The Moderately Enjoyable 4 

Fantastic 4 Exceeds Low Expectations

Fantastic 4 dir. Story
Opens Fri July 8
Various Theaters

Whenever a new comic book movie hits the screens, the fanboys are a hilarious sight to behold. They hypothesize, bitch, obsess, and while sitting in the theater flinch like they're about to be hit with a rock. And it's all because they want Hollywood to be true to their love. With Spider-Man their greatest wish came true, and with Daredevil, their worst fears realized. But perhaps of all the films cranking out of the Marvel machine, none carry the stink of failure more prominently than Fantastic 4. Why? Simply put, it's hard to accept that a walking rock pile, a see-through woman, a human matchstick, and a rubberized nerd can save the world.

And maybe that's why this Fantastic 4 works; the director never tries to make this moderately enjoyable foursome more "super" than they really are.

More or less, the plot sticks to classic Marvel party lines. On a scientific mission to capture cosmic rays, smarty-pants Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) blasts off into space with pal Ben Grimm (The Shield's Michael Chiklis), hotshot Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), and love interest Susan Storm (Jessica Alba). And while it's unfortunate that Reed's billionaire rival Victor Von Doom (Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon) tags along for the ride, things get exponentially worse when they are all bombarded by cosmic rays. Reed gets stretchy, Susan goes invisible, Johnny bursts into flame at the drop of a hat, and Ben turns into a monstrous orange pile of rocks. And as for the already megalomaniacal Von Doom, he grows increasingly less nice, vowing eternal revenge on his genetically altered space mates.

Perhaps director Tim Story (Taxi) had low expectations for this project as well, because he never tries to overcompensate for the lack of a huge operatic story--and that's why it works. A nuclear bomb isn't ready to explode, and the world's not about to end. This is a small, whimsical story of four people who don't like each other very much getting really fucked up in space--and then learning how to deal with it. The acting is accomplished across the board, the CG is certainly acceptable, but most importantly, it captures the humor and isolated feeling of the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics, without the strained bombast of recent Marvel outings. Fanboys can relax; because this time, the underachievers win.

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