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FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)
THE PACIFIER (2005)

Fantastic Four Starring: Michael Chiklis, Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba. Director: Tim Story.  Screenwriters:  Michael France, Mark Frost.
The buzz on this film was pretty bad for months before it opened; when it finally did open, the word was that the buzz was justified, and the film was awful. 

And indeed, if you’re looking for the definitive film version of the Fantastic Four, you’re going to have to keep looking.   There have been a number of liberties taken with the characters and their story which (I hate to sound picky) keep me from thinking this is the definitive article. 

Taken on its own terms, however, as a film, it’s actually not bad at all.  If you watch it as a  movie on its own, and not as an adaptation, there are quite a lot of good things about it.  Of course, there are some bad things about it as well, but overall I had a good time watching it.  There was fun, good pacing (I was never bored), nice character moments for everyone (a hallmark of the comics) and some good effects sequences.  If the pattern for Marvel film adaptations holds, the sequel should be even better and might start a pretty decent franchise.

I’m sure you know the basics by now:  Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm fly into space and are altered by cosmic radiation into superbeings.  Together, they fight villainous superbeings, especially their nemesis, Doctor Doom. (Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Betty Brandt, J. Jonah Jameson…Stan Lee loved alliterative names, didn’t he?)

It’s with Doctor Doom (never called that in the film) that the movie takes the most liberties, and he’s a much weaker character here than he is in the comics.  Doom should be regal, brooding and imperious, much like a darker version of Magneto from the X-Men series; perhaps director Tim Story figured that had been done, so a new approach was needed.  I wished they’d looked a bit harder; this Doom is kind of an effete, peevish egoist, and not all that interesting.  Doctor Doom, preparing to battle the Four, should never say, “This is going to be fun.”

The character who fares best is Ben Grimm, who was always the most appealing member of the team.  He’s the closest to his comic book counterpart, and Michael Chiklis does a terrific job with the role.  Even though he’s wearing a bodysuit, the character comes through strong and clear; Chiklis never seems like a man wearing a costume.  Most of the character moments that work are his, and he makes them memorable.  (Just curious, if the fire engine can drag him along the road, why didn’t the truck that hit him before move him at all?)

As for the others, Johnny Storm comes across pretty well, since the character in the books is very shallow.  He’s hot-headed, impulsive, quick to act, and show-offy.  That’s all you need to know, and so actor Chris Evans can’t really be judged by his work here.  The character does seem much crueler (to Ben) than he was in the comics; while they did confront each other many times, you always knew they had genuine affection for each other.  Still, it’s the first movie, give it time.   Perhaps the fact that Johnny Storm is older than in the comics makes him seem like a meaner, pettier guy than the teenager Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created.

Sue Storm is given a more modern, kick-ass role than the comics had for her, so she gets much more action here than she usually sees.  I’m not all that convinced by Jessica Alba—she looks wrong, for some reason I can’t put my finger on.  She’s not bad, there’s just something that doesn’t seem right.  But she’s not bad in the role and does pretty well for the future of the franchise.  (A lot has happened since 1961.)

Finally, Mr. Fantastic is another character they didn’t quite get right.  In the comics, Reed Richards is a genius and a natural leader; here, he’s hesitant and uncertain and has no seeming strength of character.   His ease with science and its jargon is intact, but he seems the wrong age.  Reed was an older man in the comics, and his “father figure” authority probably allowed him to lead the other head-strong characters without much trouble.  Here, he is definitely not the boss of anyone.  Maybe that will come in the later films, but it was evident in the very first Fantastic Four comic book, and if the film-makers were smart, they’d start putting more cards on the table and stop counting on sequels.  As for actor Ioan Gruffudd, he has a funny name and does okay with what he’s handed.  He certainly didn’t bend the new version of Richards into a compelling character.   I hate the idea of handing this stuff off to the sequel, but there you are. 

Fantastic Four has done okay at the box office (but not, uh, fantastic) , so with any luck there will be a sequel, but honestly guys, what’s wrong with making a good, solid film the first time out?  

My idea for the next film would be to feature the Skrulls.  They’re alien shape-shifters, able to look like anyone (and the Super Skrull even has the Four’s powers), and the uncertain identity stuff could really help cement these characters into their final filmic forms, and allow the team to really come into being, as a team and not just as a bunch of folks who room together. 

I would say I recommend this one.  One rather gruesome death scene, some mildly titillating fun with Sue (she can turn invisible, but her clothes can’t…you figure it out), but other than that, pretty family friendly.   The plusses (like Michael Chiklis) definitely outweigh the minuses (like Doctor Doom). 

And if they do a second one, I hope they save Galactus for the third one.  You know who would be great?  The Rock.  No, seriously.  All he has to do is wear the pronged helmet and say, “If your survival depended on you stepping on an anthill, you would not hesitate!  So speaks Galactus!”   For the Watcher, Arnold Vosloo (no, seriously--he just has to look impassive and wear the robe), for the Silver Surfer, maybe Jude Law (he has the tragic handsomeness[RUN TIME ERROR.  COMIC BOOK GEEK QUOTIENT
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The Pacifier Starring: Vin Diesel. Director: Adam Shankman. Screenwriters: Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant.
Like Are We There Yet and Hitch, this is another strange comedy movie featuring someone normally known as an action star.  And like those two movies, the strangeness isn’t because of the surroundings, but because of the removal of any sense of surprise from the film.

Like Are we There Yet, we have a guy uncomfortable with anything other than total male stuff (there, sports; here, a gun) being thrust into a group of children.  We know how this is going to turn out, right?  As Austin O’Brien said to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the way, way underrated Last Action Hero, “You’ll teach me to be brave, I’ll teach you to be vulnerable.”  And that’s how it goes.

Let me be clear up front:  like Are We There and Hitch, there’s a lot to enjoy here.  There are some funny scenes and some good character moments.  Vin Diesel isn’t the actor that either Ice Cube or Will Smith is, but he does pretty good with what he’s given and he never comes across as awkward (outside when he’s supposed to in the movie, I mean). 

But everything that happens is predictable from the word go, and there aren’t any real rough edges.  For example, I expected that, sooner or later, the children would learn that it was on Diesel’s watch that their father was killed, and that would throw a spanner in the works, but it never happened. 

Similarly, Brad Garrett has an awkward cameo where he seems to be a tough guy, but turns out to be a bully, and turns out after that to be kind of weak-willed.   I was expecting him to have more of a role to play, but he just kind of shows up, has his ass handed to him, and becomes a good guy.  Wow, that was instructive, movie, thanks!

I guess the film-makers were thinking that this was ultimately going to be rented as a family film, so they didn’t want anything really threatening in it, or something.  Never mind that some classic family films (The Wizard of Oz, anyone?) have some pretty frightening elements in them.  Leaving aside Margaret Hamilton, those mean trees freaked the living heck out of me as a kid.
 

Uh, where was I?  Ah, The Pacifier.  Overall, my impression of this is positive.  There’s a lot of fun to be had, providing you’re really not expecting much stimulation from your entertainment.   So rent it and watch Vin Diesel direct a musical (The Sound of Music) like a rescue operation.   And have it be such a big hit, that he’s offered the drama teacher’s job.  

That ought to count for something, right?   It moves the film into the realm of science fiction, anyway.  So, does that count?

I thought so.  Like Hitch and Are We There Yet, no surprises, but some fun on the way.  At ease, readers!