Editor’s Note – This our new column from Nathan Ellis is a bit of a departure. While it isn’t about horror comics, it is about horror and comics. Specifically about the kind of terrible films that have been made from the comics that we love. So enjoy a bit of a departure from the blood, guts and shrieks and enjoy. Because some times the scariest movies, aren’t in the horror section! – gl
This month:Fantastic Four
There are some days my extreme manliness prevents me from remembering what it feels like to cry. When I come to the conclusion that my tears (consisting of grizzly bear blood and Budweiser) are past due, I put on the Fantastic Four.
I was in my early to mid-teens when this came out and even then I remember being sad and confused as soon as it was over. I was easily entertained at that age, my expectations weren’t completely unreasonable. A half decent film with some fan service would have been nice. Nope. To a fan of the comics and a fan of cinema in general, it’s like watching a snuff film starring your childhood idols.
At this point you would be correct in assuming I can’t objectively review this movie. The most objective thing I can say about it is for a summer blockbuster/superhero film most audiences will forget about it after a good night’s sleep. For a fan of the comics, it’s not so forgettable.
To put any of this into perspective I have to take you on a journey to my childhood. My family life was confusing as a kid, without getting into details everything turned out well eventually but I did need some sort of go-to moral cornerstone in my life. You can imagine my elation when I found out about a superhero family who refused to give up on each other even when cosmic monsters and entities threatened to tear them apart; I had discovered the most inspirational role models I could have asked for. If you could encapsulate my adolescence into one thing, it would be an issue of the fantastic four.
As if that wasn’t enough personal baggage attributing to my overall disappointment of the film, it doesn’t stop there. Like every kid in the late 90’s I was listening to the Illuminati broadcasting network known as Radio Disney. I can only imagine how many times I willingly listened to Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue” in 1999. My exposure to music that doesn’t require the listener to be a 10 year old on a sugar high came in the form of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, a cover of it at least. A Perfect Circle had released an anti-war cover album called Emotive, only a handful of the songs on the record are original tracks. One being a collaboration with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (a song which is featured in Constantine, a bad comic movie for another day) the other is a reworked version of the song “Pet” from the band’s previous CD. Judge me all you want for my taste in music, there is a point to all this.I assume we have now established my love for the Fantastic Four and increasingly dated rock music. Now with all that in mind, watch the theatrical trailer for the Fantastic Four.
The song at 33 seconds into the trailer is none other than the remix of “pet” I was talking about earlier. The odds of two completely separate interests of mine colliding like this was insane to me, you know those moments where you’re sure there is no possible way that you’re not in the Matrix? As a nerd, this was my moment and until the movie came out, it was glorious.
In hindsight, I can tell now things were horribly wrong from the beginning. Take a look at the narrative synopsis during the trailer, “5 people will be changed 4 ever”? The numerical pun at the end is admittedly stupid in its own right but before we look at that, I want to talk about the number of people that “will be changed” according to the trailer. Five people? I understand the studio wanted to condense the origin story here. I am not so precious with the source material that I can’t take a few changes. I do however think that the core element of the family being adventurers is tarnished by throwing their main adversary up there in space with them. Not only that, they are confusing audiences who know nothing about the group aside from how many of them there are. You can tell the studio knew they fucked up when they had to tack on “4 ever” at the end. They’re basically admitting they messed up the number of people in a team called the fantastic FOUR. At least they put a 4 in there somewhere right? I don’t even want to get into the “one will be bad. Four will be Fantastic” part. Suffice it to say the full length movie fares no better.
The plot is simple enough, but it gets extremely confusing regarding the details of why any of what’s on screen is happening.
A scientist named Reed Richards wants to go to space because of evolution or curing diseases or something, I can’t tell honestly. He needs funding from a college rival named Victor von Doom, sounds like a nice enough guy, who for some reason wants to join in on a potentially life threatening space flight. In an attempt to keep this mission as unprofessional as possible, Reed’s ex-girlfriend and her brother come along. Oh, and Michael Chikilis from Shield comes too. They run into a cosmic storm up in space while Ben (Chikilis) is performing a spacewalk, so they have to keep the radiation shields up until he gets back to the ship. Everyone on board is exposed to the harmful rays and is knocked unconscious, yet they somehow manage to get back to earth. The scene transition is literally impossible, they were in space dying of radiation one minute and now they’re at a hospital in the mountains. It takes so many people to make a movie and nobody pointed this out?
The tradition of reckless storytelling continues when Johnny decides being cooped up in the hospital is a total bummer and he wants to go snowboarding with a date, regardless of how inconvenient and dangerous that would be. There are obviously no lifts in the area so what does he do? Johnny somehow manages to either have a helicopter flown in or he talks Doom into letting him use one because he is dropped off on the side of the mountain via chopper. Keep in mind, this is not a resort, there’s absolutely no way to get back up. The helicopter can’t land on a snow covered incline to pick them up and Johnny has no idea he can burst into flames and fly around yet. He does conveniently find out in the same scene when he accidentally flames on and creates a makeshift hot tub in the snow. This doesn’t even phase his date, who joins him in the Jacuzzi he just inexplicably made by spontaneously combusting in front of her eyes.
Meanwhile, Reed and Sue discover their powers over an awkwardly written and acted dinner scene. Susan is angry at her former love interest for spending more time in his lab than being a good partner. This is certainly a talking point in the comics; however, it works better when Sue’s character is not a scientist. You can tell where she’s coming from when she’s being represented as the all American girl next door who falls in love with a boy that can show her everything from the stars to the negative zone. Instead, she’s portrayed as a scientist who’s yelling at a scientist for being a scientist. The characters lose any sense of fun juxtaposition because Sue and Reed are now the same person. Don’t get me wrong, a genius couple who are at odds with the status quo because of their intellect would be fine, but if the film makers wanted a conflict of interest between the leads than they shouldn’t have made them interested in the same subjects.
Anyhow, Sue’s powers begin to emerge when she’s angry, like a menstruating Hulk; she becomes transparent and startles herself because turning invisible is kind of weird. A wine bottled is knocked over in the commotion and Reed catches it with his gross elastic arm, revealing the sad truth that the cosmic radiation has basically turned him into a stretch Armstrong. In all honesty the effects for Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman aren’t bad; it’s the way their powers are used that irks me.
Ben is the most unfortunate, being out on his spacewalk during the storm means he absorbed a higher level of radiation than the others causing him to turn into a cheap, rubber, movie costume. Michael Chikilis did a decent job with what he was given, but the movie should have been abandoned as soon as the film crew saw what he looked like in that damn suit. Not only does it look cheap, but Chikilis is shorter than most of the lead actors even when he’s in costume. The rock from 127 Hours is more convincing than he is. Ben finds out how deformed he is and like any sane person he decides to run through a wall like the kool-aid guy. Why would you run away from a hospital in that condition? Isn’t that the best place to be in his situation? No, it turns out he thinks the best thing to do as a rock monster is to go see his wife. When he shows up at his house looking like a guy who takes Halloween way too seriously, his old lady acts disgusted and immediately runs away without so much as a “come inside and tell me how this happened”. Great choice in women bro.
He mopes around on the Brooklyn Bridge before spotting a man attempting to jump off the edge. The suicidal man is understandably scared and doesn’t feel any better when he sees a rock monster coming towards him. Ben decides being in the middle of traffic on a busy bridge is a good idea and he literally rams a semi-truck, causing a huge pile up that almost gets people killed. After saving some firefighters he’s forgiven instantly for causing millions in damage; Forgiven by all but his wife, who is SOMEHOW in the crowd of people on the bridge when this happens. There is absolutely no rational cause and effect in this movie at all.
The rest of the film is mainly montage after montage. The team learns how to use their powers and Ben struggles with his humanity while Doom’s reaction to the radiation is causing metallic scars to appear on his body. His avarice gets the better of him and Victor begins his vendetta against our fantastic foursome even though he insisted on joining the crew to space in the first place. There is a sub plot based on the classic FF issue “This Man This Monster” where Ben sacrifices being human to save his family but other than that there is little to appreciate in this movie at all; Although Stan Lee’s cameo as Willie Lumpkin the mailman was near perfect.
While the writing is definitely the worst part about watching this train wreck of a film, I have to say the cast is one of the biggest complaints FF fans have. I’ll hand it to Chris Evans, who is admittedly a decent Johnny Storm. Save the costume, Chikilis isn’t a terrible Thing either. So out of the “5 people that will be changed 4 ever” only two of them deliver remotely acceptable performances. Ioan Gruffud completely fades into the background as Mr. Fantastic, if his character hadn’t been written and directed so poorly he might be capable of something better. The problem is Reed happens to have one of the most intimidating intellects in the Marvel universe, on top of that he’s also capable of being a bold leader, a husband, a father, and a friend. He’s the hardest of the team to get right and this requires some serious acting chops, something Gruffud doesn’t have the range for try as he might.
Jessica Alba as the invisible woman is, in my opinion, the biggest casting blunder of all time. I could see a studio’s need to change the ethnicity of a character based on the vision of the director or the talent of an actor, but Alba is there purely for sex appeal. Sue Storm has a depth to her, she represents the femininity of the family. This doesn’t mean getting naked to turn invisible in a crowd, it means being the anchor for a team that needs protection from themselves more often than not. Alba displayed none of these subtleties and barely puts anything into this performance at all.
Doom was beyond saving after the script was written. Julian McMahon isn’t necessarily to blame for Marvel’s most iconic villain becoming a cardboard cutout CEO archetype, but he didn’t do much to help the situation either. We’re talking about a character who’s supposed to be a megalomaniac dictator. A person responsible for turning himself into a soulless sociopath, a man disfigured because he refused to trust anyone but himself. He is empty inside and wants to take everything Reed has away from him. Where was this villain during the movie?
The part that hurts the most is how Fox put the minimum level of effort into getting a box office return for this. They thought a production crew could shit out some pretty fireworks to fool audiences everywhere and triple their money. They were right. This was the most influential science fiction comic ever and it was turned into some lazy action-comedy for kids to zone out to. Before I end this, and trust me I will, I want to say one thing. Not every movie needs to be Batman level serious. Heroes like the Fantastic Four, Superman, or Spider-Man can have lighthearted adaptions without the bar for entertainment being lowered. There is a misconception in the comic community that everything needs to be dark and edgy because batman is, example: the new Amazing Spider-Man film. We do not need gritty reboots to breathe life back into franchises, we need a little bit of heart and a basic understanding of the source material. So don’t tell me I didn’t like the movie “because it wasn’t serious”, some of my favorite moments in the comics are between Johnny and Ben getting into goofy arguments. That doesn’t mean I want to see 90 minutes of a badly acted and written film with no soul. If Whedon can do what he did with the Avengers, I believe Fox can pull it off with the director of Chronicle helming the upcoming 2015 reboot of FF. Only time will tell, until then flame on everyone.