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Movie Review **

Not Incredible, but Pretty Fantastic

By Bill Andrews
STAFF WRITER

Fantastic Four

Directed by Tim Story

Written by Michael France and Mark Frost

Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, and Julian McMahon

Rated PG-13

I must first disclose that I have never been a comic book fanatic. On the rare occasions when I read comic books as a child, DC were my usual choice — despite what “The Incredibles” has to say on the subject, I’ve always liked my heroes with capes.

And with that deft transition, we’re up, up, and away! Hollywood’s latest adaptation of comic books begins with Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), a goofy but well-meaning scientist (of ambiguous field) preparing to request funds to go into space for something involving cosmic rays and curing cancer. With Reed is his faithful buddy, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), whose purpose in life seems to be calming Reed down and protecting him from harm.

They enter the luxurious personal office of Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) to pitch their cosmic ray plan. Von Doom agrees to finance the plan, but only if the mission includes the beautiful Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), who happens to be Richards’s ex, and her hothead younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans). Why? Because that’s apparently how things are done in Von Doom’s native Latveria. Once in space, amid inexplicably tight body suits and gratuitous (though excellent) cleavage, there is almost immediately a horrible accident that leaves our heroes and bad guy with special powers. Whatever will happen next?

“Fantastic Four” is a good movie and an excellent summer blockbuster. The special effects are amazing; the action scenes are exciting and not encumbered with too much dialogue (or, sometimes, story development), and — for once — the good guys went to MIT. That made my day. The character development, while shallow and predictable, is better than your average comic book flick since there actually is some. But I am above all a story person, and that’s where the movie suffered the most.

My girlfriend and I spent an hour talking about the plot holes and other weird things after we saw “Fantastic Four”; if we’d seen it on DVD, we wouldn’t have waited until after. I know that summer blockbusters are immune from scientific accuracy (“Spiderman 2,” for example), but logic still matters to me. I mean, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of making up science for a movie, why not make it all fit together? If I have to start up my brain in the midst of a summer movie to ask, “Wait, how could that happen?” then something is horribly wrong.

Strong similarities to other movies also distract from the immersion I so desire from my movies. Dr. Von Doom’s descent into bad guy madness smacked too much of Dr. Osborn’s becoming the Green Goblin. (As a side note, who would work for someone named Von Doom?) The scenes in outer space were just like every two-bit sci-fi flick since “Red Planet.” And the ending had overtones of a certain Indiana Jones ending, of which I’ll say no more.

The superpowers in “Fantastic Four” are strikingly similar — identical, even — to those in “The Incredibles,” but that’s a bit different. Moral issues aside, however, “The Incredibles” never seemed old, used, or tired — as if, instead of making a regular old sandwich, they used the same ingredients to make a tasty new martini. Well, close enough.

Still, “Fantastic Four” is worth watching. The corresponding comic books are among the most light-hearted in the superhero category, which comes off well on the big screen. It’s a relief whenever a super hero makes a joke, however predictable. The inconsistent new applications of science, startling though they may be, aren’t really enough to take away from the fun things the movie had: action, romance, cool effects, and a high popcorn munchiness factor. Oh, and Jessica Alba’s breasts, too.