Last week, Marvel announced their plans for an MCU Fantastic Four reboot in 2023 with their phase 4 timeline, with their new iteration of the team rounding out their next wave of movies. The news had been long expected by fans: the rights to the characters reverted to Marvel after 2015’s ill-fated reboot (read more about that here), but this latest announcement got me thinking about the heroes’ first big-screen outing back in 2005.
I remember catching this in the cinema (remember when you could just go to the cinema?) as a kid, and it blew me away. At the time, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was well underway, but the MCU’s earliest offering was still a few years away, so we’re talking about the days before superhero movies were filled to the brim with Easter eggs, and before they all had that cookie-cutter, production line feel.
For the sake of this review, I’m going to put both my own unpopular opinion on the MCU and my nostalgic enjoyment of Fantastic Four aside, and judge the film solely on its own merits.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really read any Fantastic Four, so in terms of source material, I don’t have a strong handle on the characters and their arcs. This film serves as an origin story for the team, and honestly, it does a pretty solid job. It establishes them as individuals while simultaneously creating a (relatively) plausible reason to throw them together, then has a cosmic storm blast superpowers into their DNA. Ridiculous, but no more so than any other superhero’s back story.
What impressed me was how cohesive a story it really was; it was paced well, the team’s dynamic shifted a few times before settling, just as you’d expect, and the motivations of the characters were both clear and reasonably believable.
There were several moments of pretty awful CGI – any time Mr. Fantastic uses his powers is notably bad – but mostly, it’s fun and cheesy. Yes, it’s a little predictable and there’s a cartoonish aspect to both the action and humour, but it’s not a bad origin story. The acting was just about passable – spotty in places, but ultimately not TOO hammy – and it also serves as a reminder that Chris Evans was once a little obnoxious.
The biggest issue with Fantastic Four is that it was released in 2005 – the same year as the incredible Batman Begins (which has aged far, far better) and after Spider-Man (2002)and Spider-Man 2 (2004), both of which serve as near-perfect examples of how to execute superhero films (again, remember that this was before the concept of incorporating every new movie into an extended universe). In this respect, Fantastic Four just doesn’t hold up quite so well, and maybe that’s why it isn’t remembered so fondly. Well, that, and the awful sequel.
Summary: A decent punt at a superhero origin story that falls short in its presentation. The CGI is inconsistent, and the film’s cartoonish nature felt more like a throwback than a showcase of the genre’s potential.