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New Movie <i> The Fantastic Four</i> Brings Popular Comic Book Heroes to Life

  • Alan Silverman

They've been popular Marvel comic book characters for more than 40 years and now they finally come to the big screen as a bright, energetic summer season entertainment. Alan Silverman has a look at The Fantastic Four.

Their story starts out on a privately-funded space mission when this team of scientists and technical experts is exposed to mysterious cosmic radiation that gives each of them unique powers.

What young Johnny Storm shows them is he can create fire ... in fact, when he learns to control it he can even burst into flame like a "Human Torch." His sister Sue Storm, played by Jessica Alba, gets a more subtle power.

"I play a scientist who has a problem expressing her emotions and [after] her DNA was altered, when she expresses emotions she goes invisible," Alba explains. "So when she's screaming, she goes invisible. When she's having a meltdown, she goes invisible and she's completely frustrated; and the man that she's in love with ignores her and she goes invisible and she's completely frustrated."

Her fiancée is the expedition leader, Reed Richards, who becomes "Mr. Fantastic" with the ability to stretch his limbs like rubber bands. Completing The Fantastic Four is Ben Grimm, who turns into an immensely powerful rock-like creature - "The Thing." Michael Chiklis plays Ben - and, in elaborate makeup, "Thing".

"The reason for doing it was sort of a personal dream fulfillment," he says. "It was something I was into as a kid and I've always wanted to be involved with this level of huge blockbuster, so it sort of met several different desires.

It cracks me up when people say 'oh, it's going to be campy.'" he adds. "What do you think? Yeah, there's going to be camp in it. Did you ever read the comic book? Any comic book where one of the mainstay lines is 'it's clobbering time' is going to be somewhat campy. That's what it is."

Chris Evans co-stars as "Human Torch" Johnny Storm and calls it "every little boy's dream" to play a comic book character; Evans admits, however, that unlike Michael Chiklis, he did not grow up reading The Fantastic Four.

"I wasn't a comic book guy at all. I didn't know much about comic books," he says. "As soon as I was auditioning for the part I read a lot and when I got the part I went out and bought as many as I could find and just did research."

One of the longest continuously published series, The Fantastic Four made its debut in 1961 and earned the nickname 'the first family of Marvel Comics.' Chiklis says the film tries to fulfill the expectations of several generations of fans.

"Obviously we were well aware of the history of this franchise and how many people loved it and would be anticipating it," he notes. "We also knew there would be a lot of conjecture out there - out in the ether. You can't really get preoccupied with that because people are talking without seeing or knowing, so you read these things and - 'whatever ... they'll see when they see it and I think they're going to love it."

Director Tim Story believes the film and the original comic book characters deal with emotions and situations that even those of us not endowed with superpowers can still recognize.

"It's about a family and you see them battling not just themselves and each other, but also this thing that has happened to them and trying to deal with it," he explains. "I think anybody on any level can understand that things happen in your life that just have to deal with. As you get older and lose your hair or whatever the case may be, you have to deal with it; and I think everybody can relate to four guys who, although they become 'superheroes' they don't want to become superheroes. They just want to go along with their everyday lives and some things happen with these characters that make you think twice about that."

The Fantastic Four also features Welsh-born Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards alias "Mr. Fantastic;" and Australian Julian McMahon is their nemesis Victor Von Doom.