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Thursday, October 03, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Fantastic Four (2005)

Boppin' along on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the many movies in my personal library, and blog about it.  This time out, we're doing 2005's Fantastic Four.  This is in my notes at August 21, 2019

Ah, the Fantastic Four.  Marvel's first family.  Not just a nickname, but quite a literal description of their place in comics history.  They were the first original thing that Stan Lee created for Marvel, and they're generally accredited with kicking off the Silver Age of Comics.

A friend of mine once shared that, in some circles, the Fantastic Four is considered the superhero equivalent of MacBeth.  One too many bad adaptations has cursed it, and no good Fantastic Four movie will ever be made.  It all goes back to the infamous 1994 unreleased film.  Made on a shoestring budget just so the producer wouldn't lose the movie rights, it's widely regarded as terrible.  When that friend of mine first discovered file sharing, I convinced him to download it one night and we watched it.  Despite it's flat acting, terrible special effects, and...poor everything, it has a surprisingly good plot. 

Despite that, there were many attempts over the years.  Chris Columbus, who gave us Home Alone and the first two Harry Potters, was attached for most of the late-1990s.  He eventually left the project, and the quote I remember at the time was that his film would have cost around $300 million to make.  So...a typical budget, these days.  Peyton Reed, who went on to direct Ant-Man, was attached for a period in the early-2000s.  He described his take as, "A Hard Day's Night with superheroes."  But he took that a little too far, as the studio balked at his idea to set it in the 1960s. 

But they finally found a saviour in a young director named Tim Story, fresh off his hit comedy Barbershop.  Seemed like a strange choice, but there'd been some success with tapping these young indie directors.  A cast was assembled, a film was made, and it hit theatres in the summer of 2005!

This was going to be my birthday movie that year...a proud Mark Cappis tradition.  But, I was living at home at the time, at my parents were looking after my niece and nephew that week.  And they'd been promised a movie with Uncle Mark on his birthday.  And Fantastic Four was going to hit theatres a few days after they went home.  So we saw Herbie:  Fully Loaded instead.  Finally got to see Fantastic Four a week or so later.

Reed Richards is a down-on-his-luck billionaire scientist.  There's a cosmic storm about to pass through our solar system, and he wants to hitch a ride into space to study it.  Desperation eventually leads him to reach out to his old frenemy Victor Von Doom, head of Von Doom Industries.  And wouldn't you know, it, he's got his own space station.  Von Doom agrees, because it turns out he's a down-on-his-luck billionaire scientist, too, and Reed's findings could turn around his company. 

So we head to space.  Along with Reed and Von Doom on the crew, we've also got Sue Storm, another scientist, and a former flame of Reed's.  There's Sue's younger brother Johnny, their hotshot shuttle pilot.  And Ben Grimm, Reed's longtime friend and shuttle co-pilot. 

You know the comics.  The cosmic storm hits, our heroes are hit with cosmic rays, imbuing them with fantastic powers.  Well, not so fantastic for Ben, as he turns to orange rock.  His horrified fiancee dumps him.  While trying to drown his sorrows, Ben accidentally causes a huge traffic pile up, and our four heroes use their powers to save everyone.  The media soon dubs them the Fantastic Four.  Reed promises to find Ben a cure, and the Four hole up in the Baxter Building until they get a handle on this. 

And here's where the FF turn into the bickering family we all know and love, as the cabin fever sets in.  Reed and Sue are on the way to rekindling their romance, Ben is all angst-ridden at the monster he's turned into, and Johnny wants to use his powers to get rich and famous. 

Meanwhile, what about Von Doom?  Well, he got hit with the cosmic rays, too, and his skin is starting to turn to steel, and he gets to the power to shoot lightening.  As his star starts to fade while Reed's is on the rise, he starts to grow insane with jealousy and plots to take down the Fantastic Four. 

There's actually a lot to like in this film.  I mean, the casting is pretty spot on.  Stan Lee described Michael Chiklis's portrayal of the Ben Grimm as one of the truest interpretations of one of his characters.  I still don't know why they went with make-up for Ben instead of CGI.  I still maintain it's because the first Hellboy came out the year before, so full-body make up was hot hot hot. 

It's so weird seeing Chris Evans now as Johnny Storm, as he's know become so closely associated with Captain America.  As has been documented, playing Johnny Storm made him reluctant to accept the role of Captain America, as he wasn't too sure he wanted to play another superhero.  But we're glad he did.  He's actually a really good Johnny Storm.  There was that stretch in the 2000s where he was playing college dude-bros, and that dovetails nicely into the impulsive Human Torch. 

But man did they screw up Doctor Doom.  One of the most iconic super-villains in comic history, and you just make generic evil billionaire #327?  I don't know why there's this desire to make Doom the fifth guy on the mission...just make him the Eastern European dictator he was created to be. 

There's two versions out there on home media...the original and the extended cut.  I do own the extended cut, but I watched the theatrical version tonight.  There's only one thing I like about the extended cut, and that's where they put in a few more scenes between Ben and his longtime girlfriend in the comics, Alicia Masters (played by before-she-was-famous Kerry Washington).  In the theatrical version, they just share a moment in a bar, and then at the end, they're a couple, leaving you to think that Ben just picked her up in a bar.  But the extra scenes there's a bit more of a subplot with their burgeoning romance. 

One thing I do give it kudos for, though, was that this was the first superhero film to bring a sense of fun back to these films.  When the genre first got going in the early-2000s, it was so angst-ridden, what with Spider-Man crying over Uncle Ben, and the X-Men being feared by those they had sworn to protect.  This was the first to bring back a wink and a smile...not take itself too seriously. 

Just a few other random thoughts:
  • Man, Johnny trying to get rich and famous in the X-Games was already feeling dated by 2005
  • In his trademark cameo, Stan Lee plays the FF's mailman Willie Lumpkin.  This is the only time Stan Lee played one his own characters.
  • Set in New York, but filmed in Vancouver.  Look for Canadian broadcasting legends Terry David Mulligan and Ben Mulroney making brief cameos as reporters that accost the FF. 
And, no doubt, one of the highlights of the film is John Ottman's score.  I still say he wrote a spectacular theme for Marvel's first family.

2005's Fantastic Four isn't bad, it's just...low effort.  As I've blogged before, there are two kinds of superheroes:  the ones made with reverence for the source material, and the ones cranked out with the attitude, "We've gotta do this while this superhero thing is hot!"  And Fantastic Four is definitely the second. 

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