If you're used to the darker flavour of superheroics, the gee-whiz chirpiness of Fantastic Four will come as a shock. Stick with it though - Tim Story's take on Marvel's first family of costumed adventurers may not have the operatic gothickyness of a Batman or the grown-up angst of a Spider-Man, but it's still a solid, sugary chunk of formulaic family entertainment.
The plot is, well, comic-book simplicity. Five people go into orbit. A cosmic storm hits. All five get varying types of superpowers. Four decide to use their stretchy, muscly, vanishy, flamey gifts for the benefit of all mankind. The fifth, Victor Von Doom, turns into a metal megalomaniac with control of electricity and becomes a supervillain. As you would with a surname like Von Doom.
From the moment Barbershop helmer Story, beaming and over-the-moon to be directing a big summer blockbuster, crops up on one of the DVD documentaries, you know this isn't a man who's going to take the tale anywhere dark. As he babbles happily that what attracted him to the project was the fact the FF are a family, you know this was never going to be anything other than a PG film.
Everybody involved in the film has Story's ridiculous enthusiasm. Whether they're reconstructing a section of the Brooklyn Bridge in a Vancouver parking lot (something they're so pleased with that it crops up twice on the two discs) or suffering endless hours of make-up a la Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon, everyone seems to be having a super, super time. It gets a little wearing after a while, especially when even the whirlwind global publicity tour (if it's Tuesday, this must be Madrid...) documented on Jessica Alba's video diary doesn't dent anyone's enthusiasm. Could some of those smiles and moments of happy bonding between the actors be just a teeny bit false? Surely not...
It's quite clear that Chiklis is the daddy of the group. The orange, granite-faced muscleman of the film may be a man-thing of few words but The Shield actor can chatter to Olympic standard. Fellow actors Alba (Invisible Woman) and Ioan Gruffudd (Mr Fantastic) struggle to get a word in. Gruffudd, in particular, takes a good while to warm up, needing regular Alba prompts to nudge out anecdotes about when his folks visited the set or the rigours of green screen filming (as with most big movies, there's a tedious ton of stuff about this here).
All in all, though, this is a pretty decent double-discer. The main doc is okay, the mini-featurettes slick and the deleted scenes not too pointless (there's a cute one where Mr Fantastic morphs into Wolverine for a second). If there's a problem it's in what isn't here rather than what is. FF is a movie aimed at kids, so where's the fun stuff, the DVD-Rom features, the Easter Eggs, the mini-games? The lack of any real chat about the comics themselves is a bit annoying, too. Like the film itself, you can't shake the feeling that they've followed a standard template a little too closely, when a bit of rule-breaking and - whisper it - risk-taking might have spiced things up.