Fantastic Four is one of the few early 21st century Marvel films to not age well as the film marks its 15th anniversary since opening in theaters in 2005.
The premise of the film is simple and it’s one that stays true to the comics in theory. Physicist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) need Von Doom Industries CEO Victor Von Doom’s (Julian McMahon) space station. The reason is to test out the effects of a cosmic cloud on biological samples in space. It takes some effort but Von Doom ultimately signs on. Chief genetics researcher Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and astronaut Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) also make the trip. Ben doesn’t get along with Johnny now that Johnny is his superior. There’s also tension between Reed and ex-girlfriend Susan–no shocker there.
Of course, if you’re familiar with the comics, you know what happens next. Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic while Susan turns into the Invisible Woman. Johnny becomes the second Human Torch while Ben turns into the monstrosity that is The Thing. There is something here to be said about accepting one’s self. Unfortunately for Ben, this means losing fiancée Debbie while starting a relationship with a blind woman, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). Alicia accepts Ben for who he is even if he has trouble doing so himself.
As for Victor, he soon becomes a man made entirely of metal. He tries to break up the team almost as soon as they formed. Ben wants to become human again and it’s Victor, not Reed, who has the resources to do so. Of course, it’s also a way to make himself even more powerful while taking out a member of the team in the process. The Fantastic Four ultimately manage to save the day by coming together in the end.
It’s not that the film didn’t have the pedigree to succeed. With star players like Jessica Alba and Michael Chiklis leading the cast, what could possibly go wrong? Chris Evans wasn’t quite Captain America just yet but he was also a star on the rise. Could it have been bad writing or Tim Story’s direction? Or maybe Marvel’s first family was waiting to get back in the hands of the not-yet-created Marvel Studios? Even if you factor the 1990s film (only to keep the license) into the equation, the Fantastic Four deserve better.
When it comes to the difference in technology between 2005 and today, one character that really stands to benefit is The Thing. The film decided to go the way of practical effects by making up Chiklis for a few hours worth of makeup. I’m not saying it’s the wrong decision because it certainly works for the film but it’s an area that could use an improvement in the future.
What is most certainly unfortunate is that Batman Begins came out a few weeks earlier. Compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot, this film only looks weak by comparison. Hell, even Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds adaptation looks far better than this wildly disjointed mess. Listen, I hate to pan a film but the facts are facts: Fox was never able to give the Fantastic Four the justice they deserve.
Don’t even bother with the 2007 sequel–it’s not only just as terrible but even worse. The damage was enough that the studio left the team alone until rebooting in 2015. Only the 2015 reboot was just as terrible in the eyes of the critics. By this point, fans were just craving for Marvel to get the rights back. Listen, I’m not going to lie–I hate that people lost their jobs as a result of the Disney acquisition of Fox. The only positive highlight from the merger is that the X-Men and Fantastic Four were finally allowed to come back home to Marvel Studios.
DIRECTOR: Tim Story
SCREENWRITERS: Mark Frost and Michael France
CAST: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Kerry Washington