Jessica Alba in poster for the new Fantastic Four movieSelf-awareness is a trademark of recent comic-book movies. You can wink occasionally, as in Spiderman or Batman Begins, or you can wink all the way through, as in Fantastic Four.

Fantastic Four doesn’t have a plot so much as it has an implausible series of events that will lead to the characters getting the same names and catch-phrases as the original comic. Where Spiderman & Batman Begins showly unfold the discovery and mastery of powers, Fantastic Four blazes right on through. It rushes to get to effect and action set-pieces that seem, after just having seen War of the Worlds, impossibly cheesy. I can forgive cheesiness as long as it isn’t Swiss. Why the Fantastic Four now? What has this second-rate pulp tale to say about our modern life that X-Men, X2, Constantine or Batman Begins haven’t said already? A rarity for such films, they leave the villain undeveloped. Here, I think, was a missed opportunity for commentary on corporate megalomania. Dr. Doom, sadly, is no Magneto.

Read more…And Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom) is no Ian McKellan. I spent the whole movie trying to place his half-rhotic accent until I gave up and attributed it to the imaginary country of Latveria. Of the principle cast, only Chris Evans comes out unsinged. He takes the wildboy persona he’s given and runs with it. Meanwhile Jessica Alba spends the whole movie looking as if bees have stung her lips between takes and she’s trying not to show it. (I almost wished for Vi from The Incredibles to take her place.) Michael Chiklis, as the middle-aged member of the group, proves he can act through a rubber suit, if not keep The Shield on the air. And Ioan Gruffudd as Gumby, er, Reed Richards is only dull-in-a-bad-way most of the time.

I hate to agree with my nemesis, A.O. Scott, but this was a network-t.v. quality effort at best. Tim Story, if that is his real name, has one saving grace. This movie may, in time, develop the Bruce Campbell corona of camp. It’s a battle to the bottom between it and Sky High. May the lamest super-hero movie win.