The Not So Fantastic Four

A couple more super hero movies watched recently.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

I’ve discussed my dissatisfaction with this film’s predecessor elsewhere, and hinted that I held this outing in even lower regard. Basically it takes the story of Galactus, one of the high points of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine (issues #48 – 50 if memory serves), and conflates it with a later story (#57 – 60) in which Doom succeeds in abrogating the power of the Silver Surfer to himself. In doing so it loses all the things that made the Galactus Saga special – the appearance of Galactus himself (in this iteration he’s simply a cloud entity), the intervention of the Watcher, the journey to his ‘home world’, the Surfer’s bonding with human beings, Ben Grimm’s epic fight with the Punisher – instead using all this cosmic grandeur and sense of wonder as window dressing for another round of simpering Julian McMahon hamming it up as Doom. None of the cast register much, aside from McMahon (and him only for all the wrong reasons), and if there was an acting award I’d probably give it to Stan Lee for playing himself. There are the usual sidebar stories about the military interfering with things they know nothing about and Reed and Sue wanting to break up the team, but nothing that is new. I felt very disappointed and short changed. After seeing him here, hard to believe that Chris Evans went on to portray Captain America with such panache and credibility.

Fantastic Four (2015)

And of course there’s a reboot, which was a chance to do things right but failed on most counts. For the origin story the rocket ship and cosmic radiation are abandoned. Instead we have Reed Richards as child and then teen genius recruited by Dr. Storm (father of Sue and Johnny) of the Baxter Foundation to work on dimensional travel in cohorts with his other protégé, Victor von Doom. Naturally they crack it and before you can say abracadabra three of them, with Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm as their plus one, are off to visit another dimension, but naturally things go wrong. Doom is left for dead, while the others on return are changed, even inexplicably Sue who stayed behind and managed the control board, given abilities that they are coerced into using by the military in highly dubious missions. Only Reed manages to escape, going into hiding and searching for a cure. Then the authorities bring Doom back from the other dimension. He has incredible power, has gone completely bonkers, and is hell bent on destroying the Earth. Only by overcoming their differences and combining forces can the Fantastic Four defeat him. Well the film poster promises a grittier version of the FF and I guess that’s what we get. Jamie Bell, the closest we have to a big name star in this production, steals the show as The Thing, the terrible nature of what has happened to him conveyed by his matter of fact and bitter delivery of the lines as much as by the appearance. Both Kate Mara as Sue Storm and Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm do well – we can believe in her as a scientist and independent woman (a welcome change from Jessica Alba’s dismal portrayal of the character) and he is excellent as the wannabe playboy held back by a serious side. Miles Teller as Reed doesn’t quite register, never manages to dominate the screen as he should, and Toby Kebbell as Doom is way, way over the top, a character who needs no motivation for how he acts other than the fact that he’s barking. The powers of the four are brought to convincing life and there’s an excellent sound and light show at the finale. Other than those things though it’s all rather much business as usual, with a thoroughly humdrum plot that makes little attempt at doing anything new with the material, and when it does, as with Reed’s absconding, it doesn’t seem to be much more than filler (he goes away, he gets tracked down and brought back, with little point to the exercise). Far too much of the movie is spent in setting the characters up, with incidents from Reed’s life as child prodigy and teen wonder, and the whole Baxter Foundation recruitment thing doesn’t quite ring true, with Reed having built a trans-dimensional transporter in his garage and exhibited it at the school science fair where Professor Storm just happens to be attending. It’s a film that seems to want to break the Marvel mould, but doesn’t have the chutzpah to pull it off, while at the same time losing or diluting those very things that made the classic FF so special. I’m glad I watched it, but don’t think I’ll check out either of these films again any time soon. Marvel need to retake control of their property and do it again, and do it right.

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