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Fun, Yes – Fantastic, No.

So. I’m standing there.. It’s 9:30 am and I’m about to buy a ticket to see Fantastic Four. Why 9:30 am? I’ve got two words for you… “School” and “Holidays” – The fact is, I’m totally expecting this movie to bite. I’m really not “9:30 am” kind of keen to see it, I just don’t want to have to put up with a cinema full of unruly brats, particularly if this movie stinks as much as I expect it to… so.. does it?

The only way to find out if the movie lives up (down?) to my expectations and if I ended up beating any children is to read the review!

Way back before Dark Horse or any of those ‘new’ publishers came on the scene two giants have been slugging it out since 1830’s. Sure, there were comics around long before the 30’s: The Shadow, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, to name a few. However, it wasn’t until 1938 that Superman first appeared in ACTION comics and really kicked the modern graphic novel industry to life.
With Superman (what would become) DC comics had it in the bag. Superman was popular like nothing before it and other characters were soon created to ‘cash in’ on its wave of popularity: 1939 saw the introduction of Bob Kane’s Batman in issue 27 of Detective comics.
The same year a publisher named Timely (which would eventually become MARVEL) released first issues of Submariner and Human Torch. Neither of which bought the kind of success that they were hoping for and It wasn’t until Timely published the tale of the super soldier, Captain America, that they really got a slice of the market. It didn’t last however, the 1950’s were dominated by DC comics and Timely (Now Atlas) spent most of those years releasing a hodge-podge of non-super hero titles. Producing mostly Comics for Girls and Horror/Suspence comic (or Oddities).
With the huge success of the Superman television show during the 50’s and it’s ever growing stable of super heros, DC created, and continued to succeed with, The Justice League of America. Atlas, which had now evolved into Marvel sought to again counter the success of a DC creation and what bubbled forth from the brain of Stan Lee was Fantastic Four… It was an instant hit.
Marvel went on to introduce new characters, mostly spawning from the mind of Stan Lee. During just the twenty eight month period, beginning in August of 1961, Marvel released issues of the never before seen characters: Hulk, Spider-man, An-Man, THOR, IRON MAN, Nick Fury, Wasp, X-Men, Avengers and Doctor Strange, some of who have since graduated to the big screen and some who are on their way there.

If DC won the early ‘Graphic Novel war’ of the 50’s, then it’s pretty clear that Marvel is winning the ‘Graphic Novel to movie adaptation war’ now. While not all of their big screen outings have been successful [Daredevil, Punisher, I’m looking at you!], Marvel has managed to bring more of its characters to cinemas (and therefore to a broader audience) than its rival.
The latest Marvel team to hit the cinema front lines is the family that really put them on the map back in ’61: Fantastic Four.

Given the close proximity of its release to that of Batman Begins it’s extremely hard to avoid comparing the two films… But that would be like comparing Star Wars to Aliens: While they do have elements that are similar they are vastly different films and ultimately the comparison is pointless. Fantastic Four and Batman Begins set out to be very different films and both achieve their goals.
Fantastic Four carries on the Marvel Universe tradition in this adaptation. By that I mean that this looks like a Marvel film. It looks like Spiderman (one and two) and Hulk in that it has a similar color pallet and visual texture about it. Like both those films this is an origin movie, in it we learn how the Fantastic Four come by their super powers and how they evolve into the group known as the Fantastic Four. Interestingly this is one of the first super hero teams not to have secret identities, very early on their abilities become public knowledge which adds a new dimension to the super-hero tale. While normally, upon discovering their new abilities, the primary character struggles to maintain their ‘normal’ life and chooses to disguise themselves when using their powers to help others. In this case four very different personalities, with four different abilities deal with their ‘afflictions’ in different ways.

Michael France and Mark Frost’s script is one that deals with opposites. Ben Grim (Michael Chiklis) is turned into The Thing: A creature made of living rock. Seeing himself as little more than a monster Grim wants nothing more than to return to his original state. On the other hand Johnny Storm (Chris Evens) is able to control his ability to transform into the Human Torch and embraces the rock-star like notoriety which comes with their public outing. Reed Richards (Loan Gruffudd) is the overly analytical scientist who gains the ability to stretch his body like rubber, while Sue Storm’s (Jessica Alba) powers of invisibility are controlled by her emotions.
Emotionally, I have to admit, the characters in Fantastic Four are far more dimensional than I had anticipated. Even Julian McMahon’s performance as Victor Von Doom was more than I expected from him. The relationship between the main characters is satisfying enough without being overly heavy. The special effects are excellent and the use of a ‘rubber suit’ for The Thing instead of a completely CGI character really pays off here. Chiklis performance under all that rubber has to commended, he manages to make The Thing an endearing character despite his appearance.

If I had to describe this movie in a word, I’d pick: FUN! If I had to use two, I’d say REALLY FUN! This isn’t an attempt to make the greatest super hero movie ever, and even if it was, the results would be totally subjective. Fantastic Four sets out from the very start to give the viewer another look into the Marvel Universe, and to take them on a bit of a ride. It accomplishes this mission and does even more. It introduces some great characters to an audience who may not already be familiar with them. It adds another notch to Marvel’s belt. It opens the door to another movie franchise and the opportunity for Marvel to eventually bring it’s greatest character ever to the screen… The Silver Surfer!.. But I don’t expect too many people to know who that is…. losers…

Yeah, there are plot holes, and plenty of inconsistencies, but who cares! Given the run of great movies we’ve had lately we were really due for a stinker, thankfully this isn’t it. So just grab a bucket of popcorn and hang on.. it’s a fun ride!

~ elroy

[Originally written for EON and published at Gamespace on Fri, 08 Jul 2005]

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