The UnPopular Opinion: Fantastic Four
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Do you remember back in the day when comic books were for kids? I am talking back in the golden age when a kid could ride their bike to the store and buy any title on display and read it, knowing that the story contained within would take them to an alternate world where heroes wore costumes, could fly, and defended the world against evil. I miss those days. While I am a big fan of adult-oriented comics and graphic novels, not everything with a superhero has to be dark, brooding, and grim. There is enough room for both kinds of comics to exist as well as both kinds of comic book movies. Just look at SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and MAN OF STEEL as a prime example. Even Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN films balanced on that line between candy-colored comic illustrations come to life and a darker edge while Marc Webb's THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is striving for the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy. This balance is what makes those movies more fun than serious and in turn more faithful to the source material.
Tim Story's FANTASTIC FOUR is not a perfect film, but it is a fun movie and a well realized version of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book. FANTASTIC FOUR has always been one of the more "fun" titles in the Marvel universe which is one of the reasons why they mixed so well with Spider-man for team-ups over the years. The characters of Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm are well-crafted and are the purest representation of a family in all of comics. Basically, the FANTASTIC FOUR are the basis for THE INCREDIBLES. Add in their nemesis, Doctor Doom, and you have the perfect superhero squad to introduce fans of any age to the wide world of Marvel. Like Raimi's SPIDER-MAN, FANTASTIC FOUR populates a bright and vibrant comic world with well-crafted characters that are faithful to the originals while making changes that actually work.
Man, Vin Diesel has let himself go.
Take for instance the heroes themselves. Ioan Gruffudd makes a good Mr. Fantastic. He is bumbling and nerdy and not exactly ready to be thrust in the limelight but still smart enough to create anything the team needs to succeed. While the comic version was always older, Gruffudd fits the role perfectly. Michael Chiklis is a great choice for Ben Grimm/The Thing and imbues the rock monster with a humanity that made him so likeable on the written page. Try not to watch him deal with his new appearance, trying and failing to pick up his wife's ring from the ground, or trying to sit on a chair in a bar without feeling for the big guy. Jessica Alba is passable as Sue Storm, but she mainly exists in the film to look great in a bra and panties. Alba took a major step back in her role in the sequel, but here she is a good Invisible Woman, just not great.
The two best parts of FANTASTIC FOUR are Chris Evans as The Human Torch and Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom. Evans is not my ideal Captain America (though he is growing on me in the part), but he was an absolutely spot-on Johnny Storm. His cocky swagger, movie star good looks, and douche-bag treatment of The Thing made him easily my favorite part of the film. He wants so badly to be a celebrity that he fails to see what he is doing to those around him. Evans was also quite good in the sequel. It is a shame that his new place in the Marvel universe would prohibit him from returning to this role.
Can you believe this guy went from NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE to playing two superheroes?
Julian McMahon, on the other hand, would be a welcome return as Doctor Doom when the reboot of the franchise comes about. For anyone who has seen NIP/TUCK, McMahon basically plays a PG-13 version of Christian Troy. Doom is a vain, self-centered megalomaniac with aspirations to destroy the FANTASTIC FOUR. His descent from human to villain is amongst the best portrayal in any superhero film. Think about it: how many superhero movies actually show the bad guy become the bad guy over the course of the movie and how many of those are actually good? I count less than five and Doctor Doom would be among them.
What turned a lot of people off of FANTASTIC FOUR was the lighter tone of the movie. You see with each new superhero movie released that they try to outdo the films that came before. FANTASTIC FOUR is content to be a fun time at the movies that doesn't force you to think about the social and political issues at stake in a world with heroes and villains. The movie certainly displays some superficial analysis of what fame can do an average person but it doesn't want to convey a deeper understanding. FANTASTIC FOUR is a summer movie that you can watch without needing to worry if you missed the subtext in what a character was saying or if they are referencing another upcoming standalone hero movie.
Tim Story is not exactly an upper echelon director. I am excited to see what Josh Trank will do with the FANTASTIC FOUR reboot in 2015, but that is not to say Story does an awful job here. The special effects are good for when the film was released and his direction is competent if not generic. At the same time, Story's direction never gets in the way of the movie's story. There is one shot of a firefighter bracing for a crash followed by a Dalmatian covering his eyes with his paw that made me groan, but it also comes right before the massive bridge rescue scene that reveals our heroes to the world. That scene along with the foursome facing Doctor Doom at the conclusion of the movie make it worth the price of admission.
I received a lot of flack from you guys when I said I found it hard to like THE AVENGERS because my five year old could not relate to it. That goes back to my primary question in this column. When did superhero movies become enjoyment for teenagers and adults only? FANTASTIC FOUR is a superhero movie I can share with my kids without having to explain who, what, why, where, and how every thirty seconds. No, FANTASTIC FOUR is nowhere near THE DARK KNIGHT in terms of quality or even THE AVENGERS in that regard, but it also isn't trying to be. FANTASTIC FOUR is a superhero movie, not an artistic film exploration of what it means to be more than human. It is okay to respect film and want it to be more than just fun, but it is also okay for those fun flicks to exist as well. That is exactly what FANTASTIC FOUR is: a fun time.