Fantastic Four is a movie that I’ve been waiting for with more than a little trepidation. It had been made clear from all of the promotional lead-up that it would be darker than previous interpretations. This was not something that I, as a longtime Fantastic Four fan, was looking forward to. Having now seen the movie, I’m still not exactly sure what to think. There were things I thought were well-done, but there were other things that I thought were pretty bad. It really is a mixed bag. I find myself wondering how much of my reaction is due to the fact that they messed with the source material quite a bit, and how much of it is due to problems that go beyond “It’s not like the comics!” At any rate, I do have a feeling that people who aren’t as familiar with the comics will like this movie better than people like me, who wish the movie would have been lighter, brighter, and – you know – more comic-booky.
A quick warning, here. I’m going to discuss the movie pretty deeply, so if you don’t want spoilers, here’s where you need to stop. Honestly, though, this movie is so predictable that it hardly feels like I’m giving spoilers at all.
Our movie begins with child-prodigy Reed Richards giving a class presentation that is denigrated by a stereotypical bad teacher who has no idea that “scientist” and “engineer” are actual, real jobs. Anyway, Reed meets Ben Grimm, and the two become friends, working on a teleporter that Reed designed. Fast forward a bit and the two are now in high school, at a rather head-scratching science fair. I say this because the next booth over is being manned by a child. Did Reed crash an elementary school science fair? Eh, who cares, because Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue (who apparently just wander around science fairs in their spare time) realize Reed has totally figured out the very thing they’ve been working on. Convenient! So, Reed joins up with them and poor Ben gets shunted off for a good portion of the movie.
Okay, so here’s one of those times when I’m going to talk about how things are in the comic versus how they are in this movie. Hey, it’s a comic-book movie. It comes with the territory. In the comic, Reed is working on a space ship, and Ben is the pilot. I don’t have a problem with them changing what Reed is working on, but it’s really weird to me that Ben gets ditched early on in the movie like this. There are any number of ways they could have had him join the project, especially considering he worked on the teleporter for years with Reed prior to the science fair. We know he’s going to be part of the team eventually, so why do things like this?
Reed goes to work on the project, which involves trying to create a machine to teleport to another dimension (which this movie steadfastly refuses to call the Negative Zone). We also meet vaguely jerky scientist Victor Von Doom, and Sue’s brother, Johnny Storm (honestly probably the best-done character in the movie). Together, they get the teleporter working, and successfully send an okay-looking CG chimp into the other dimension.
But when our heroes learn that, contrary to what they’d been led to believe, they will not get to be the first humans to take the trip, they do what anyone would do – get drunk! Then they decide, “Screw what the bosses say – we’re going anyway!” And here’s where I have a big problem. Not with them drunkenly deciding that this is a Very Good Idea. I’m fine with that. No, the problem I have is that when I say “they” decide to go to the other dimension, I’m talking about Reed, Johnny, and Victor. Sue is nowhere to be found, and instead of inviting along the woman he worked with over the past several months, who does Reed call? Why, his old buddy Ben, of course! Quick aside, in the comics, Sue and Johnny had no reason to come along on the rocket ship ride – they were basically just passengers. Kind of sad that Ben, who was actually useful in the comic, has been reduced to the role of passenger in this movie. But not nearly as sad as being completely left out!
Things go wonky in the other dimension, and Victor is supposedly killed. Sue finds out that they used the teleporter and helps bring them home, and in the process they all get hit with weird energy. Thus, superpowers. And this part is really well-done. I will say that I was wary when I heard that their powers would be treated more like disabilities, but this movie actually pulled it off. When we first see Reed stretching, it’s horrifying. Sue can’t control her invisibility, nor Johnny his flames. And Ben is basically encased in rock. At the same time, we’re not hit over the head with how horrible this is. The movie makes its point and moves on.
Reed runs away from the facility where they’re all being kept because this movie likes to just get rid of characters when they’re inconvenient, and bring them back when it realizes it needs them again. Ben is convinced to work for the government in exchange for them trying to find a cure for him. And Sue and Johnny just kind of hang out at the facility and figure out their powers.
So, now seems as good a time as any to bring up one of the odder choices this movie makes. Ben, in his rock-monster form, is naked. All the time. No, there’s no rock-penis showing or anything, but it seriously bothered me. He always wore shorts or pants in the comics. Why is he naked here? And the crazy thing is – nobody calls him out on it. He’s just naked, with no penis, and nobody says a word. Nobody cracks a joke. Nothing!
Anyway, Reed is brought back to the facility, and more people get sent through to the other dimension. And lo and behold, they find Victor, still alive, and now graduated from vaguely jerky to definitely evil (for no particular reason). And he looks terrible. They tried to do this whole thing where his environment suit fused to him, creating this metallic look to his skin that’s supposed to be reminiscent of his comic book appearance, but it just doesn’t work. In the comics, Doom wears a suit of armor. An actual suit of armor is great because it makes a person look big and imposing. But there’s nothing imposing about how Victor looks in this movie.
Oh, and they gave him powers. Because of course they did. It was actually one of my biggest fears going into this movie that they would repeat this colossal mistake from the 2005 version. So, there you have it. Victor has telekinesis, or something, and uses it to make people’s heads explode. Oh, but don’t worry about our heroes. When it comes to them, Victor completely forgets that he could just explode them, and instead takes a page from Killer Croc’s playbook: He throws rocks at them. Seriously.
This, if you couldn’t tell, is where the movie really loses me. If they’d just done Dr. Doom right, I could have forgiven the other problems this movie has. And I have a feeling that even non-fans are going to have problems with this climax. We’re practically at the end of the movie, but I’ll stop here anyway and leave some semblance of it intact for those of you who still want to go see it. Honestly, it’s mostly fine until that climax. Not perfect, but mostly pretty good, despite being so different in spirit and form from the comics. As I said before, a mixed bag.
It should also be said that there is a surprising amount of swearing in this movie. Seriously, there’s a lot. It’s like this movie really, really wants you to understand that it’s not like those silly Marvel Studios productions.
Also, no Stan Lee cameo. Kind of says it all right there.