Review: Fantastic Four

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Marvel Comics' cosmic family blasts onto the big screen. But can the fabulous foursome overcome all the negative hype and do the characters justice?

As told in the comic from 1961, The Fantastic Four came to be when scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) were struck by a cosmic storm while on an exploratory space mission.

Upon returning to Earth, the foursome found themselves with unexplained extraordinary powers which were a blessing and a curse. Each member struggles to adapt to their new way of life.

In the feature film, Reed's nemesis from the comic series Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) is also on the space mission.

This new version of Fantastic Four has a lot of great moments and is a lot better than the rumors make it out to be. The performances of Evans, Chiklis, and Gruffudd are excellent and complement the legacy of the characters.

I found the weakness of the film to come from performances of Alba and McMahon, as well as the film's story arc. I really think that if the film had forgotten the whole Von Doom angle and actually told the characters' true origins, then it would have been a better film. Doom just doesn't work here.

My favorite part of the film is Chris Evans. The film version of the character is probably one of the richest and closest comic superhero adaptations out there. This movie is owned by Evans. The shame is that it's called Fantastic Four and I think director Tim Story forgot that.

Fantastic Four isn't a glowing success but as a lot of superhero films come out, we are starting to see the genre develop. You have awful superhero films like Catwoman, Elektra, and to some, Daredevil. Then you have the mediocre films like Hulk, Fantastic Four, and to some, Blade. Finally, you have the bona-fide hits like Batman Begins, Spider-Man, and X-Men. I had a lot of fun with Fantastic Four even if it isn't perfect. (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

Note: Just for nostalgia's sake, I also included my original review for the unreleased 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. Please also take into account this was written over 4 years ago.

The Fantastic Four
(1994 • Directed by Roger Corman • Unreleased)

The Mystery:

Back in 1994, a very small and ambitious project was scheduled to be launched. The project excited comic book fans as a possible hidden gem in the release schedule. The promo-tapes were issued, the posters hung, the costumed heroes graced a magazine cover, and even some star interviews were concocted. The movie was The Fantastic Four.

During the week leading up to the film's release, the movie was pulled from the release schedule only two days before opening. This is very rare and what's amazing is that this was the 2nd Marvel movie adaptation to have this occur. The first being 1992's Captain America (which did make it to video). Comic fans heard rumblings that the film would eventually end up on video. The small $2 million dollar Fantastic Four movie never had that happen. Those were the facts.

What came after was purely speculation. Some people linked to the film have stated that director Chris Columbus stepped in and halted the film from being released at all so that he could prep his $80-million dollar adaptation. Studios were impressed with Columbus and what he wanted to do with the film.

Others speculate that Marvel Comics was so embarrassed by the film that they approached Roger Corman to pull the plug. Marvel's fear emulated that maybe the film would hurt their chances of cashing in on a block-buster adaptation. What is the right account? Someone inside must know the facts.

Recently I have been able to acquire this film through the miracles of the Internet. I was so curious to see what all the fuss was about.

My Review:

In this Marvel Comic adaptation, two friends, Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) and Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp), create a scientific device that will aid them in trying to harness the energy of this stellar phenomenon called the Colossus. A freak mishap occurs killing Doom and cursing Richards with his friend's death.

Ten years pass and Reed teams up with Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Benjamin Grimm to continue Victor's memory. The foursome is able to acquire a huge diamond that will allow them to reach Colossus via spaceship. The four astronauts get bombarded with cosmic rays when an accident occurs. The four of them acquire special powers.

They are quickly taken in by a military division for study. Convinced that they can cure themselves, they escape the military. The film's subplot deals with a mysterious armored man (Dr. Doom) and a creepy underground freak (The Jeweler) trying to acquire Reed's giant diamond.

Okay, on the surface the film's beginning and attempt at following the Fantastic Four mythos is impressive. I liked how the filmmakers did explore the huge age gap between eventual lovers Reed and Susan. I liked how the film didn't forget that Doom and Reed were in fact colleagues. It was a pretty good beginning for this first adaptation.

I really think the film fell apart when the Jeweler character was introduced. His character was just too campy. He belonged in a 1960's Batman episode, not in this film. It seems that as soon as he appeared, every other part of the film became campy. One scene in particular is the rocket crashing to Earth, and then you have the foursome wandering around looking for each other as you have really bad sets. If a rocket hit ground coming from space, these people would be dead even if they do have superpowers.

Throughout the rest of the film, I did see signs that tried to redeem this film. I really liked actress Rebecca Staab, who played Susan Storm. She was a perfect cast and sadly the only one. I liked the film's look for Doctor Doom, it was done quite well.

Aside from these redeeming qualities, you can see exactly why there was a cover-up to pull the plug on this one. What I learned from unearthing this film was that it isn't impossible to make a film on this subject.

In television, a lot of TV series have unreleased pilots that are horrendous. In this film's case, I would have to state that this film did excite me for the $80-million dollar adaptation looming for release in 2002.

I think with a more modest budget, a half-dozen script re-writes, and the public execution of the Jeweler, this film could have delighted fans. (2 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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