hides and whereforth he glowers -- just looks like a makeshift Darth Vader Halloween costume.

Fantastic 4Most of what's good in the film is applied thickly onto Michael Chilkis, who plays Ben Grimm, the brute wrapped with stone we call The Thing. His character is compelling, even as it is simplified to a stupid level. He shares the Frankenstein legacy: he's an ugly, fearful beast, and even if he is the nicest guy in the world, you still wouldn't want to see him down a dark alley.

No pin-up boy, this truck-stomper. Chilkis plays the character well, and personally, I like the bodysuit. It's almost exactly like early Kirby versions of The Thing, and definite improvement over the CGI-disaster we saw in Ang Lee's deplorable Hulk.

Fantastic FourNow, see, I really like Jessica Alba. Which is why calling her performance horrible in this film kinda hurts. Sure, she looks fabulous. But that's about it. She's not one iota convincing as a scientist, and doesn't seem determined to prove otherwise. Her non-cerebral character shows off her to-die-for bod nicely, but Sue Storm is the Four's nurturer.

Miss Alba, while certainly the looker of the quartet, doesn't really glue the family together. She does look good in lingerie -- the most contrived of situations, by the way -- but invisibility somewhat takes the sheen off that.

Chris Evans plays Johnny Storm, the quick-to-quip Human Torch. While he has all the lines, and tries to handle them with as saucy an expression as he can muster, they're not good lines. Predictability -- 'You're hot,' says the temperature-taking nurse. 'Oh, I know,' smirks Johnny -- stretches the entire screenplay tiresomely thin, and Johnny suffers the most. He does have a couple of moments, but doesn't have enough panache to overcome the script limitations. Still, good effort, Evans, flame on.

Fantastic FourFinally, there's Ioan Gruffudd, who is Reed Richards, geek extraordinaire. This flexible fellow is Mr Fantastic, the gallant leader of the Four, and, as Spiderman often mentions, the smartest man in the world.

In the film, Richards, while more than adequately dweeby, just comes across as a scientist with a predilection for goof-ups. His first experiment, which brings their worlds crashing down, is a disaster, and his much-avowed attempts at reworking that come to nothing as well. While somewhat true to Marvel mythos, this version shows the flaws minus the genius. What makes this man Fantastic? The way he opens doors?

Why, some might ask, are we not talking about the plot? It's a simple answer: it's waferthin, and --  SPOILER WARNING – there's absolutely nothing to it.

Fantastic Four is a harmless film. One could argue that it's too crowded with characters to really play with them, but that didn't stop Bryan Singer from generating the superb X-Men 2. This one doesn't try. It's a film to watch when there's nothing else on, a dismally B-movie Marvel adaptation. The effects are bad, the script is a drag, and overall, this is a very forgettable film with just a few chuckles. You know a film isn't a good idea when the best thing about it is Stan Lee's speaking part in his obligatory cameo.

You really want to watch this movie anyway? Seriously?

Go rent The Incredibles again.

Raja Sen