A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 101 – The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four – June 9th, 2010

Wouldn’t you think the name Von Doom would be a little obvious? Sort of like Lucius Malfoy’s snake-headed pimp cane. I mean, granted, the name was given to a comic book bad guy and comic book names aren’t known for their subtleties. But still, when we meet Victor Von Doom in this movie, sure he’s an egotistical jerkoff who enjoys lording his success over Reed Richards, the poor dweeb of a genius who outsmarted him but can’t turn his smarts into cash. But he’s still just a guy. Ben Grimm, Reed’s pal, knows he’s bad news, but I doubt if you asked him at the outset “So, Ben, what do you think about Victor?” he’d answer “Oh, dude’s destined to go supervillain.” There’s a certain blindness there. His name has DOOM in it!

This is an origin story based on the comics, but I admit my knowledge of the comics is very limited. Really, 1602 is the extent of it. My real touchstone for the Fantastic Four is the episode of Venture Brothers that pokes fun at them (which I plan on watching as soon as this is posted). Which means I spent a large portion of the movie making fun of Reed’s rubber body and mock-screaming when Johnny Storm erupts into flame. Johnny Storm, by the way, is our connection to TMNT as Chris Evans was in both movies (we’ll do the sequel tomorrow before moving on to the next connection). And I admit, I like Chris Evans. Sure, Johnny’s over the top annoying for a goodly portion of the movie, but he gets a few good humorous moments in when he’s not baiting poor Ben Grimm.

And can I take a moment here and say just how sad it is that Ben gets the shit end of the stick? Poor guy. He gets the only disfiguring power and he can’t turn it off. Though at least that’s not only acknowledged by the movie but made a major part of the plot.

I should mention the plot. There’s a plot! It’s an origin story, so of course everyone starts out normal and unpowered. Reed Richards is a scientist who wants to do something or other up on a space station but he has no money. His pal Ben Grimm is a former NASA pilot and goes along with him to talk to Reed’s old schoolmate, the aforementioned Victor Von Doom to try and secure some money at the paltry expense of his pride. Once there we meet Sue Storm, Reed’s ex-girlfriend who now works for Victor (who is planning on proposing to her but never gets to). Victor says sure, go ahead and use my space station and my money. I got the girl so nyah. Oh yeah, and Sue’s hotshot brother, Johnny, gets to be the pilot. Johnny shows up and goofs off and makes fun of his former NASA boss, Ben, and they all go into outer space where a radiation storm hits them and alters their DNA, making them mutants. No. Wait. Just superheroes. Ben gets saddled with being made out of rock, Reed gets some sweet grey streaks in his hair and his body turns into rubber, Sue can go invisible and also produce force fields, Johnny… Well, Johnny’s catchphrase is “Flame on!” Which elicited plenty of snickers from everyone, I’m sure. Victor, who was supposedly protected by the station’s shields, wasn’t, and ends up turning into an unknown metal and can also play with electricity (like Crazy Harry!). And the rest of the movie is about Reed and Sue trying to figure out how to reverse the effects while Ben sulks and Johnny uses his new abilities to pick up chicks. Oh yeah, and Victor goes evil and kills a bunch of people and plots to get rid of Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny so he can rule the world.

Why is anyone at all surprised that Victor Von Doom goes evil? Really?

Anyhow, there’s lots of vague science and technobabble and Reed and Sue rekindling their romance and Johnny being a jackass and Victor being evil and Ben smashing stuff. They had a rather public rescue of some firefighters on a bridge, so people know about them and think they’re pretty awesome but Johnny’s the only one who thinks that’s cool. The rest of them just want their lives back. Eventually Reed makes this fancy machine that should be able to reverse the effects but he can’t give it enough power. But hey, his good friend Vic can help with that! So Victor manipulates Ben into walking out on the team, Johnny throws a temper tantrum at Sue and leaves, and Victor shows up to power the machine just in time to reverse Ben’s mutation… I mean powers! And then he gives Reed a chemistry lesson by teaching him what happens to frozen rubber. There’s a big climactic battle where the team reforms just in time to save the day and then they temper the now all-metal Victor and his assistant ends up loading him into a shipping crate and packing him off to Latveria.

It’s not a bad movie. I mean, it’s nowhere near the fun level of Iron Man or even the first X-Men. But it’s okay. I got a little catchphrase-sick by the end and they don’t even say them much so I have to assume it’s because every ad that came out when the movie was released had both “Flame on!” and “It’s clobberin’ time!” repeated ad nauseum. The romance between Sue and Reed made me want to shake both of them because they’re both being idiots about it. And I’ve already mentioned Johnny. Really, the only character I didn’t dislike at some point in the movie was Ben. And I’ve made my feelings about him known too. At least they’re all best buds by the end! Just in time for the sequel!

June 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Fantastic Four

June 9, 2010

Fantastic Four

Sadly there’s probably no way we can attain a legitimate copy of the infamously bad Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie (I’d buy it if I could) so tonight we’re watching the 2005 movie about Marvel’s first big successful monthly title. I’ll admit that I haven’t really read many Fantastic Four books. The problem was that the comics were too cartoonish for me. Particularly Reed’s character. You see, the titular Fantastic Four are four people who have, through exposure to a cosmic storm, been imbued with super powers. Sue Storm can turn invisible and project force fields. Her brother Johnny is the human torch. He can set himself on fire and fly. Ben Grimm is The Thing (by far the coolest member of the team) and is like the Hulk – but orange, made of stone, and never turns back to human. The leader of the four of them is Mister Fantastic, the brilliant scientist Reed Richards, who has one of the stupidest looking super powers out there – he’s made of living rubber and can stretch himself into wacky shapes at will. It’s all fine for a comic book – which is traditionally a genre that involves a lot of visually strange stuff and can get away with a lot of pretty campy things, but in a movie it’s inevitably going to look silly. Which must have been a major challenge for the film makers.

Keep in mind that this movie came out after the very successful X-Men and Spiderman movies. There was a lot of pressure to mine other Marvel properties for additional summer blockbuster movie franchises. (Hulk, at the time, was on moratorium after Ang Lee’s movie… which I actually really liked.) So as improbable as it might seem they went ahead and made a movie about the origin of this peculiar team. And just for fun they show an origin story for their arch nemesis Doctor Doom as well. (I am amused by some of the trappings the movie gives Victor Von Doom prior to his transformation into an arch villain. In particular I chuckled a little to see that his space station is shaped like a big V.) I do kind of wish they had chosen to show Doom more as the hard-hearted ruler of the kingdom of Latveria than as this kind of rich but impotent business maven. He seems more whiny than megalomaniacal. An odd choice for one of the most dreaded super villains in the Marvel cannon.

This movie pretty much knows that it can’t really take itself seriously. Almost the whole thing is played for laughs. Particularly any time that Johnny is on the screen. Chris Evans (who links this movie to our Monday review as part of our Kevin Bacon week) is a delight. He hams it up for all he’s worth, and gets all the best lines. He clearly knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in. (A movie that has, for example, a scene at a NASCAR sponsored motorcycle stunt show with product placement billboards prominently surrounding it.)

As for the other team members, well Jessica Alba does alright as Sue Storm, given that pretty much all she’s provided to do is look attractive and be the girl Doom and Richards both want. Things go less well for Ioan Gruffudd as Mister Fantastic. His transformation into a computer generated effect was inevitably going to look silly. But even more than that, his bizarre contortions look really creepy when performed by a human character in a movie. Much more so than in a comic book.

Strangely, given that Sue, Johnny and Reed are digital creations whenever they use their super powers, the film makers chose to create The Thing entirely using makeup. I’m not sure I quite agree with the decision. Maybe it’s that the design of Michael Chiklis’ extensive make-up doesn’t quite capture the look of The Thing as I recall him from the comic. (He lacks the prominent jaw and big rectangular eyebrows that are The Thing’s trademark look.) Maybe it’s the fact that rubber prosthetics just don’t quite look like living rock. It’s in the texture, I think. In the way the prosthetics bunch and stretch. I’m guessing that they chose to go this route because Ben is meant to be the human heart of the movie, so they wanted Michael’s performance to drive the character. Sadly, it just doesn’t quite work for me.

Still – even if this movie is no Iron Man or X-Men – it is still a fun popcorn movie. It tells its basic story and gives everybody some scenery to chew and involves a lot of computer effects and explosions. It’s far from being the worst comic book adaptation I own. And I suppose it did well enough in the cinema to warrant a sequel. Which we’ll review tomorrow.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment