Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #22

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#22: Fantastic Four

In the world of comic, the “Fantastic Four” are dubbed “The First Superhero Family”, although in many instances they are the “First Dysfunctional Superhero Family”. Created in 1961 by comic legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the “Fantastic Four” focus on the quartet team of Reed “Mister Fantastic” Richards, Susan “Invisible Girl” Storm, Johnny “Human Torch” Storm, and Ben “The Ever-Loving Blue-Eyed Thing” Grimm. It was the first team series published by Marvel Comics, and it would also be the series that would introduce some of Marvel’s signature villain, including Victor Von Doom (aka “Doctor Doom”) and Galactus. It would also introduce notable cosmic beings The Watcher and Silver Surfer.

The quartet roster would change over the decades as Reed and Susan got married and had children. Temporary members include She-Hulk, Storm (from the X-Men), the Hulk, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine. This was also a rare superhero team that did not have secret identities, as their lives were as about as public as Hollywood celebrities, and even their Baxter Building stood out in the New York City skyline.

Needless to say, Marvel Comics desperately wanted to do a movie featuring this team, and in the 1980’s they gave the rights to Constatin Film.

Unfortunately those rights were set to expire in 1992 unless filming began before then. Determined to keep the film rights, the studio hired famed B-movie director Roger Corman (of “Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Death Race 2000” and “Galaxy of Terror”) to direct this on the cheap. Production was finished in 1993 and was given an “official” release date for 1994. The cast and crew were all supposedly led to believe that even if the movie would not be released, their work would be used at some point as a pilot for a TV series. The studio then announced that the movie would never be released EVER, all copies were destroyed, any mention of the movie was purged from the books, and all participants were then shipped to undisclosed locations to have their memories wiped by Charles Xavier. (Okay, I’m kidding about the last two parts.)

Bear in mind that the first rule of denying the existence of a movie means that it WILL show up as bootleg releases at comic and fantasy conventions, which is how THIS reviewer knows that the original movie exists!

But with Constatin Film keeping the rights of the film, they were eventually able to raise the money needed to come up with a proper major studio production and release of the “Fantastic Four” movie.

“Fantastic Four” (or “Fantastic 4” as it was alternatively titled) was released by 20th Century Fox for Constantin Film in 2005, directed by Tim Story. It stars Ioan Gruffuld, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington, and Laurie Holden, with special cameo appearance by Stan Lee.

The film starts with Reed Richards (Gruffuld) and Ben Grimm (Chicklis) arriving at the door of Von Doom Industries to convince Reed’s old MIT classmate Victor Von Doom (McMahon) to finance his experiment. Reed believed that life on Earth came from a wave of cosmic energy that was set to make its return, and he planned on measuring its effects in space. But when NASA said no to the idea, Reed turned to Victor for help. Victor agrees to the project, provided he goes up to the station with them along with his girlfriend, Dr. Susan Storm (Alba), and her brother, thrill-seeking pilot Johnny (Evans). Reed looks forward to working with Susan again, although Ben objects both to Victor’s presence and to Johnny piloting the shuttle.

In the private space station, Reed discovers that the cosmic wave would reach them sooner than earlier predicted, and it sweeps the station before they could retreat to join Victor in the safety of the shielded sections. They find themselves back on Earth in quarantine, unsure of what the cosmic radiation would do to them.

Sure enough, they each discover the radiation had changed their bodies. Johnny found out his body could generate heat and fire without burning him. Susan’s body could turn invisible and project invisible waves outward. Reed could stretch any part of his body to seemingly infinite lengths. Ben, however, suffers the worst of the changes as he becomes a rock-skinned creature with a deep gravely voice. His changes are so dramatic that his fiancée Debbie (Holden) wants nothing to do with him. Depressed, Ben finds himself on the Brooklyn Bridge and inadvertently causes a scene which has the police and fire department rushing over. When a traffic accident knocks a responding ladder truck over the bridge, the others quickly move to contain the damage and save lives, with their actions being broadcast on TV around the world. The media dubs them the “Fantastic Four”, and Reed takes control of the team and announces they would retreat to the Baxter Building for further study. The change of scenery allow Reed and Susan to get closer, and Ben even ends up with a new girlfriend, in the form of blind artist Alicia Masters (Washington).

The news of the “Fantastic Four” along with the disaster of the space station bankrupts Doom’s business and his investors quickly abandon him. But Doom was also changed from the cosmic wave, and soon he develops electro-magnetic powers as well as taking on a metallic appearance. Reaching for a metallic mask that was once a gift, Doom vows revenge on Reed Richards and his new “family”.

I’m going to leave the rest for you to discover, but sufficient to say the rest of the film does both the characters and their creators justice.

The movie is a welcomed break from the original comic origins, which involved the Mole Man and one of his giant creatures. It provides an easier explanation for their powers, as well as the “unstable molecules” idea that would become key to explain how they could use their powers without ending up naked (something that Alba’s Susan Storm found out the hard way on more than one occasion). I do, however, have to balk at it used to justify Reed’s sudden “touch of grey”.

The casting was top-notch, especially with Chicklis and Evans. Chicklis lived up to the character both as Ben Grimm and as The Thing. Sadly, McMahon’s character of Doom, although narcissistic and sociopathic in nature, was a little wooden… or, in this case, mechanical. Overall the story jumped a few places, but not in crucial ones. I’m surprised that for someone who couldn’t afford to pay his bills, Reed could somehow get funding for the equipment they used when they moved into the Baxter Building. Where was all this equipment at Von Doom’s undisclosed hospital? Or did they blow the money on restaurant settings, helipads, and hot escorts doubling as nurses?

There are multiple versions of the DVD release, including an expanded version that incorporated some of the deleted or alternate scenes. Get them if you wish, but the movie enough is worth the purchase.

Having seen both this version and the original Corman incarnation, I have to say that the executives at Constatin Film redeemed themselves with this release, although it still does not justify the level of duplicity they used surrounding the 1993 production.

Capes: The heroic qualities of the film gave it four capes out of five.

Sadly, a lot of sharp cheddar (3) cheese, mostly by Evans’ hammy performance and the montage of Johnny’s various pranks and jokes at the expense of Ben.

Books: Good story, but lacking in a few areas. It only gets four out of five books.

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