Marvel Comics' first family of superherodom, the Fantastic Four, hits the big screen in a light-hearted and funny adventure. It begins when down-on-his-luck genius Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, Horatio Hornblower) has to enlist the financial and intellectual help from former schoolmate and rival Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon, Nip/Tuck) in order to pursue outer-space research into human DNA. Also on the trip are Reed's best friend, Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis, The Shield); his former lover, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba, Dark Angel, Sin City), who's now Doom's employee and love interest; and her hotshot-pilot brother, Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, Cellular). Things don't go as planned, of course, and the quartet becomes blessed--or is it cursed?--with superhuman powers: flexibility, brute strength, invisibility and projecting force fields, and bursting into flame. Meanwhile, Doom himself is undergoing a transformation.
Among the many entries in the comic-book-movie frenzy, Fantastic Four is refreshing because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Characterization isn't too deep, and the action is a bit sparse until the final reel (like most "first" superhero movies, it has to go through the "how did we get these powers and what we will do with them" churn). But it's a good-looking cast, and original comic-book cocreator Stan Lee makes his most significant Marvel-movie cameo yet, in a speaking role as the FF's steadfast postal carrier, Willie Lumpkin. Newcomers to superhero movies might find the idea of a family with flexibility, strength, invisibility, and force fields a retread of The Incredibles, but Pixar's animated film was very much a tribute to the FF and other heroes of the last 40 years. The irony is that while Fantastic Four is an enjoyable B-grade movie, it's the tribute, The Incredibles, that turned out to be a film for the ages. --David Horiuchi