Peter's Comic Book Ramblings

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"'Fantastic' Four? If you say so."

Finally got around to seeing Fantastic Four Thursday afternoon at the Bridge Complex in Philly (40th & Walnut - great seats, sound, screen. A nice new [to me at least] theatre complex).

So, let me start off with full disclosure: I have never really been a big fan of the F4. Something about the dynamic of the comic just doesn't appeal to me. Maybe because I come from a large mostly hispanic family and the last thing I want is to read about someone else's family. Maybe because, as far as the Marvel Universe goes, there is no "tragic element" in their origin story that makes me as the reader connect to them. (Peter Parker was a nerd, Iron Man had that heart thing, Donald Blake was lame, Matt Murdock was blind, etc.). Or maybe it's just as simple as I don't really relate to any of the characters. Now, before you take all that into consideration and say "Well then you shouldn't have seen the movie", I should also reveal that I have read quite a number of F4 comics over the years. I've read the entire Byrne run, a handful of the Perez drawn ones, I've read Heroes Reborn, the first 3 issues of Heroes Return, the Carlos Pacheco run, Morrison's F4:1234, and all but 5 issues or so of Mark Waid's current run. So I'm no stranger to the F4 regardless of my level of interest.

Okay, let's get a couple things out of the way right away. First off, I'm always the first person to say "A comic is a comic, a movie is a movie, and ne'er the twain should meet". (Wow is that a bastardization of that quote). Anyway, if a superhero movie doesn't quite match the comic, I'm usually okay with that. I didn't yell when the man who would be the Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents. I didn't grex about the organic webshooters. I don't care that the Kingpin is black. So the changes made for this movie are fine with me. But that doesn't excuse bad movie making.

This is not a movie "based on Stan Lee & Jack Kirby". This movie is based on "Stan Lee & Jack Kirby by way of Joe Quesada, Bill Jemas, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, one of those damn Kubert Brothers, etc.". Understand? This movie is the Ultimate Fantastic Four. Not the Marvel Universe Fantastic Four. I can understand that move. They want a new audience, they want to sell the new Ultimate Fantastic Four trades, they know what they are doing. But I don't think that helped them with this movie.

Because this isn't the "real" Fantastic Four, I think the movie is already starting on a weak foundation. The biggest and obvious (and most talked about) flaw is Doom. Doom as a rich spoiled, jealous brat? Money hungry? Jealous of Reed because of Sue? Sorry - don't buy it. If Doom is such a bad guy, why was Sue working for him for all that time? And why wasn't he in the least bit worried about the space cloud screw up if he later is going to blame Reed for the accident? Why did wanting to wear the mask also mean he had to put on the hood and the cape? It was such a blatant weak excuse to get him into a costume and scream "Here's the villain!" without ever really giving him a villainous excuse. You don't always need an excuse (and sometimes a scar is a scar) but it sure felt like they were trying to.

Okay I'm rambling already, I knew that would happen. Let's talk about the Four themselves as seen through the eyes of this movie, this director, this ... um .... script:

Reed Richards: In a world where there are space stations, shuttles that can be used easily for travel and tech that can recreate space cloud radiation why oh WHY is Reed still experimenting on plants. The "big experiment", which is used in the movie to show off Reed's intellect, should've been something like "I'm going to use the space cloud to harness it's energies for dimensional travel or time travel". And then you could've given a nod back to the comics by namedropping the Negative Zone or something. So I think Reed's intellect was way underplayed in the movie. Not only that but showing him as a complete dunce in the social skills department just made him come across really pathetic. Who could ever fall for that guy? I won't comment on the stretching effects because there's just no way to make it look good and realistic.

Sue Storm: So what did Jessica Alba bring to this role that NO other actress was needed? Other than that highly forced/gratuitous undressing scene on the bridge?

Johnny Storm: A good performance but that's not saying much. This kind of character is easy to write and play. Other parts of this movie should've had the same amount of care and attention.

Thing: Also a good performance except I couldn't stop thinking "It's Curly!".

Now here's my biggest problem with the Four. And this may or may not be influenced from the Ultimate books (I haven't read them). I really had NO feeling that they were heroes even before the accident. When Peter Parker leaves Uncle Ben to chase after the killer, when Banner pushes his assistant away and takes the gamma bullet for himself, those are heroes. They took this away in Daredevil too. The chemical accident isn't because he was pushing an old man out of the way in the movie, it was just because he was running away scared from seeing his dad beat up on a guy. That takes out the heroic aspect. Same thing here in the F4 movie. Okay - here's a comparison to the comics - when they get their powers in the original comic, Reed is already thinking of ways that they can help mankind. In the movie, they start calling their powers disesases and trying to find ways to get rid of them. So I'm supposed to be interested in the very drawn out sequence of them experimenting on themselves? Why should I care if they don't? It's the reason why Johnny is the standout character - he wants his powers. It's the reason why, in the Incredibles movie when Dash discovers he can run on water, the whole audience discovers it with him and erupts in laughter and applause. I felt cheated out of the wonder of gaining abilities with this movie. And for people wanting to get rid of their abilities, they sure learn how to control them fast.

I also don't buy the Bridge Sequence. If this was the X-Men movie, regardless of their actions, the X-Men would still be hated and feared. So why should the F4 be treated any differently? There's a huge orange creature in their midst. RUN!!!! At least the X-Men are in stylish leather. They don't look like freaks but they are. But the F4 are welcomed with open arms for a rescue scene that wasn't all that horrific to begin with. I think they missed the boat with this scene. It should've been the middle of Time Square, with this huge creature coming out of the ground (yes, as a nod to the fans) which makes Reed take charge, maybe relunctantly at first, and makes him THINK about the powers his teammates have. So they try their best to stop the creature, while also discovering their abilities, plus you get the added bonus of bringing a true threat to the populace, one in which they won't forget and one in which will make them think "Maybe there's more on the way". New Yorkers are no stangers to that. In that scene I could see the F4 becoming famous. In a scene that was basically the Thing's fault to begin with, I can't.

Some other points that made the movie weak, full of holes and full of unanswered questions:

Alicia Masters: The introduction of Alicia Masters was forced. Way forced. We see her once. And then we see her at the end of the movie as Thing's new love. Huh??? How did that happen. (Oh - and if he's having trouble holding a glass, how did he manage to not break Alicia's body with that hug he gave her? Just a thought). Anyway, back to Alicia. Another missed opportunity was during the Doom/Thing scene. Once Thing was turned back to Ben, Alicia should've been the deciding factor on his restoration back to the Thing. Spouting off some frilly dialogue like "You can be whoever you want to be but I'll know the real man inside you" or something like that. Include her in the story, in the PLOT, then I will accept her more. As it stands, there is no reason for her at all and certainly no reason for the Thing to like her other than that's the way it is in the comics. That's not enough. If you are going to change vital parts of F4 lore, than give a reason why.

Product Placement: Okay by the time I saw the Adidas shoes at the end I was ready to throw up. From the Wired magazine to ESPN to Burger King to whatever. UGH! Is this where Marvel made the extra money to spice up the movie? All that damned corporate sponsorship? My god was that evil.

Action Sequences: We get only two. TWO! Okay three if you count the space station stuff but that was so short. The Bridge sequence is another. And then I had to wait for an hour for a fight scene that lasted no longer than 15 minutes. That's it. Lame. Very lame. All the posters said, "Prepare for the Fantastic". Well what exactly was fantastic? The discovery of the powers section was boring and had a "been there done that" feel to it. And the fight with Doom was so unmotivated (why does he hate the F4 again in this movie?) and so unoriginal (Hey Thing, the Phantom Zone villains think you should throw a bus at Doom). After X-Men 2 and Spider-Man 2, this movie should'be had more action. Yes yes I know, the F4 are more about the family aspect. Whatever.

I really have to give this movie a very low 1 1/2 out of 4. Or a "D" on the ABC scale. It's not quite as bad as the Daredevil theatrical release (at least the actors' performances in this movie aren't painful) but it does not beat the Directors Cut of DD (which helps to fill in the holes in that movie). Oh and for the record, the Hulk is still a better movie. I can see why this movie made money and why the kids love it. But as a movie it's very choppy. As a comic book movie it's very lacking. And as a comic book fan, I wasn't excited.


PS/ And if anyone can fill me in on how to change the margins on this blog I will forever be your slave.