Fantastic Four  

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fantastic Four has problems. Sure, it deviates from the comics, but that's the case in any adaptation. One could harp and nitpick on all the unnecessary changes, but there are sweaty fanboys for that sort of thing. We'll only be nitpicking when it's deserved.

No, Fantastic Four's problems have less to do with how close it is to the source material and more to do with internal consistency. Spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

*Let's get it out of the way from the start: Jessica Alba strips twice and is ostensibly naked three times. Can we say "lowest common denominator"? Sure, we get to see Kirsten Dunst's wet t-shirt contest in the Spider-Man movies, but it's during scenes where other things are happening besides THO. If Spidey had said "hey Mary Jane, are you cold?" or "oh, MJ, you have to stand in the rain without a bra! The movie depends on it!" it would be just as bad as Reed Richards' "you have to take your clothes off!" Wow, and she turns visible again at precisely the right time to catch her in her skivvies! T&A is A-OK when it contributes something to the story, or at least when it doesn't take anything away. The Jessica Alba naked scenes are trashy. Trashy takes away from the movie.

*Speaking of which, let's go over that particular sequence of events, shall we?
-Reed, Sue, and Johnny can't get past the police and crowd to help Ben.
-Sue can turn herself (but not her clothing) invisible.
-Reed realizes that Sue can turn invisible to get past the police, thus getting her close to ben. He tells her as much, and she turns invisible and strips down.

What then? Let's say she does get to Ben, what does she do? She can't turn visible again, because she's naked. Is she going to invisibly whisper in his ear that he should calm down? Thankfully, we never have to address this because of the next shot (following the convenient T&A, naturally).

-Reed, Ben, and Sue have gotten past the crowd and Sue is snapping at Reed while putting her clothes back on.

So, what purpose was served by her getting naked and invisible? Clearly the whole group was able to get through, despite the fact that two of them had to remain totally visible. If you feel the need to insert gratuitous T&A into your movie, at least work it in with subtlety, don't base a whole, internally inconsistent scene around Jessica Alba in her underwear.

*Following that scene, the group is dubbed "the Fantastic Four" by the newsmedia. Now, they've seen a rock-man lift a fire truck and a stretchy guy save one of its occupants. They've also seen some guy in a jacket huddle over a girl in an explosion, leaving both inexplicably unharmed, and a small portion of the crowd saw a woman do a striptease and stand near a half-contained explosion. Now, I'll give you that the first two are amazing, even fantastic. But who could have seen what Johnny did without being horribly burned themselves? And who could have really noticed what Sue was doing with her invisible force field? It's a bit of a stretch to say that they would have seen more than two people do fantastic things.

*"What happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning? Same thing that happens to everything else."
--Storm, "X-Men."
"What happens when rubber is super-heated?"
"What happens when you super-cool rubber?"
--Dr. Doom, "Fantastic Four."
"Chemistry 101, Doom. What happens when you quickly cool superheated metal?"
--Mr. Fantastic, "Fantastic Four."

What happens when Marvel movies don't learn from the worst parts of previous Marvel movies? Same thing that happened to the dialogue in "Fantastic Four."

Incidentally, anyone notice that the writers were also channeling "Ghostbusters" for their dialogue?
"Johnny, go supernova."
"I thought we decided that was a bad thing"
--Reed and Johnny, crossing their streams.

*Oh, and it took three minutes to find out that the surface temperature of the sun is 5780 Kelvin. Another two minutes told me that a supernova can reach temperatures around 3 million Kelvin. Johnny's 4000K temperature might be "almost as hot as the sun," but it's nowhere near the supernova-scale that Reed warns him about. That's sloppy writing and sloppier research. I took one term of Astronomy, and that "fact" stuck out like an orange thumb with a flame hovering over it.

*Sometimes the Thing was shaking the ground with every step. Sometimes he was splitting concrete. Sometimes he was tossed out of a truck, where he landed on a van, and didn't even leave a dent in the hood. Was the continuity editor on a break during these scenes?

*"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." --Anton Chekhov.
"If you establish a to-be-killed character in a leaky garage with lots of puddles and a villain with electric powers, the villain should use the abundant water as a conduit for his electrical act of murder." --Jess, Tom and Jon on "Fantastic Four."

*Speaking of which, if you have a principal character (Ben) make a big brouhaha about how he doesn't want a costume like everyone else, don't show him in the costume-pants in the following scene without at least some explanation.

*Next time you make a Fantastic Four film, keep George Lucas away from the dialogue. "Revenge of the Sith" sounded natural and realistic by comparison. Whether it was Doctor Doom's painful wisecracks or Sue's "That was my nose. These are my lips," or Reed's "I found a gasket from space," the dialogue was almost universally terrible.

The notable exceptions were Johnny and Ben, who pulled their respective characters so well that even the sillier dialogue was believable, because they played it off with a sense of humor. Chris Evans was the perfect Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis, despite the acres of costume, gave a more believable, emotive performance than anyone else in the film.

*Which says something about Jessica "I went to the Keanu Reeves school of acting" Alba. She never really interacted with the other characters, instead choosing to play her lines as if she were reading them to the director for the first time at her screen test. Having an inconsistent, sprayed-on tan that was nearly the same color as her hair, and looking significantly younger than her kid brother didn't help her character's believability.

She also had the "Christmas Jones effect," where we have to suspend our disbelief that a very young looking woman, who never displays any particular intelligence (except when she uses technobabble to sound much smarter than Reed, ostensibly the smartest character in the movie), is a top-level geneticist.

*These costumes are made of unstable molecules, which adapt to what their wearers' bodies need. Oh, but they were also irradiated by the cosmic storm, which is why they can adapt to what our bodies need. One explanation was plenty, thanks.

*Sue, you'll be able to bend light around other objects, not just yourself. Let's not follow up on this, so we can continue to have excuses to show you naked, or show your empty floating clothes.

*Ben's organs are all completely solid! Which is good, because his liquified lung syndrome and gaseous pancreas disease were severely life-threatening, and it was really serendipitous that the cosmic storm would make his organs solid again. Oh, I meant to say that they were all rocky and stuff, but instead it came out stupid.

*Sue's force field "can't hold Dr. Doom's electricity much longer," but it can contain a "supernova" blaze for several minutes.

*Hey, what happens to hot metal when you cool it? Well, considering that the indestructible, stronger-than-diamonds organic metal alloy (just come out and say Adamantium already!) was solid before and you were moving around without any real difficulty, I'd say super-heating it and cooling it back to room temperature would probably just bring it back to the same sort of solidity that it had when it was solid before. I guess it might melt and fuse your joints, but I won't actually explain that, I'll just act like the audience should know that already. Boy, that sure wasn't much of a climax, was it?

*And here's the fanboy nitpicking, the "it was different from the comic book" stuff. Dr. Doom is a rich businessman (who also has some mostly-unexplained connection to the fictional country of Latveria), who is dating (or not, or something) Susan Storm who accompanies the titular Four on their ill-fated trip and begins turning to metal and simultaneously developing electric-based powers. As the metal claims more of his body and his company falls to pieces, he puts on a metal mask (given to him by the people of Latveria, presumably so he'll no longer have to act out those tedious facial expressions) and vows revenge on Reed Richards, who he blames for ruining him.

For those not in the know, Victor Von Doom, ruler of Latveria, was originally a vain college rival of Reed's. An experiment left his face slightly scarred, and he blamed Reed for it. He had a metal mask crafted to hide the scar, but he didn't wait until it cooled to put it on, and it left him scarred far worse than he was initially.

Now, we can understand making changes to the comic story, but those changes should serve a purpose. "Fantastic Four" tried to have Von Doom's backstory both ways, and failed miserably. Furthermore, we've seen the "millionaire businessman super-villain bent on revenge" plot before. In other Marvel movies. Norman "The Green Goblin" Osborn, his son Harry, and the Kingpin, have all walked that path before in the last several years. And, with the possible exception of the Kingpin, they've all done it better.

Doom was poorly cast (as Jon said, the villain shouldn't have the most high-pitched voice in the film), poorly scripted (why was Doom tossing around quips that would have made a Bond villain cringe? "I think I'll get a second opinion," "Call me Doom," and the aforementioned Storm-esque lines among many others), poorly costumed (why change the costume? Doom's costume is regal, this Doom is a power-hungry billionaire, why would he choose a weird trenchcoat over a kingly cape? Furthermore, if they were already making changes, why keep the emotionless mask? McMahon could have easily just done voice-overs for the character after the mask went on, and no one would have noticed. They couldn't make it animatronic and emotive, or at least rubbery and movable?) and poorly conceived (ignoring the anticlimax, the backstory was derivative, and Doom-as-metahuman was unnecessary. As Jon pointed out, the original story was probably changed because villifying vanity goes against the Hollywood grain. Better to have a clich├ęd villain than one who criticized Hollywood value). A superhero (or team of them) is only as interesting as the villains. Failing in their portrayal of Doom led to an overall failure of the interestingness of the film.

*And as long as we're talking about what's interesting and original, let's bring up "The Incredibles." It's a shame when a Fantastic Four rip-off does the team better than their actual movie, but that's the way it seemed to go. Pixar's masterpiece was filled with interesting uses of elastic powers, invisibility, force-fields, and super-strength, as well as a technologically-based powerless bad guy with a grudge against the principal character. Apparently trying to avoid comparison with the animated film, "F4" changed the nature of the source villain. Furthermore, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, whose powers would make them the most obvious subjects of comparison to "The Incredibles," took a backseat to the Thing (who only did a few really interesting and original things with his strength) and the Human Torch (whose powers were only in Pixar's movie briefly). "F4" had a prime opportunity to show up Pixar, but gave it up rather than come up with interesting ways to use elastic powers and invisibility (and no, getting Jessica Alba mostly naked doesn't count as "interesting").

This is not to say that there weren't good things about the movie, far from it. On the subject of originality of powers, I would say that they really wowed me with the Human Torch. The effects were a bit sketchy at times, but they really captured the character's happy-go-lucky nature and how that would come through in his abilities. The scene of him on the slopes was very well done, and I really liked the way he left a Jonny-shaped scorch mark in the billboard. The Thing's inability to control his size and strength was done well too. The writers and director clearly put a large amount of thought into the way Ben and Johnny's powers and relationship would be portrayed. The greatest shame is how that amount of thought was omitted from considerations of Reed, Sue, and Doom. The origin was updated well, and the costumes were given a decent logical explanation (and then, a stupid explanation).

The movie wasn't bad. It was easily better than "Daredevil," and at least on-par with "Hulk," though it seems easy to say that it stands a bit taller than that one as well. The biggest problem with "F4" was all the little problems, most of which could easily have been fixed with better attention to the movie's internal continuity. The devil's in the details, and Lucifer's in the logic. Both of them were casting a dark hex over "Fantastic Four," leaving an unfortunate black spot on a summer that has seen superhero movies near-perfected by "Batman Begins."

Tune in next time when we review Clint Eastwood's classic spaghetti porno, "A Fist-full Dolores."
--Tom & Jon

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