Fans of Marvel's ''Fantastic Four'' may have been casting the movie version of the superhero saga in their heads for more than 40 years; now, 20th Century Fox has taken a crack at it. Variety and the Hollywood Reporter have confirmed the long-rumored signing of ''Shield'' star Michael Chiklis to play Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing, the rough-hewn clobberer whose body is made of orange rock. The trade papers say that Fox has also signed Ioan Gruffudd (currently onscreen as Lancelot in ''King Arthur'') as team leader Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic, who can stretch his limbs like Silly Putty. ''The Perfect Score'''s Chris Evans will play Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch, who can set himself aflame and manipulate fire.
As for the fourth member of the quartet -- Sue Storm, a.k.a. Invisible Girl, sister to Johnny and wife to Reed Richards -- it's down to a handful of hotties, led by ''Dark Angel'''s Jessica Alba. Other names that have been dropped are ''The Notebook'' star Rachel McAdams and ''Felicity'''s Keri Russell.
The Fantastic Four gained their powers as astronauts whose ship was bombarded with cosmic rays. Once transformed, the film foursome will find themselves fighting Dr. Doom, the Darth Vader-like megalomaniac who is the dictator of a country called Latveria.
Tim Story (''Barbershop'') will direct the film, making the leap to big-budget spectacles. He and the studio had better round up an Invisible Girl pretty fast, since Fox has scheduled the movie for release on July 1, 2005, the same holiday weekend that saw Marvel's ''Spider-Man 2'' set box office records this year. Meanwhile, we're sure that fans will have plenty to say about the casting, perhaps starting with Gruffudd, who seems a tad young to play the gray-templed Richards. Let the sniping and second-guessing begin.