Thursday, July 14, 2005

At the Movies: Fantastic Four

I doubt I have anything to say about the FF movie that hasn’t been said in a zillion other places, but if that were the standard, I’d not only have to shutter the blog, but my website as well.

I have to admit, its been a while since I was just blown out of the theater by a movie—I mean years—and I’m not really convinced I’ll even see anything again that will have the raw impact on me of a Die Hard or Aliens or The Killer. Every once in a while you still see something pretty amazing, like a Spider-Man 2. However, we seem to be hitting near perfection in special effects and stuff, and thus won’t even have those generational upgrades in movie technology to keep us interested, at least until we get to real 3-D stuff or something else that radical.

In any case, the buzz on this movie wasn’t great, and the director (Tim Story of Barbershop and Jimmy Fallon’s Taxi) seemed a really weird choice, and the casting was off (Alba was a concern, and the ages of the characters, clearly defined in the comics, were completely screwed up) and so on and so on…

Long story short, I tried to bring low expectations to the movie, so as to maximize the chance that it would be better than I had anticipated. And…mission accomplished. The movie was better than I feared; not great, but a solid, three star movie by my estimation. And given my investment in an FF movie, I could have been made particularly cranky.

I did have problems with the film, but not enough to really get into a snit about. Dr. Doom (never once named in the film; I guess it’s too ‘comic booky’) easily fares the worst, having been turned into an eee-vil financial tycoon—that’s fresh—who pines for Sue Storm (??), a plot element that traditionally applies to anti-hero and sometimes FF foe Namor the Submariner, not Doom.

Moreover, in the lazy manner of filmmakers, Doom’s ‘origin’ is tied into the FF’s, to save time and to add whatever it is that causes scriptwriters to always try to tie all the characters together into one big ball. [See the proto-Joker being the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in Tim Burton’s Batman.]

Finally, Doom is given somewhat lame super-powers of his own, rather than just having built an army of robots and relying on super-scientific deathtraps and his own self-created battle armor. Giving Spider-Man organic webbing was a major but justifiable character change—one that has been retrofitted into the comics—but having Doom’s ‘armor’ an ‘organic’origin is just dumb, and the ability to shoot electrical beams is pointless. Again, why not just battle armor?

Of the minor characters, I was puzzled when Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia seemed to say, “My name is Al-o-ee-sha” or something similarly convoluted, perhaps because she’s black all of the sudden. That doesn’t really matter—I mean, it’s pointless, but harmless—although I cringed at her assertion that God is a “She”, apparently meant as an indication of how quirky and Strong Womany she is. She’s barely in the film, but presumably she’ll play a bigger part in the sequels, especially if the Galactus/Silver Surfer storyline is used, and you’d have to think that’s a good possibility.

(Personally, I’d like to see a big Hulk/Thing battle, but Hulk is owned by another studio, so that won’t happen.)

Of the FF…

Sue is just another super-competent, You Go Girl! Type, but that’s no more a cliché than the mousy Sue of the old comics. (Although it means that her powers of invisibility don’t have the same psychological resonance.) Alba is certainly hot, and believable facing Doom, but the stale romantic triangle doesn’t do her any favors. I’d give Sue a B.

Reed is well embodied physically by Ioan Gruffuld, but has turned into a Hugh Grant sort of mild-mannered, tentative professor type. Of course, his problem with Sue is that he’s too insecure to Go After What He Really Wants (an idea already overused back when Fred McMurray played the Absent-Minded Professor), and their romantic travails are entirely too rote, and really not necessary. The Reed of the comics is no milksop, and his problems with Sue generally emanated from his being waaaay too involved into whatever project he was currently pursuing. If anything, he tended to be occasionally too autocratic. In the end, the comic book Reed is a lot more interesting than the movie one. I give him a C.

Johnny is fine, but I found his glory hound embrace of the rock star side of his powers entirely too puerile. That probably is how a guy in his early twenties would react, but it left me cold. (Among the things I would ‘want’ to be, a partying, pussy-chasing rock star is not one of them.) I wish they had left him a 16 year old, like he is—or at least was—in the comics, because it would have made his casual but deep cruelty to Ben and general yahoo obnoxiousness less repellent. On the other hand, I guess a lot of people keep that selfish child mindset a lot longer today. In any case, I’m sure that much of the audience completely identified with him a lot more than I did, so it’s hard to dun the film on that score. Still, I generally found him thoroughly unlikable much of the time.

Unsurprisingly, the best character in the movie is the Thing, both because he’s the most tragic character and because he’s played by Michael Chiklis, a fine actor. Chiklis is about perfect for the part (although Griffuld’s much younger age kind of screws up his and Reed’s traditional backstory), and acts through the prosthetic body suit to a remarkable degree. I liked the fact that he was brought about via a bodysuit rather than being a CGI creation, which was the intent at one point in the production. Chiklis, however, has said he wouldn’t have taken the part in that case. I give the film's Think an A.

The film’s best described as competent, but one advantage of superhero movies is that the second films are generally better than the first ones, as was the case with Superman, Burton’s Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. That’s because you generally have to waste a major portion of the first film laying out the origin story, and then often awkwardly segueing to the film’s major plotline. Moreover, by the second film the actors, etc., generally have a better handle on the characters, and the overall productions tend to be more confident. Then people not associated with the initial films are brought in and things take a plunge...but that's another story.

Fantastic Four is a decent start to a series to hopefully down the line will provide a really good movie or two. Let’s just keep Brett Ratner away from things.


At 10:10 AM, Anonymous twitterpate said...

I'm puzzled by the fact that, once again, Hollywood can't see patterns that hit most of us right in the face.

Comic book movies by original, quirky, talented dirctors (e.g. Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man) = Great business.

Comic movies by journeymen directors = Poor to mediocre business.

The fact that FF had a great first week, followed by a severe fall the second, indicates that people wanted to like it, but it didn't fare well in word of mouth.

(And yes, I note that HULK is a flaw in my theory. However, nothing in Hollywood is ever perfect.)

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, I have to admit, you *want* to champion The Hulk, but the movie doesn't do you a lot of favors. I'm fairly well grounded in comics and sci-fi stuff, but by the end even I could just barely figure out that "my father is an evil god-head" thing. I liked a lot of The Hulk, but they didn't add up to a very good movie.

Still, you're right--and I've noted this before--the director thing is as clear as the nose on your face. Does anyone not think that the Ghost Rider movie will totally suck, given that it's being directed by the guy who made Daredevil? The guy who, re: an earlier entry here, said he was going back to GR's roots by...totally changing everything the character's about. Only in Hollywood.

Still, like I said, I was fairly satisfied with FF, although again, I *really* tamped down my expectations for the film.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I just saw it myself the other day. While I think it isn't very good as a Fantastic Four movie, as a movie on its own terms I thought it was enjoyable.

If they really want to cement the characters and their relationships in the proper way, the next film ought to feature the Skrulls. Since they're shape-shifters, the FF will be able to move into their more traditional roles, simply as a defense.


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