Dr. Reed Richards carries a burden for humanity, always looking for a way to cure diseases and better the world's condition. Wanting to study the effects of cosmic radiation on living tissues, he sees a prime opportunity with an upcoming cosmic storm that will pass close to Earth. But he'll have to be in outer space to conduct the experiment.
That's where billionaire investor Victor Von Doom comes in: Reed needs Victor's orbiting space laboratory to study the radioactive cloud. It just so happens, though, that Reed and Victor were college rivals and that Reed's ex-girlfriend, Susan Storm, also happens to be Victor's chief of genetic research and possible love interest.
Still, Victor offers his lab and personal services on the space station, hoping to profit from the venture. Along for the mission are Reed's longtime friend and astronaut, Ben Grimm, and space shuttle pilot Johnny Storm, Susan's hotshot brother. Once in orbit, Reed realizes that the cosmic storm is approaching faster than expected. Before they can lock down the station, the five are blasted by super radiation.
At first, the team members don't seem to suffer any undue effect. But then strange things begin to happen. Reed becomes elastic, stretching and bending his body to an extraordinary degree, transforming into Mr. Fantastic. Susan finds she can turn invisible, hence her new name, The Invisible Woman. She can also project strong force fields. Johnny can control fire and fly like a rocket, thus becoming The Human Torch. Ben suddenly has mountainous strength—and the rocky body and disposition to go with it. No one knows what to call him; he's just The Thing. And Victor finds his muscles and sinew turning into a super-metal of some sort, while he can also draw energy from diverse sources and hurl it about. Always a power-hungry, cynical malcontent, his name becomes his destiny: Doom. Soon his rivalry with Reed takes an ominous turn.
Reed is a do-gooder with a heart of gold. Even though the cynical Victor taunts him for it—"Reed the dreamer, the weight of the world on his back"—Reed remains humble. He counsels the impulsive Johnny, "You need to control yourself and think before you act."
Despite their bickering, the Fantastic Four are a model of strong family life, setting aside differences to help one another, forgiving faults and living self-sacrificially for the sake of the others. They also willingly put themselves in great danger to protect the public. In the end, they realize they can function best as a team and set aside petty differences to fight the bad guy.
A blind woman is willing to go beyond The Thing's grotesque appearance to love him for who he is. In contrast, Ben's wife is repulsed by his new appearance as The Thing and repudiates their marriage. [Spoiler Warning] Ben eventually chooses to accept his calling and not go back to his former self, even though given the opportunity.
The Thing at first laments his condition: "If there is a God, He hates me." A woman theologically counters, "She isn't so into hate."
Victor is described as being "richer than God." Growing arrogant with his new powers, he says, "Do you think fate turned us into gods so we could refuse these gifts?"
Susan may be able to turn invisible, but her clothes can't, which entails her having to strip to use her superpower. (That's in addition to her fondness for very low-cut outfits throughout the story.) Once we see the form of her "naked" body with only a filled-out lacy bra and panties. (She momentarily loses control of the superpower and reappears dressed in nothing but those underthings.) Another time she starts to strip off her jacket and blouse before the camera cuts away. Reed accidentally walks in on her as she towels off after a shower, and we briefly see her bare back before she turns invisible and covers up with the towel. It's suggested that she and Reed lived together before breaking up.
Johnny is a playboy extraordinaire. He's said to have taken several "Victoria's Secret wannabes" on a flight simulator, and he's always coming on to women. (When a nurse notes that he's hot—literally about to burst into his superpower flames—he responds, "Why, thank you. So are you.") On two occasions he's seen mostly nude after his clothes burn off, with only a strategically placed snow bank or coat hiding his private parts. After "flaming on" while skiing, he invites a young lady into the accidental "hot tub" he's created in the snow. (He's shirtless and presumably naked.)
A lusty woman suggestively speaks of how Mr. Fantastic can "expand any part of his anatomy." Johnny jokes, "Oh, I always found him a bit limp."
Ben's wife wears a skimpy negligee. Several cheerleaders wear revealing uniforms that show a lot of cleavage.
Fantastic Four may feature comic book superhero violence, but it's still intense in places. The Thing steps in front of a large truck to save a pedestrian, causing the truck to crash and fly into the air. A multi-vehicle smashup follows, with plenty of explosions and fireballs. A fire truck crashes and threatens to fall off a high bridge, and several firemen hang in peril hundreds of feet in the air. One falls before being rescued in midair in true superhero fashion. Police aim pistols at The Thing, and one shoots. (The bullet merely bounces off him.)
Several fights show characters being punched, kicked and flung through the air. Dr. Doom throws a fireball at a man, blowing a hole through his torso. Doom chokes a doctor before flinging his body across the room, where it smashes into an x-ray lightboard. He also throws a doorman through a glass door. Doom and The Thing fling cars and buses at each other as if they were toys, and Doom tries to impale The Thing with a jagged pole. Doom fires a heat-seeking missile at the heroes and tortures Mr. Fantastic with super-cooling fluid. The Invisible Woman and Human Torch fight Doom using force fields and fireballs.
Dr. Doom grabs The Invisible Woman by the throat during an argument. The Thing throws a mirror at Johnny in anger.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word. Two uses each of "h---," "a--" and "d--n." God's name is interjected seven times (once with "d--n") and Jesus' once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Ben tells a group of children, "Don't do drugs!" But The Thing looks for solace in a bar, where patrons are shown drinking beer. He orders a glass of whiskey. People drink champagne at a party, and the heroes have wine with a meal. Johnny orders "shots all ‘round" for a group of adoring women.
Other Negative Elements
Johnny professes, "I've never been good with rules," and his impetuousness and rule-bending are major parts of his character. He rides a motorcycle at high speed alongside a car while kissing the female driver. Reed challenges Johnny, "Don't you think there's a higher calling than getting girls and making money?" Johnny responds, "Is there any other?"
Reed's experiments work under the assumption that Darwinian evolution is a fact.
Yet another Stan Lee creation to hit the big screen (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, The Hulk, X-Men, X2), the Fantastic Four comic book series has been around since 1961 and is one of the few titles never to go out of print during that long a run. The Four are unique in that they make no attempt to hide their identities from the public. Lee explained, "I wanted to create them as if they were real people living amongst us in the real world who just happened to have superpowers. They are the first family of superheroes, four people who live and work together like a family. We hadn't seen a relationship like that in the comics prior to Fantastic Four, and it made them very unique and very popular among the fans."
That background is important, since viewers might note a certain similarity to another superhero family that graced movie screens last fall, The Incredibles. Fantastic Four producer Avi Arad said his team was dismayed at last year's animated hit, since it used so many of the superhero conventions invented by the creators of the Fantastic Four more than four decades ago. His concern: Younger viewers may think Fantastic Four is ripping off The Incredibles instead of the other way around. I don't think he needs to worry, though, since The Incredibles was poking gentle fun at the superhero convention overall.
Fantastic Four is its own story, and it's interesting to see each character take on superpowers based on his or her strongest personality trait: Reed Richards is almost infinitely flexible (some would say spineless); Susan Storm tends to fade into the background when confronted or stressed out; Ben Grimm is rock-solid reliable; and Johnny Storm is a hotshot. Thus you get the elastic Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, the rock-like Thing and The Human Torch. It's doubly interesting to see the characters try to come to terms with their newfound powers à la Spider-Man while also having to learn to work with others similarly "afflicted."
For a summer popcorn flick, Fantastic Four features more than its share of positive messages about family, calling, self-sacrifice and teamwork. But a few content issues, including a bit of profane language, and The Human Torch's womanizing and devil-may-care attitude, may leave scorch marks on viewers.