Poor old Fantastic Four .
Of all the sub-Spidey comic-book adaptations we’ve been bombarded with since X-Men made spandex cool again in 2000 – The Punisher , Ghost Rider , even Ben Affleck’s bastard-chinned Daredevil – 2005’s Fantastic Four movie has been the most roundly jeered and derided.
But seven years on, I contend that not only is it a better film than you think it is, it’s also a better film than it thinks it is.
Hell, it might even be a better film than I think it is, and I’ve been thinking about it for ages.
The complaints go something like this:
Fantastic Four is witlessly optimistic and lacks the depth and darkness of the best comic adaptations.
Ioan Gruffudd is a manicured bag of warm air as Mr Fantastic and Michael Chiklis is a vocoder away from Mr Blobby as the sad-faced Thing.
Jessica Alba is best when she’s invisible, Chris Evans’ nuclear smirk is unbearable and the science underpinning the story sounds like the ravings of a physics teacher in the grip of a full-on nervous breakdown.
It’s hard to deny much of this. And certainly, the stats seem to back it up. Fantastic Four has a 5.7 rating on IMDb, a 27 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 40 on Metacritic. All sad numbers.
But let’s remember this: everyone on the internet is wrong about everything. And, more importantly, while all those criticisms of Tim Story’s film hold true, they’re not necessarily mistakes.
Yes, FF is daftly upbeat and contains some balls about cosmic rays that you don’t really need to worry about.
But as a brand, Fantastic Four has always skewed towards a younger audience, and the film does away with the ‘moody’ looks and psychological hang-ups synonymous with the Wolverines and Batmans of this world for a broader appeal that’s true to the source material.
Anyone who claims this isn’t a kids’ movie, based on a kids’ comic book, should consider the fact that the hero is called Mr Fantastic (a man so insipid Gruffudd did a fine job just making him slightly boring), while his metal-skinned nemesis carries the equally subtle name of Victor von Doom. And he turned out bad? Didn’t see that one coming.
Not that the film is just a big, bright nothing. It’s also far funnier than it’s given credit for.
With his brutal turn in The Shield now a fading memory, it’s easier to appreciate the comedy of Chiklis’ Thing – fat rock fingers thudding concrete while grasping for his wife’s discarded wedding ring (a scene so devoid of real emotion it can only be aiming for laughs) or roaring “Don’t do drugs!” at a crowd of kids.
And while at the time Evans was hard to take as the cocksure Human Torch – too young, too handsome, too on fire – seven years later we know he’s more than sparkly eyes and one-liners.
The film set him on the way to being a real star and if you re-watch it now he repays the favour. Like him, the film has aged well, grown into itself.
It’s not dark or clever or menacing. But then it’s really not trying to be.
It’s funny, it’s unpretentious, and it’s over in a just-right 90 minutes.
It’s also better than you remember. And by God, it’s superior to Daredevil . Or is it just me?
VOICES OF REASON
Finally, after years of silence I can step forward and say no, it’s not just you. I too was perfectly entertained by this most lightweight of superhero sagas. Although it really is all down to Chiklis and Evans. They should do a Depp in Pirates 4 and ditch the others.
It’s OK. If you’re on a 12-hour flight. And none of the other channels work.
Nothing wrong with a comic-book adap being light, frothy and a little bit silly: Danger Diabolik is a camp classic. But Fantastic Four ? Let’s just say the title is misleading