Okay Four
I have to admit it, I didn't hate Fantastic Four, the film I rented as promised. Now, this is a far cry from going and praising this film, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at the viewing, owing probably quite a bit to my abyssmally low expectations going in -- there's nowhere to go but up. Granted, I'm a forgiving audience, having owned and read quite a few FF comics in my time, but you'll see I'm far from glossy-eyed.

First, let's dispense with the ridiculous hype around the "Exclusive inside look at X-Men 3". This turned out to be 1 minute and 40 seconds of the producer talking about what would be happening in the film, interspliced with clips from the first two movies. I've gotten more off reading some fan-boy's site. An utter ruse to get me to rent the DVD. Damn it, I hate when they are clever.

My expectations set even lower thanks to the "Inside Look" commercial-length feature, I eased into the picture. This isn't easy, because it takes all of about ten minutes to introduce every major character, set conflicts, establish love interests, launch into space, get irradiated by cosmic rays, and get back home. Not a lot of room for dialogue, it feels a bit rushed, but I felt it worked decently well. Surprise #1.

Surprise #2: The characters. Chris Evans' performance was a bit contagious as the hotshot punk. He was comical, goofy, brazen, shallow, and fun to watch. And what's more very true to the comic book character. In fact, every one of the four was loyal to what they were in the comic. The interactions between the charcters were part of what made the FF such a popular comic.

The two major distinctions that the Fantastic Four had over any other hero/team was that they functioned as a family and they were public figures -- no secret identities. The latter was captured well in Sue's escape from the media via stripping -- and turning invisible, naturally. (Jessica Alba losing her clothes would not cause anyone to lose interest.) Also, the Thing's constant problems with touch-tone phones or holding a glass in his hand were pretty amusing. As a family, you have the love between Reed and Sue, the brotherly atagonistic relationship between Johnny and Ben, and the 'best friends' Reed and Ben, to highlight the major interplay. All of these were ably dealt with, to the level that I felt they were taking a page right out of the comics.

Going into these films, you need suspension of disbelief to get past the super-powers. Little did I know you would also need to overlook some pretty obvious flaws. Teleportation, for instance. Somehow each member of the crew who went into space somehow gaining the ability to teleport in addition to their powers. Characters would appear suddenly when minutes before they were across town, or improbably aware of the circumstances. The most obvious was when Ben was transforming himself into the Thing in the Baxter building at the end, which produces an electric-light show. Reed is watching this from Dr. Doom's skyscraper about a mile away. Less than a minute later, at the penultimate tense moment, naturally, The Thing crashes through the wall and rescues them. Teleportation! Poof!

Then you have Ben's shallow wife archetype. Seriously, I get that The Thing isn't attractive (to a human -- for all I know he may be the cat's meow to a boulder), but I think it was a bit unnecessary to have him be immediately rejected by his wife (whom he adores, of course), twice, once when he first comes home and the second, after he's caused/saved dozens of lives. Cornball.

Also, their introduction as 'heroes'. Poorly orchestrated, basically The Thing causes (by saving a suicidal guy's life) a huge, violent multi-vehicle crash on a bridge, and the other three (who just happen to be driving over the bridge) help save some lives. The one I couldn't figure out is why Reed tells Sue to strip so she can get them past the crowds. The first thing she does when she turns invisible is to start pushing through the crowd that's blocking them and say 'Excuse me!' Wow, good thing she was invisible, or that would have never worked! (In retrospect, it's pretty clear that the logic involved was getting Alba into an underwear shot, and for that I loudly applaud the film's writers.)

Understand that the film is written in a tongue-and-cheek manner, rather than the realism of recent superhero films. Yeah, it's got some problems, but it wasn't as bad as most everyone said. It's not a waste of a rental fee, but the sequel better step it up a notch.

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