Fantastic Four (2005)
Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans and Julian McMahon.
Directed by Tim Story.
I’ve been trying on and off to borrow a bootleg copy of the 1994 Roger Corman version of Fantastic Four. ((Directed by Oley Sassone and produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, the 1994 version features Joseph Culp (son of I Spy star, Robert Culp) as Doctor Doom and stars Alex Hyde-White as Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as the Invisible Woman, Michael Bailey Smith as The Thing and Jay Underwood as The Human Torch. Alex Hyde-White, interestingly enough, began his career playing a young boy in the two made-for-TV Captain America movies. Rebecca Staab has been in a number of soap operas, including The Guiding Light. Michael Bailey Smith has done a lot of B-movies and television appearances, and is playing the Michael Berryman role in the upcoming remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (The video cover for the original version features a bald, wide-eyed Michael Berryman. To me, it is one of the most instantly recognizable movie posters of all time.). Jay Underwood played the lead in Disney’s Not Quite Human movies, based on a series of books by the same name.)) This version was never officially released, and Marvel’s Avi Arad claims to have acquired the original print of the film just so he could burn it. This, of course, makes me want to see it all the more. for well over five years now. I’ve never heard a single positive thing about the Corman version, but I figure if I can sit through The Star Wars Holiday Special, I can sit through just about anything.
If you heard any of the early buzz on the new version, you might have expected it to be every bit as horrible as the one made eleven years ago. When the first trailer was released a few months ago, some fans reacted as though Marvel had committed some form of sacrilege.
(Some spoilers ahead…)
If I had to hazard a guess as to what so ired fans about the trailer, I’d probably say it was Doctor Doom. In the comic books, Victor von Doom was raised by gypsies in the eastern European country of Latveria after his parents were killed. He attended university in the United States, where he met Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. Doom was a brilliant scientist, though not quite so brilliant as Richards, a fact that led to a rivalry between the two men. Attempting to communicate with his dead mother, Doom built a trans-dimensional projection device. Reed Richards pointed out a flaw in the design, but Victor was too headstrong to listen to Richards’ advice. Doom activated the projector, which exploded after a few minutes of operation, leaving him with a long scar on one side of his face.
Doom was expelled from the university and spent the next few years searching for a means to repair his damaged face. Though the scar was relatively minor, Victor saw it as a severe disfigurement. His travels led him to Tibet, where a group of mysterious monks helped him construct a suit of armor. The impatient Doom did not allow the faceplate to be properly cooled after it was forged, donning it while the metal was still incredibly hot and scarring his face seemingly beyond repair in the process.
Victor then returned to Latveria and overthrew the government there, declaring himself the new monarch. As Doctor Doom, he has done battle with the Fantastic Four on countless occasions, seeking to humiliate and defeat Reed Richards, for whom he has held a longstanding hatred since their days as schoolmates.
Okay, that’s the comic book version. In the movie, Victor von Doom is a successful businessman who funds Reed Richards’ mission to study the effects of cosmic rays. Doom and Richards (and Grimm) attended MIT together and, while Richards was arguably the better scientist, it is Doom who has managed to build a thriving business while Reed has met with continued failure. Even Susan Storm, Reed’s college sweetheart, now works for Victor.
In the comic book, Victor von Doom isn’t involved in Reed Richards’ experimental spaceflight. In the movie, Doom accompanies Richards, Grimm, Sue Storm and her brother, Johnny, on their flight to the spacestation Doom owns. Doom is exposed to the same cosmic rays that create the Fantastic Four, and like the others, his DNA is altered as well.
This, too, is a departure from the comic book Doctor Doom, who possesses no superpowers (but who does have some occult powers). Like his comic book counterpart, however, the movie Doom’s face is accidentally scarred, and his vanity eventually leads him to don the familiar facemask (which resides in Victor’s office and was, bizarrely, presented to him by the grateful people of Latveria for reasons not revealed in the movie). Unlike the comic Doom, however, the movie Victor’s body is actually turning into a sort of biological metal that is “stronger than titanium.” He also has the ability to absorb and emit electrical energy.
Despite these differences, I rather enjoyed Julian McMahon’s Doctor Doom, and the end of the movie hints that this Doctor’s path will merge with that followed by the Doom created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics. Not surprisingly, the door is wide open for a sequel.
Of course, the title of the film isn’t Doctor Doom and the Annoying Quartet, it is Fantastic Four, so I’d best get on to the blue-clad foursome of irradiated heroes.
When compared with superhero movies of recent years, Fantastic Four can’t compete with the X-Men or Spider-Man franchises, but is at least as entertaining as Daredevil and leaps and bounds better than Joel Schumacher’s last two Batman movies (Batman Begins, on the other hand, is in the same league as Spider-Man 2 and X2: X-Men United).
If there’s one thing this movie gets right, it is the relationship between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. Michael Chiklis’ Ben/Thing is pretty decent (though I wasn’t thrilled with his Thing voice), but Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) definitely nails the flashy, in-your-face Johnny/Human Torch. Johnny constantly torments Ben about his appearance, even before Grimm is transformed into the orange, rocky Thing. While Ben despises his new “powers” (and the clumsy, disfigured body in which he feels trapped), Johnny absolutely revels in his new abilities and the attention they bring him. While Ben wants to hide away from the public eye, Johnny’s attention-getting antics put him in center stage, right where he wants to be. This leads to a lot of tension between the two men, and it comes off quite well on the screen.
The relationship between Sue Storm and Reed Richards doesn’t fare quite so well. Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffudd, unfortunately, don’t have a whole lot of chemistry together and this results in some rather clunky moments between the two. This is mitigated somewhat (though not entirely) by the fact that Reed Richards is notoriously unable to properly express his feelings toward Sue.
Another problem is that Alba and (to a lesser extent) Gruffudd seem a little too pretty for their own good. Both Sue Storm and Reed Richards are accomplished, brilliant scientists, but it’s hard for me to believe that any woman with such immaculate hair and makeup would really be an expert in the field of DNA. I know, I’m perpetuating a stereotype, but the last time I saw a picture of Sally Ride in space she didn’t have perfectly applied lip liner. I’m just saying.
One of my major beefs with Fantastic Four is Ben Grimm’s attitude at the end of the movie. So much of the film focused on his dismay at having been transformed into a hulking monstrosity (his girlfriend leaves him, a pigeon relieves itself on his shoulder, people constantly stare, all of which increases Ben’s sense of self-loathing) and his eagerness for Reed to find a cure that it seemed entirely too convenient that he suddenly accept his fate after Doom has been (seemingly) defeated and Richards declares his intention to fix the machine that could cure Ben of his “condition.” I suppose Ben’s attitude shift could be explained by the presence of Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), the blind artist with whom (in the comic) Grimm becomes romantically involved, but it is such a sudden and complete turnaround that it annoyed me.
Another beef: After turning into The Thing, Grimm flees Doom’s compound and returns to New York City. While mulling over his situation on a bridge, he inadvertently sets off a series of events that leads to a multiple-car pileup, a firetruck nearly plummeting off the bridge, and a massive explosion. Reed, Sue and Johnny have been out looking for Ben and they arrive on the scene in time to help Ben save a number of people from a variety of untimely demises. On arriving, however, the trio is blocked by the police and informed that they won’t be allowed to pass.
Reed convinces Sue to turn invisible and sneak past the police blockade. Sue hasn’t quite figured out how her powers work, so there is an embarrassing moment in which she inadvertently becomes visible while wearing only a bra and panties. It is the most transparent (pun intended) attempt to inject a little T&A into a movie that I’ve ever seen. Why? Because after Sue sneaks by the blockade, Reed and Johnny come running up behind her. How they got by the cops is never explained.
Also, it takes Ben Grimm three days to transform into The Thing after being exposed to the cosmic rays. Doom, using a device Richards designed, manages to revert Grimm to his human form. Shortly thereafter, Ben realizes that Doom only did so because The Thing was a significant obstacle to destroying Reed. Ben uses the machine again, at a lower power level, and is instantly reverted back to The Thing (in time, of course, to save everyone’s bacon). This perceived transformation-time discrepancy may be moot, however, as the actual transformation process from human to Thing took place in a matter of minutes once it started.
Overall, Fantastic Four was a lot of fun. It’s a slick, entertaining superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The story gets underway quickly, there’s a satisfying amount of action and the special effects that realize the various super powers are nicely done. There are a few times when Story and company seemed to take a few shortcuts to move things along, and the final battle between Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four is rather short. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching a longtime favorite comic book come to life on the big screen.