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    « Kevin Bacon Versus the X-Men | Main | Green Lantern On Set Video! »
    Friday
    Jul092010

    Marveling At The Past - Fantastic Four (2005)

    "Johnny it's dangerous for you to be out in public."

    "You've been saying that for years."

    I was having an interesting conversation with Jamie Williams the other week on the subject of how Thor's cape will look and move in his upcoming big screen debut. From the one photograph we have seen of the costume, the cape gives the appearance of almost hovering above Thor's shoulders with regal dramaticness and one thing suddenly occurred to me. Why can't Thor's cape be completely impractical and magical?

    Why do seemingly all comic book movies feel the need to ground themselves in reality?

    I suppose the positive response to Singer's X-Men and Nolan's Batman films have swung the pendulum in that particular direction and many, if not all, have benefited from that grounding. It is not something I am complaining about except to say that some comic book properties are inherently outlandish in concept and scope and by trying to remove those larger elements for film adaptation, you lose something in the translation; you lose the very essence of why that property works. Case in point - 'Fantastic Four'.

    I find myself in a bit of a difficult position talking about this one again since I covered quite a lot of my problems with the film in my 'memo to the executives' piece but some are worth repeating. 'The Fantastic Four' is, by its very definition, grandiose. 'Spider-man' has always been the intimate life story of a boy becoming a man. 'X-Men' is an allegory for prejudice. 'Daredevil' is a gritty crime drama. 'The Fantastic Four' is a cosmic family comedy/action adventure about a team of heroes who, though based in the real life metropolis of New York, come face to face with super-powered dictators, alien invaders, beings from alternate dimensions, and mole people from under the Earth on a daily basis. I sympathise that this makes the comic a pretty tricky bugger to bring to the silver screen but if you don't make it on that cosmic scale, you don't have a Fantastic Four movie.

    That is exactly what we have with the 2005 film. Thanks solely to the fact that the actors playing the fab four are doing their very best to make it work, coupled with some pretty good special effects, we have the elements to comprise half of a Fantastic Four movie. The other half, represented by the small scale of the film, complete lack of plot and its horrendously written villain, bring it down in quality to just above the likes of........well, its sequel, which got everything wrong.

    'Fantastic Four' is also one of those films where I can pinpoint the moment where things go completely off the rails. The film's first action sequence where the F4 first use their powers in public to save a hundred or so people getting creamed on the Brooklyn Bridge effectively introduces our heroes to the world, setting them on the whirlwind career of press scrutiny, celebrity appearances and world problem solving. Then the film cuts straight to the Baxter Building where a huge crowd of adoring fans are already waiting to embrace them. A little later on we get a scene of Sue Storm opening fan mail from all over the world asking the team of heroes to come and solve all their problems despite the fact that, from the audience perspective, we have only seem them perform one heroic deed. In fact the next action sequence, if it can ever be called such, takes place well into the second act when Johnny Storm takes place in a dirt bike stunt show thing. Again, everyone in the crowd knows who he is. We are not even told about crimes they may have prevented or lives they may have saved that occurred off-screen. No comic book ever needed a montage more than this one.

    The film version of the Fantastic Four never earn their fame and success and as such, it just does not work properly. It would be akin to watching a definitive movie on the career of 'The Beatles' and seeing the film go from their first live performance at 'The Cavern' in Liverpool and cutting straight to the release of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. It just doesn't work. You have not been on the journey you should have taken with these characters.

    To add insult to injury, there is no momentum to the film's second act. There is literally nothing happening and nothing is at stake. Reed Richards is scrambling to find a cure for the team's powers. Johnny is enjoying the celebrity lifestyle. Sue tries to get Reed's attention and affection. Ben Grimm just mopes around. Meanwhile, our villain, one of comics most beloved supervillains arrives at the Baxter Building, not to destroy our heroes or take over the world, but to feel jealous and bitter when he sees that Sue is back with Reed.

    I do not need to remind you of just how important and revered Victor Von Doom is in the Marvel Universe. He is the archetypal super-villain. He is everything we think of when the term comes to mind. He is everything lesser villains aspire to be. He is monstrously powerful but always craves more. He has a rich backstory yet still retains a certain mystique. While other villains hide out in crummy warehouse lairs, Doom is the ruler of his own country. He has an undying vendetta against his enemy. He has a killer outfit. The filmmakers themselves say on the DVD supplementals that the character is the definitive inspiration for Darth Vader.

    So why do we get the Doctor Doom as presented in the film? The initial angle of having Doom go on Richards' space mission was an interesting one. If the F4 are 'The Beatles' then Doom is the fifth one; the unrecognised, unloved character who is denied the glory and power of his team mates. I can accept that. I can take Doom as the millionaire sponsor of Richards' space expedition. I can take the love triangle between him, Reed and Sue. I can even take the idea of Doom growing organic metallic skin (though that gives me flashbacks to Christopher Eccleston in 'G.I.Joe'). What I cannot take is the idea of Doom as a suit; as a sly businessman. And I certainly cannot take scenes of that businessman being chided by members of his executive board who want to sell his company, which are direct lifts from 'Spider-man'. It seems not enough to rob Doctor Doom of his greatness. They need to steal crap from other Marvel movies to fill in the gaps.

    There is the argument of course that Doom, as we all know and love him, is too silly to work on screen. A supervillain with armour, mask and cape is one thing. A supervillain who lives in a castle with robot servants is something else. I think the key to making Doom work is to make him the crux of the story. Showing the initial relationship between Reed and Victor as students in college as well as the subsequent accident which scars the latter's face is crucial to achieve this. Though some versions of the story have made that accident completely Doom's fault, the film should have placed the responsibility on Richards' shoulders. Regardless of the action and the effects, the first Fantastic Four film should have been a simple but relatable story about a smart man who makes one mistake and spends the rest of his life paying for it.

    You have to wonder why Reed Richards is so single minded and focused on his work. I have always felt that Doom is the reason why. Being the greatest scientific mind on Earth is something Richards feels the pressure of every day. He pushes himself to always succeed. Victor's accident, the one small failure in a lifetime of otherwise flawless creative genius, creates a domino effect and leads the world's deadliest supervillain on a collision course to destroy him and everything he loves. Doom is the opposite side of the same coin. He is equally single minded and driven by that one failure he cannot let go of, his own uncalcuable arrogance refusing to believe it can be anything but Richards' fault. But during the course of the film, only Reed learns to accept his own imperfections and embraces being part of a family while simply tumbles further into the abyss.

    Of course the film we got is not about anything. 'Fantastic Four' believes that just telling the origin of the characters is sufficient to create a satisfying movie. I mentioned in particular during my 'memo' piece, but it bears repeating here, that I have always wanted to see a Marvel movie tackle, in a light and almost satirical way, the idea of superheroes being so good at their job that they do actually eliminate the need for any other stable form of law enforcement or emergency services. I would have loved to have seen a story where the F4 wipe crime, death and destruction clean away from New York, regardless of the toil it puts on their personal lives, only to leave it completely vulnerable to an enemy who knows exactly how Richards thinks and how to deal with him.

    Perhaps with the series being rebooted, I can finally see that film. I cannot see how you can make a worse film. All Fox needs to do is put one good idea in there, as opposed to none. Join us next week though for the big one folks; the one we have been building up to, the one which had too many ideas and not enough room for any of them. It is time to discuss 'X-Men: The Last Stand'.

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