Spider-Man got Sam Raimi. Batman got Christopher Nolan. The Hulk got Ang Lee. The X-Men and Superman got Brian Singer. And now the Fantastic Four get…Barbershop’s Tim Story? Even if the filmmakers had concocted ribald sexual subplots about a plastic man mating with an invisible woman, there would still be little chance of fully overcoming the inherent ho-humness of Marvel’s classic superpowered foursome, a group of astronauts bestowed with extraordinary abilities after a freak outer space accident radically alters their DNA. Yet regardless of these do-gooders’ intrinsic insipidness, director Story is still the main culprit behind this superhero spectacle’s chintzy mediocrity, proving himself incapable of properly lighting, staging, or editing an action sequence, predisposed to generic rock music, and unreasonably satisfied with substandard special effects and phony-looking sets (a space station that seems constructed out of Styrofoam, a boardroom scene that looks like it was shot in a closet). Top off Story’s in-over-his-head ineptitude with a fantastically crummy script (by Michael France and Mark Frost) that gets little right other than its characters’ catchphrases, and the end result is a wasted opportunity to breathe fresh life into the Marvel universe’s long-stodgy elder statesmen.
Reluctantly forced into roles as media-darling crime-fighters, the team members each struggle to cope with their newfound faculties: Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), able to stretch his rubbery body in any fashion, feels guilty about his role in the accident; Sue “Invisible Girl” Storm (Jessica Alba) acts motherly and shows a lot of cleavage; Johnny “Human Torch” Storm (Chris Evans) embraces his newfound celebrity and the accompanying female attention; and Ben “The Thing” Grimm (Michael Chiklis), now an orange stone creature, sulks and pouts while waiting for Reed to change him back to normal. Things become really rocky when their former billionaire benefactor Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) turns into the electricity-controlling villain Dr. Doom. But like the shoehorned-in love triangle between Reed, Sue, and Doom, everything about this origin story—from Reed and Ben’s under-dramatized self-reproach and self-loathing (respectively), to the film’s pun-filled characterizations (Reed as “stretching himself too thin,” Johnny as a “hothead,” etc.)—feels simplistic and shallow. As the plasma-wielding Human Torch, Evans gets both the movie’s best CG work (the trail of flames left by his airborne flight is perfectly recreated) and its copious one-liners. For humor, however, nothing in Fantastic Four tops Ben’s horny (and apparently dense) wife meeting her husband on a nighttime Manhattan street in nothing but a skimpy negligee.