What can one expect from light summer movie faire--- only fast food of mind? Well, yes and no. Growing up, the Fantastic Four was my 'other' favorite comic book (my favorite being Spiderman of course). Therefore, I went into this movie expecting very little. One might say my attitude fell under the rubric--"Blessed are those who expect little, for they shall not be disappointed". However, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. This movie was well put together and time was taken for character development. It wasn't all shoot 'em up bang, bang. In fact the action was limited to the sequences where it needed to happen, and there was no gratuitous sex or violence.
What sets the Fantastic Four apart from most comic books, except for Spiderman perhaps, is there are actually characters who generate some pathos--- in this case Ben Grimm, 'the Thing'. If ever there was a reluctant super hero who is not comfortable in his own skin, this is the man (and what a skin it is, like something out of the mudflats of the Mahavi). He has lost his fiancee and his former life when he is transformed, and unlike the other three of the Fantastic Four, he is unable to change back into a normal form. What is especially fascinating about the Thing's character is that he is a walking critique of our culture's attitude that "image is everything" or that "beauty is only skin deep". In fact he is a walking critique of the other three of the Four, who are all amongst the 'beautiful people'. Grimm may often be grim, but he is a poignant person, and turns out to be loved by the perfect woman--- a blind lady named Alicia. This is not the sort of story one is used to finding in comic books, and it is one of the things that set Stan Lee's characters apart from some of the those at rival DC comics.
Reed Richards is likewise a vulnerable figure-- a geek or genius who is not good at all at acting on how he feels, but his character falls flat compared to Grimm's. More interesting is Victor Von Doom whose resemblance to Darth Vader, in terms of career trajectory is striking, as striking as the resemblance in costume. One wonders if George Lucas based his character on Stan Lee's. Von Doom wants power, but of course like all power junkies, he can never get enough of it, and it is his fatal flaw. What is especially interesting is that it takes all of the Fantastic Four to handle one Von Doom. Each of the four has a specific power or ability, but it is the team work which insures that good triumphs over evil. In other words, evil is too powerful for even one robust super hero to handle.
Marvel Comics have now generated enough of a movie track record (X Men, Spider Men, Daredevil, Electra, and now Fantastic Four) to evaluate them as a genre of movies, and as such they provide some interesting and occasionally thought provoking faire for families, while always remaining entertaining. All of them remind us that even if we had super powers, this would definitely not solve all of our problems--- indeed they would create a whole new set of problems. Perhaps the lesson for us is that after all what is really needed is not juiced up humans, but an incarnational deity to handle the Evil problem.