Should I Watch..? 'Fantastic Four' (2005)
What's the big deal?
Fantastic Four (stylised as Fantastic 4) is an action superhero film released in 2005 and marks the second attempt at portraying some of Marvel's oldest characters on the big screen. Following an aborted B-movie produced by Roger Corman, the rights to the characters fell into the possession of 20th Century Fox after years of development hell. Today, Marvel Studios maintains a much closer grip on rights to their characters and might possibly intend to reacquire them someday. So given that the script was passed back and forth for a number of years between different writers, numerous directors came and went and the film was merely supervised by Marvel, it perhaps isn't surprising to find the movie is a bit of a mess. It retains much of the camp jokey tone of the original comics but compared to many superhero films out there (especially those in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU), it does come up frightfully short.
What's it about?
Scientist Reed Richards manages to convince his former friend at MIT Victor Von Doom to allow him safe passage to Doom's private space station in order to conduct an experiment. Believing that evolution was initially sparked by a strange cloud of cosmic energy, Richards and his astronaut partner Ben Grimm plan to study the effects of another cloud as it approaches Earth. Doom agrees to escort them to the space station along with his chief geneticist Susan Storm and her brother Johnny, a former astronaut himself.
However, a miscalculation on Richards' part means that the energy cloud hits the station far sooner than they had anticipated. Grimm is caught during a space walk while the others are all effected on board. Returning safely to Earth, they all exhibit strange new abilities: Richards can stretch himself into almost any shape, Susan can turn invisible at will as well as project force fields, Johnny can burst into flames at will while Grimm is covered in a strange rock-like substance, giving him enormous strength and durability. While they attempt to make sense of their powers, Doom - whose skin begins to slowly become metallic as a result of the impact - begins to salvage what he can from the disaster and seeks out revenge on the man he holds responsible... Richards.
Victor Von Doom
Mark Frost & Michael France *
Release Date (UK)
22nd July, 2005
Action, Sci-Fi, Superhero
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Actress (Alba)
What's to like?
It's worth bearing in mind that this film was released at a time when there was no such thing as the MCU and Marvel Studios had yet to release their first studio picture, Iron Man, which would change everything. With expectations now tempered somewhat, the film makes the difficult decision to retain the somewhat comedic feel the original comics had. The temptation might have been to make Fantastic Four a bit too dark and serious - a mistake that the 2015 reboot seemed to make - so it's a relief to find the emphasis is on fun instead of naval-gazing brooding and explosive special effects.
Despite corny dialogue, Chiklis is the surprise star of the film whose sympathetic portrayal of The Thing is in stark contrast to the amount of fun the rest of the cast have. But generally speaking, acting matches the tongue-in-cheek vibe of the picture. McMahon is bordering on hilarious as Doom (which, admittedly, isn't what you want from your lead villain) while Evans, Alba and Gruffudd bicker and argue amongst themselves. The effects aren't that bad - the Thing's make-up is actually quite impressive - while the story manages to be the sort of mindless fluff you'd expect from this comic adaptation.
- Of the many cameos he has had over the years, this marks Stan Lee's first appearance as a named character - Willie Lumpkins, the mailman. It's also the first time Lee has played a character that he helped to create.
- Many fans were disappointed in the way Dr Doom was portrayed, Stan Lee included. However, Lee does believe that Chiklis's performance as The Thing is the best interpretation of any Marvel character he's seen.
- Although the origins of Dr Doom were different in the comics (he was caught up in a lab accident of his own making), the currently accepted version of events in Marvel comics is the version that appears in this movie.
What's not to like?
While it was the correct decision to keep Fantastic Four light, it struggles for attention in an increasingly crowded genre and now more than ever. Even before the game-changing MCU burst onto our screens, superhero films were slowly coming into their own after years of cheap, half-hearted imitations. Tim Burton's Batman had shown the way for dramatic interpretations while the likes of Spider-Man and X-Men were also proving that there could be more to these films than just a star in a costume. Compared to these earlier films, Fantastic Four simply fails to match the same levels of fun, excitement, thrills or storytelling.
The film has a horribly cheap feel to it - nothing like as bad as a made-for-TV effort but you do get the sense that corners were cut, given the restrictive running time. But the script fails to utilise what time is there as there's little in the way of action or even fighting crime like the Four used to do. There's a rescue on a bridge and the traditional punch-up at the end - the rest of the film is spent arguing amongst themselves about what happened in space, whose fault it is and Alba pointlessly undressing herself so she can turn invisible. Surely superheroes should feel super - the clue is in the name, after all - but nothing about Fantastic Four stands out as exceptional beside Chiklis' performance.
Should I watch it?
It's not surprising that they hardly waited for the dust to settle before deciding on a reboot but I feel that this beloved bunch of Marvel characters deserve better than this. Fantastic Four runs like a kid's film instead of the gripping adventure that it's begging to be, eschewing exciting set pieces with poorly performed squabbling, a hopelessy miscast baddie and lousy-looking effects. Out-dated at the time, it looks positively antique compared with Marvel's current output these days.
Great For: easily distracted children, reminding yourself how good Avengers Assemble really is
Not So Great For: fans of the MCU, fans of the Fantastic Four, people with high expectations
What else should I watch?
In case you weren't paying attention, the films that comprise the MCU make truly fantastic superhero films with only a couple of duds. Highlights include any one of the Captain America trilogy, the aforementioned Iron Man and Iron Man 3 are great fun as well as their two "greatest hits" features, Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But it's not all about capes and masks - Guardian Of The Galaxy is a quirky space opera in the grandest traditions that offers something very different but equally as entertaining.
Away from the MCU, things are just as strong. Batman fans will always have Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy to enjoy while Spider-Man 2 remains arguably the best film featuring the Wall Crawler. Be warned, though because not every superhero film is a classic. The Punisher is a grim and depressing exercise in wanton violence while the much-maligned Daredevil is a certified so-bad-that-it's-funny film. Even the sequel to this film - Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer - couldn't get it right either.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox