Scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud) and spacecraft pilot Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) arrive at the tower block of Dr Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) with great apprehension. The reason is, now that Reed has been made bankrupt, he can't afford to fund his latest project to investigate a cosmic storm that is approaching the Earth and they need Doom's vast resources to help them out. Doom agrees, but on his terms: he will receive a lion's share of the profits, and he brings along two other people. They turn out to be Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), who happens to be Doom's current girlfriend and Reed's ex, and her reckless brother Johnny (Chris Evans), who will take care of the piloting himself. But the mission does not go to plan...
One of the whole avalanche of comic book adaptations hoping to be the next big blockbuster in the 2000s, Fantastic Four was considered a disappointment as far as entertainment value went. But if its nineteen-sixties style, gee whiz exploits don't have the weight of a Batman Begins or the emotional heartstring tugging of a Spider-Man 2, it does have a bright, largely uncomplicated appeal that stays true to its origins. Scripted by Michael France and Twin Peaks man Mark Frost, it's an origin story itself, and obviously intended as the first in a franchise, meaning that the anticipated action tends to be comparatively thin on the ground.
We must find out how the quartet got their special powers, of course, although it would be nice to see a superhero adaptation that just dived straight in. When our heroes and sinister capitalist Doom reach the space station, there's an unforseen problem: while Ben is out in his spacesuit preparing the intruments or something, the cosmic rays show up far quicker than expected and he has to make a leap towards the airlock for his life. Alas, he is too slow, the shields are not in place and everyone on board gets a hefty dose of rays, which does more than give them a nice tan. Back on Earth, they seem to have suffered no ill effects, but that doesn't last long or else... there would be no movie.
Initially the brash Johnny goes snowboarding, but when he catches fire and turns into a ball of flame for a minute, he is naturally suspicious that things may not have gone to plan. And back at the clinic, Reed finds he can stretch his body to amazing degrees with some disappointingly CGI-looking special effects, and Sue can not only turn invisible but can create powerful forcefields as well. And Ben? He has a rough night and breaks out of his room having transformed into a figure of walking rock. So there you have them, all nicknamed by Johnny: The Human Torch, Mr Fantastic, Invisible Girl and The Thing, the Fantastic Four, all played with agreeable simplicity by the actors. Not that they're all pleased by their new found abiliities - or the fame that goes with it.
Yes, being Marvel characters they have a load of personal doubts and flaws that lend them a nobility in their endurance, none more so than Ben, who has been rejected by his fiancée (Laurie Holden). In fact, there's more time devoted to the heroes' emotional dilemmas than the baddie clobbering business, and it takes the whole movie to reach the expected battle scene we've all been waiting for. The baddie is Dr Doom, and he has been transformed like the Thing, only in this instance into living steel with accompanying electrical powers, all of which he particularly enjoys in contrast to the Four. There is humour, as when Ben tries to settle into his new role by telling children frightened by him, "Don't do drugs!", but largely this gets on with the effects and the soap opera theatrics, not to fantastic outcomes perhaps, but on the entertaining level of an especially expensive Saturday morning cartoon. Terrible, invasive product placement, however. Music by Miri Ben-Ari and John Ottman.