(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox )
Took some time off from the office today to do some banking and decided to catch this latest comics to movie film at the local cinema. It was a mixed bag of hits and misses for me who has been a fan of the source material for so long.
Being the latest film to draw inspiration from the comic book world, Fantastic Four definitely has a wealth of characters and backstory from the source material to play with. To date there have been three different iterations for this comic book superhero group. The first being the original written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby which ran for quite a number of years before it was revamped by Jim Lee during the World Without Heroes saga which itself was rebooted back to the original team still published till this day. The third version of the group was an reinterpretation of the original as part of Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics which was written by Brian Michael Bendis and is titled the Ultimate Fantastic Four. Although all three versions have slightly differing origin stories, the core of what makes the characters have remained the same. These are first and foremost a family unit who just happened to end up having superpowers trying to live their lives the best that they know how. The Fantastic Four movie takes this sum of the parts and made it into a whole some what different from the 3 versions out there.
This is not the first time that the Fantastic Four has been made into a feature film. The first version was directed by Roger Corman and has since been regarded as one of the worst comic-book to movie adaptation that has never been shown in the cinemas. This is because all the rights and copies of that dreadful turkey has been bought over when 20th Century Fox decided to make their big screen version of the four color comic books. It is said that you can still get bootleg copies of the original from the Net. I have never seen it myself personally but if what I have read about it is true, I am not missing a lot by skipping that version.
Back to the movie being reviewed.
In a nut shell, the movie chronicles the origin of the first family of supergroups from their humble beginnings as scientists studying cosmic rays on a space station owned by scientist and industrial multibillionaire Dr Victor Von Doom. After an accident at the space station involving cosmic rays, all five people began exhibiting strange and fantastic powers after their return to Earth. Reed Richards who was the person responsible for the project found himself being able to stretch his limbs not unlike a rubber band. His one time paramour, Susan Storm, discovered that she can turn invisible and project invisible force fields out with her mind. Her brother, the often time impulsive Johnny Storm, now wielded the power of flame generation and lighter than air flight. The person most changed by the experience in the beginning of the movie was Reed’s best friend, Ben Grim who found himself transformed into a somewhat humanoid walking pile of orange rocks with super strength and endurance.
Their existence came out to the public after a spectacular rescue mission on the New York bridge and the four became instant celebrities much to their reluctance except of course for Johnny who revels in his new found fame. The hardest hit by all this was Ben Grim who longed to become human again and Reed promises him that he will do everything that is possible to make this so. As the four are forced to share close quarters together while Reed searches for a cure, they start to bicker and quarrel among themselves. Unbeknownst to them, Dr. Doom was spying on them to find out more about their changes as he himself was experiencing changes in his body after being exposed by the same cosmic storm that changed the four. Driven mad by the experience of his flesh turning into organic steel and the threat that his business will be taken from him, he plots his revenge on the Fantastic Four by convincing Ben to give up his power so that it would be easier for him to capture Reed. Seeing that they are the only ones able to stand up against the megalomaniac, the four banded together to use their individual powers in concert to successful vanquish Dr. Doom.
Like the first “X-Men” and “Spiderman” movies, this movie is an origin movie that has to setup the characters and the situations for viewers who might not be familiar with their 40 odd years of backstory. It also has the added responsibility to stay true to the source material since there were so many fans of the comics who will be watching the movie closely for any deviations from the original comic books that they know and love. In this regard, while it is not 100% accurate to the source material, it is sufficiently close to be a credible reinterpretation of the classic. It was an interesting choice to make Susan Storm the current love interest for Dr. Von Doom at the beginning of the story as this sets up the antagonistic relationships between him and Reed Richards who also share a past with her. This also allowed for Dr. Doom’s origin to be tied even closer to the Fantastic Four like it is in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics more so than in the original comics.
I thought that the story moved on a well plotted pace although there were parts that the should have either cut out or expanded a little more. There were some weird scene cuts to Dr. Doom through out the movie that seemed to be out of context as it was not made clear that the four were under his observations. Some of the humorous moments like the one with the pigeons on the bridge and the fork scene at the breakfast table seemed to be a little overplayed compared to the more successfully funny interaction scenes between the Thing and the Human Torch. I also felt that the character arc for Dr. Doom is not that much different from the other green suited villain in “Spiderman” and then there were times that I thought that he would go the path of Lex Luthor in the early “Superboy” comics who blamed him for his baldness and blame Reed for his disfiguring condition. His motivation for making the transition from Dr. Victor Von Doom to Dr. Doom was never clearly stated and as such didn’t really make him into a as compelling a villain as he is in the comics.
As the aforementioned Dr. Doom, Julian McMahon brings to the character a charming and charismatic persona who has sadly been let down by a weak treatment of his character. In the comic, Dr. Von Doom was the hereditary monarch of an isolated East European country of Latveria which he rules with an iron hand. As such he always felt that he was better than the common people and was destined to rule above others. This attitude shaped his view of the Fantastic Four, Mr. Fantastic especially, as being commoners who dared to elevate themselves to a higher station in life than they were entitled to. Dr. Doom in the comics was also a master manipulator who kept evil plans within plans to rule the world and crush any opposition to his plans along the way. Sadly the Dr. Doom written out in this screenplay did not share the grandeur of vision as his comic version did. More often than not, the Dr. Doom in the movie came across as a demented person seeking just simple revenge on the Fantastic Four and not the absolute evil genius that he should be. It was also funny to hear Julian’s voice come through unaltered when Dr. Doom finally out on his mask which in a dark twist of irony was given to him by the grateful people of Latveria for contribution to the their country. While Julian does have a nice enough voice, it did not convey the sense of command and respect the armored character was expected of especially the fans of the comics. We needed a deeper and more menacing voice for Dr. Doom not unlike the character of Darth Vader who was patterned after him.
I thought that Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic captured the essence of the character quite closely by delivering a commendable performance. He mixed in sufficient amounts for nerdy awkwardness, self-centered obliviousness with a dash of scientific curiosity to play the character. I do however wished that the character was more scientific in his interaction with the people around him as he was in the comics. The other thing that I found it hard to dismiss is the lack of chemistry between him and Jessica Alba who plays Susan Storm. We are told many times in the movie that these two were lovers before and that being together is causing some of the old feelings to resurface but other than some scenes that this is specifically being referenced to, we see none of the sparks on screen between these two actors which makes taking their supposedly relationship a hard deal to follow.
We were also asked to believe that Susan Storm as played by Jessica Alba as a fellow scientist to Reed and Dr. Doom. While Alba is a great actor in her own right, it is hard to take her character as the accomplished scientist when we hardly see her do anything else than look pretty and turn invisible. In the original comics, Susan was Reed’s model girlfriend who came around for the ride and later became a wife and mother in the family. I guess that this was not a strong enough characterization for Susan so the writers decide to make her the genetic scientist like she was in the Ultimate line of their comic. The difference here is that in the comics we were shown scenes where she took over the study of what happened to them on a genetic level and unfortunately for the viewers of the film we were not given the same treatment for us to strengthen the conceit that she was a geneticist.
In a brilliant move on the casting department, Chris Evans was spot on as Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch. In a characters that demanded him to be hot tempered, impulsive and at times childish, Evens delivered in spades much to the delight of the fanboy in me. He handled the character with the prerequisite level of cheek, mischievous charm and comedic wit that mirrors his comic book character perfectly. It also didn’t hurt that he looks absolutely delicious both in and out of his costume (or much of everything else) that it was hard to tune him out whenever he came on the screen. He is definitely the breakout heartthrob of the movie much like Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” in the “X-Men” movie. His character’s interactions with the Thing were the best things to watch in the movie as they came across as really genuine and funny. The special effects for his character were also the most exciting to see on screen. To hear the character shout “Flame On” for the first time on screen brought a hearty cheer in this jaded fanboy’s heart.
I was a bit apprehensive at first then I heard that they will be using a guy in a suit to play the much beloved Thing instead of a CGI character but in the end my fears was unfounded with the wonderful performance by Michael Chiklis. In the comic books, the Thing was more blocky than lumpy as he was in the movie version and he was suppose to be about 7 ft tall and much bigger than what they decided to go with in the film. The Thing in the comics was suppose to be someone who can stand toe to toe with the Hulk and they use to do just that almost every other year bad in the old days. Despite all the difference between the two character version, Chiklis portrayal of the vulnerable side of the Thing was what sold the character for me. At the core, the Thing was the most human of the four members of the Fantastic Four despite his inhuman appearance and the heart of the team. It was exciting to see the character’s pathos captured so beautifully in the movie. The scenes involving him trying to pick up the ring left behind by his fiancé and the scene that he wished that he was invisible so people didn’t have to react the way they do to the sight of him was particularly moving and memorable. Chiklis also did a great job acting through the layers of makeup the piled on to him that you tended to forget the outside appearance and see the person within.
As a whole the movie hit it’s mark with the tone of the comics close enough that fans of the source material would be able to embrace it as an interpretation of their favorite super group. For those who don’t know the difference between the Fantastic Four and the Incredibles, the film was also a good start to a possible franchise much like the “X-Men”, “Spiderman” and “Blade” franchise. I felt that the movie was an enjoyable watch though I did wished that they had a stronger version of Dr. Doom in the film and that the climax fight scene between him and the Fantastic Four didn’t ended as abruptly as it did. I guess I can say that this was a good start of a franchise that could be greater based on the amount of stories that they could tell about these characters. I for one am looking forward if they would be brave enough to tackle the Galactus storyline saga and include the Silver Surfer in the story as well. There are already hints that they would do a variation of the Dark Phoenix storyline in the next installment of the X-Men movie so it is possible for them to go an do the big storylines next.
(A wonderful site for Fantastic Four facts and articles is located at FFPlaza.com)
Monday, July 18, 2005
(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox )