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Fantastic Four

Scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffud), persuades his billionaire friend Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), to fund an expedition in space. In this, they are joined by Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother Johnny (Chris Evans), and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis). The space mission goes wrong however, as cosmic rays pass thru the ship, which affects their DNA and gives them extraordinary powers. Reed discovers he can stretch his body, Sue can make herself invisible, Johnny can turn into a living flame, and Ben turns into a solid rock monster. They each learn to deal with their new found power and fame, and band together to become the Fantastic Four. They give themselves names for publicity purposes: Reed is Mr Fantastic, Sue is the Invisible Girl, Johnny is The Human Torch, and Ben is known as The Thing. Together they battle Von Doom who has slowly become more psychotic due to the space mission and is hell bent on destroying his former friends.

Fantastic Four is based on the popular Marvel comic, which has been published since 1961. This is in fact, the second version of the comic to be filmed, as a low budgeted version was made in 1989. Stan Lee, who created the comic, makes an appearance in this film, as he has in every other Marvel film made. Having been a long time reader of the comic for over 20 years, I was looking forward to seeing how this film shaped up.

Ioan Gruffud does his best as Reed, but doesn’t quite get a grip on the character as he should. Reed in the comics is a born leader who exudes authority, and I just didn’t get that from Gruffud. George Clooney would have been a perfect choice for the role. Jessica Alba is ok as Sue, but again, could have been better. As the only central female in the cast, her role should have been much stronger. However, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis, are wonderful in their respective roles as the Human Torch and The Thing. They bring the characters to life and are exactly as they are portrayed in the comics. Evans displays the right balance of cocky arrogance to his role and Chiklis gives The Thing a good degree of toughness & humanity under the solid skin. Julian McMahon gives a very sinister and edgy perforhttp://jebadel.com/movies/admin/b2edit.php?blog=1mance as Doom, and is well cast.

The plot unfortunately lacks the epic sweep of the comics and doesn’t have a sense of urgency about things. While the special effects are well handled, the whole story has a low key feel to it. Also, the set up of the plot takes too long and only gets into gear about 20 minutes towards the end. There are several references to the comics for fans to enjoy, and the humour is nicely balanced with the dramatic action.

Thankfully this film isn’t a disappointment and may be more enjoyable for people who have never read the comic. A tighter script and a better casting of the 2 main leads would have made this a great film. As it is, it’s an enjoyable but rather forgettable piece of entertainment.

Rating out of 10: 6

War of the Worlds

Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a divorced father of two who finds himself looking after his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) for the weekend. The relationship between them is very fractured as clearly neither the children nor the father want to be together. However no soon have they been together, than a sudden electrical storm hits the earth and giant machines start rising out of the ground, killing everyone in sight. Along the course of the film, the three unwilling family members unite against a new enemy, and eventually learn how to relate to each other.

Director Steven Spielberg returns to the blockbuster genre that he knows so well, and does an excellent job. This is his second pairing with Tom Cruise, after the successful union in 2002’s ‘Minority Report’. Spielberg ensures that while the audience gets a dazzling display of sci fi and special effects, they also get a personal story of a family unit that is trying to come together, and how relationships can be forged against adversity. In many ways this film reminded me of ‘Jaws’, in that the suspense and tension was not only felt by an outside threat, but also with the relationships between characters. This would have to be the most suspenseful film that Spielberg has made since ‘Jaws’, which is appropriate as this year marks the 30th anniversary of that film.

Tom Cruise is excellent as the man trying to overcome the odds in order to protect his family. At first glance, his character is devoid of sympathy, but as the story unfolds, he finally finds a way to connect to his children and at how selfish he had become. Dakota Fanning is surprisingly good as his daughter, making her less a ’screaming girl’, but a more rounded girl who has had to adjust to her father’s behaviour. Justin Chatwin as his son does a good job as well, as a son who defies his fathers wishes at every turn, but then comes to rely on him for support. Tim Robbins puts in a cameo as a crazed farmer, which seemed to be a bit over the top at times, and was the only weak link in the cast. Miranda Otto turns up for 5 minutes as Ray’s ex wife, and is reasonable in a tiny role.

John Williams provides an excellent score. The music is very intense and moody which adds considerably to the atmosphere. His music is very low key at times, which is refreshing after other sci fi films tend to go for the more overblown style of score. The special effects are amazing, with the alien machines looking very sinister - although Spielberg wisely goes for the ‘less is more’ approach and holds back letting the audience see as much of the machines as he can.

This is a very entertaining sci fi film, with a bit of family drama thrown in. There is very little of the ‘Spielberg sentimentality’ that he usually puts into his films, and tells the story straight down the line. The suspense is genuine, and the story moves along at a steady pace. This is easily a film one can imagine seeing very often. One of the best films either Spielberg or Cruise have done for years. Here’s hoping for a third Cruise/Spielberg team up.

Rating out of 10: 9