I went into the viewing of Fantastic Four with the hindsight and knowledge of its (supposedly) failed predecessors. While I freely admit that the 2005 Fantastic Four was not the film that fans had envisioned – and the subsequent sequel was an awful attempt to save the franchise – each had moments of clarity in which you caught glimpses of the (fully realized) characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created during the earliest days of Marvel in 1961.
At the core of these characters is a value system which separates them from other superheroes, to such a high degree that the term “superhero” is neither wanted nor, in some cases, accepted. Tony Stark as Iron Man embraces the hero life to lengths unparalleled. Thor is literally born into the life of a hero. Steve Rogers is forced into heroism by his actions, and his desire to be a selfless soldier in a bigger picture.
However, Reed Richards is actively looking for a way to strip himself and his teammates of their incredible powers. Fantastic Four, directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle), starring Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm and Kate Mara as Sue Storm tells the story not of a team of superheroes, but of four friends bonded together through science and a sense of discovery.
At the beginning of the movie we see a young and awkward Reed in a classroom on career day. He is given the typical grade school task of reporting on what he wants to do with his life, to which he tells his class (featuring the standard technical mumbo-jumbo of a misunderstood genius) that he wants to be the first man to successfully teleport biological matter. The teacher mocks him by cracking a joke and asking Reed, “Why not create a flying car?!” To those in the know, this is the first Easter egg in which the Fantasticar is referenced. It is in this classroom that the character of Ben Grimm first takes note of the ‘egghead’ Reed.
For obvious reasons, I will not spoil the movie scene by scene, but suffice it to say that many other character defining and ‘friendship shaping’ events occur that set up the needed exposition and emotional context for the rest of the film. However, this review will be more focused on some of the broader topics that underline the movie.
One of these topics is family. Dr. Franklin Storm and his adopted children Johnny, a reckless thrill seeker, and his daughter Susan, a quiet academic who is brilliant in her own right, are rolled into the story of Reed and Ben when Dr. Storm brings Reed into the fold at the Baxter Foundation, to be the bridge between Victor Von Doom’s work on teleportation, and Reed’s own successfully tested (albeit smaller scale) teleporter.
Victor is portrayed as a loner, very much the outsider, and envious of Reed; both in the scientific aspects of their relationship, and the foreshadowed ‘relationship-to-come’ between Sue and Reed. It’s also hinted at that Victor and Sue may have shared something romantic between them in the past, to which he appears to cling to in the movie …likely with the hope for his own (future) romantic relationship with her.
The presentation of the Storm family is interesting in that you can tell that there are strong emotions between the three, but it’s not as openly exhibited as most other interpretations of the characters. Sue is portrayed as cold to Johnny, and neutral to her father, as well as to Reed when he attempts to impress her through his knowledge and intellect …only to have her equal knowledge and intellect thrown back at him. In contrast, Johnny is the fast talking, cocky type. He spurns his father’s advice, and only really considers himself when he does things.
Franklin Storm, while openly showing affection for his children, is clearly driven by the work he is doing at the Baxter Foundation, which may be the source of why Sue feels ‘invisible’ to him and why Johnny gets so heated towards his adopted father. The addition of Reed to the mix, who may be the person to ‘stretch’ the project to completion, does not help initially.
The second major theme of this movie is the science. Reed Richards is the focal point for this movie. The arch follows him from child prodigy to teenage genius, and later to adult explorer. With the help of his trusted associate – as Ben is termed in the movie – Reed navigates the troubles he has had attaining his goal of creating the first man-made biomatter teleporter.
Although Ben is not a scientist, he is very good with his hands, and is integral in helping Reed assemble his prototype, which he first demonstrates in his parents garage with unspecified success (a very large New York City blackout being the most notable consequence). Later, with the Mark II version of the teleporter on display at a high school science fair, Reed and Ben show off the refined and now fully capable version of their teleporter. With Dr. Storm and Sue on hand to witness the events, this sparks the escalation of what will ultimately be the amazing, but not entirely desired path, towards becoming the Fantastic Four.
The combination of these two central themes, family and science, are what set this movie apart from a “Summer thrill ride” movie such as Iron Man, or The Avengers…and perhaps the expectations of movie-goers who’ve grown accustomed to the latter. While both dabble in science, they almost completely stay away from the more emotional theme of family.
Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben acquire these great powers as the result of an accident that stems from an attitude that is both commonplace in teenagers, but also all too evident in adults as well; overconfidence in themselves. Wanting to do everything yourself, with no one’s help is the key factor in the creation of the story’s main villain, Victor Von Doom. Of the group, he feels he has the most to prove, having abandoned the teleporter project several years before, only to be brought back in when a younger, smarter and more gifted individual comes along and finishes what he could not. The anger festers along the way as he sees Reed fitting in with Sue and Johnny in ways he never could. In effect, they are a dysfunctional non-family family unit.
To talk about the movie in terms of visual content, I must first speak of the major improvement in the character of Ben Grimm. Jamie Bell’s portrayal as the human version is good in that he makes you feel like you’re in the shoes of someone who knows he’s miles out of his league intellectually with Reed, but also grateful that his friend doesn’t make him feel worthless, but in fact very worthy of being involved in such endeavors that Reed has embarked upon. After the accident turns him into the rocky creature known as The Thing, the visual difference is almost as incredible as Reed’s goal of biomatter teleportation.
The Michael Chiklis version of Ben Grimm in the 2005 movie was farcical. To this comic book fan, the suit he wore is an absolute travesty. In glaring comparison, the CGI ‘Thing’ in my opinion looks as realistic as I would imagine a living rock would look like.
The way in which the powers of these characters look all appear as if they were real life manifestations of their abilities. Johnny’s fire doesn’t seem like it was added after the fact in post. It flickers and moves as real fire does. Reed stretches as if his organs are actually being pulled tautly. Gone are the elastic looking fight scenes, but rather replaced with thrilling anatomically correct looking ones. Sue’s invisibility is wonderful in that it doesn’t seem as if the visual effects team just erased part of her from the film cell.
Lastly, and perhaps most daunting to create, is a menacing and interesting look for Doom. It’s my opinion that the mix of native elements to the character pre-Doom, and the addition of the foreign elements, create a Doom that is just that, both menacing and interesting. Visually this movie is much crisper and well put together than the previous film attempts.
Overall, I’m not sure why this movie is being so poorly reviewed.
It has all the major hallmarks I would look for from a movie adapted from a comic book. Therefore, it’s my opinion that those who are writing these reviews are either not comic book fans – and do not know or understand the driving forces behind the Fantastic Four as a unit – or simply expected a copy-and-paste version of the ‘Blockbuster’ filmmaking style that Marvel has employed to great success in recent years. Had this movie had been done in that way, I would have written a considerably different review. As a comic book fan and a reader of the Fantastic Four, I know that treatment would not have been true to the source material …but I do understand that not everyone reads the comic books and that their only exposure to these characters will be on the big screen.
As is, I enjoyed the movie from start to finish, specifically because it took into consideration the original concepts of the comic – not just the dollars and cents on the back end – and that is fantastic.