DVD Review #18: Fantastic Four (Extended Edition) (2005)

February 17, 2010 at 12:24 PM | Posted in Based on a Comic, DVD Reviews, Franchise Film | Leave a comment

Nuff said.

I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the Fantastic Four. I think their powers and costumes are goofy and the comics are quite garish. Which makes this movie a perfect litmus test. If this movie could make me a fan of the Fantastic Four, then it would be up there with The Crow, or any other movie that made me check out the comic source. And I can definatively say this movie did NOT make me a fan. Not even of the movie.


Now, that said, you would think an adaptation of one of the most colorful (albeit garish) comics in existence would be suitably colorful on screen. You’d be wrong. The cinematography is extremely mediocre. Not only is The Thing more of a dull earthtone than orange, but colors don’t really pop in any scenes or objects or characters or locations, apart from Johnny’s fire effects. Even a bright red sports car looks dull on screen. I won’t pretend to know anything about color timing, but I can spot amateur work a mile away. The film is fantastically pedestrian for a superhero movie.

For a comic book movie, the action and FX moments are at least above average. But the scenes between these events are duller than Thing’s earthy patina. The comic book documentary points out the problems with the team’s dynamic, despite some failed attempts at praising it, and all of that is evident here. The only tangible relationship is that of Reed and Sue, but they spend most of the movie being dyfunctional and inactive, talking about why their relationship ENDED instead of actually HAVING one onscreen. The other characters are two-dimensional. Thing is a sad, angry little fat man. Johnny is an obnoxious overgrown juvenile. Doom is a disgruntled billionaire who should be a mascot for a heavy metal band. Most of the jokes fall flat, and there’s little to hold your attention between action sequences.

The plot is suspiciously similar to that of Spider-Man, excuted in a far less skilled manner. Some decent (poor) folk and one rich guy both get powers at roughly the same time. The rich guy’s “board” (is there a more nebulous concept common to movies like this?) kicks him out, so he kills them. He wears green and uses his powers for evil. Here, Johnny is virtually the only character that matters. His story mirrors Peter Parker’s journey, which goes from joy to irresponsibility to greed and eventually to using his powers for badguy-fightin’. However, the dolts in this movie don’t fight any crime at all. Granted, the Fantastic Four aren’t really crimefighters. But conceptually, you need a good antagonist to keep the plot moving, or at least some disasters. Where the story obviously begins with a disaster in space, the disaster on the bridge that they narrowly avert, is also one that’s CAUSED by them.

Doom is less of an antagonist in the story than the Fantastic Four themselves, who get emotional and trip over each other until Doom tries to kill them all at the end of the movie. You might think that Doom’s sensible plan to simply KILL the good guys might raise him above the vague taunting and sadistic choices presented by Spider-Man‘s Green Goblin. But honestly, without any emotional stake in what’s going on, seeing the villain act like a villain doesn’t make the experience any greater.

Superficially, I guess fans don’t like how much Doctor Doom changed. I don’t particularly care one way or the other. While his powers are more interesting than just a guy in a mask, he’s still just a guy in the mask however you look at it.

Despite Johnny being a douchebag, The Thing is the most annoying character of the lot. Even though the comics version is only six feet tall, Chiklis’ five-foot-eight stature doesn’t quite measure up. Here, he has a latent Napoleon complex and an obvious gut, rather than being a guy of rock-like muscle. While I’m sure the sensitivity of the character is important, his utter humanity takes away from any action scenes, where he just looks like a doughy sad guy in a rubber suit.

Part of the difficulty in getting into the story, which is not present in Spider-Man‘s story of an unremarkable teen, in Daredevil‘s tale of a blind lawyer, and certainly not in a film like Superman, stems from the backstory and role of the characters being rather vague.
We know Ben went into space, but don’t know what he did with his life before or after that one event, except that he once had a birthday and a fiancee. He’s friends with Reed, but their friendship is never delved into. Reed is a generic movie scientist, who has worked with NASA, but he seems to work out of his penthouse. All that we know about Sue is that she works with Doom. In what capacity is unclear. The role of Doom’s company is not made apparent. Johnny was a fighter pilot, but again, his life before or after that fact isn’t on the page. He’s never even seen flying anything. We know the relationships between the characters, but the characters themselves aren’t fleshed out enough for this to play out as anything but a sitcom. This is one of the few superhero movies, and possibly the only one, that features (by and large) adult characters whose backstory is not told in flashback. The closest character in origin would be Iron Man, whose story is at least told as part of a faux documentary. It certainly makes the film seem like the odd man out.

The overall failure of the movie as anything but forgettable popcorn fare is that there’s not much story going on. It’s basically ALL origin story, when only half of it should be. First, everybody gets zapped. Then they hang around for a while at a ski resort. Then they start getting their “powers” one by one. Then they USE their powers. Then they STUDY their powers. Then they try to get rid of their powers, use them some more for selfish reasons, wait around some more, and then eventually fight Doom and decide that if they have suits, therefore they must have jobs (great news for all homeless people). The introduction of conflict is done in such a way that it merely creates conflict while the team isn’t doing anything. Thus, it’s not so much conflict as it is an annoyance that Doom is sort of trying to kill them. They don’t actually save anyone in the film. They just hang around and then have a fight with Doom. Since they’re all losers to begin with, nothing is at stake, and it’s all just a spectacle. When they are thanked at the end of the movie, one forgets that all they did was start a ruckus and then end it. Sort of like throwing a party for your loud neighbors once they stop being loud.

There are plenty of other problems with the movie. The pop music used ranges from forgetable to terrible. A lot of things happen offscreen due to budget (Ben’s transformation, Ben breaking a store window, Ben inside the extra-and-anti-storm machine). There’s no opening title sequence to speak of. The only halfway decent actor is the blind woman with a girl-boner for Grimm. No, I take that back. Stan Lee gave an Oscar-worthy performance (comparatively, anyway). Two of the actors are doing bad American accents. One of the actors is trying to act through a rubber mask, and another just through rubber lips. But mostly, the movie is a lot of arguing and special effects. One isn’t really worth the other.

What makes the Fantastic Four unique as a comic book is their realistic relationships and problems. That simply doesn’t translate to film, because it’s not fantastic. In the comics, it makes them stand out amongst more two-dimensional characters. In a movie, it just makes them too normal, which is far too easy to find in cinema and on TV. It’s similar to the problem of the Punisher being unique in comics and quite typical on film. Had there been a lot of successful, colorful, two-dimensional comic book movies, the Fantastic Four would be a change of pace. But normalcy in a motion picture is simply dull, and can hold back a great fantasy concept. Filmmakers seem to get confused about the difference between verisimilitude and mediocrity. Mediocrity is believable, but we don’t want to buy a ticket to see it.

As for the extended version of the movie, there are a couple of bits that improve it, like the scene in the space station. But mostly, there’s extra footage of the Sue/Reed relationship, and Ben and his blind girlfriend. There are also scenes of Doom trying to tear the team apart, and Johnny realizing he’s ten pounds of jerk in a five pound bag. None of which really add anything worthwhile to the viewing experience. The extended cut does appear to be the director’s cut, as the fight between Doom and Reed is shorter, where Reed is blown through the window without first dodging Doom’s attack. The only significant improvement is the bona fide title sequence that starts the film, which looks neat, and sets up some backstory, as well as the possible idea that maybe you’re about to watch a superhero movie. They were right to change it. This ain’t no superhero movie.

The cast commentary is pretty standard stuff. “I was so glad to get out of that suit.” “You have to use your imagination.” “Remember that?” Etc.

The crew commentary has five people on it. It’s standard fare, but the director doesn’t say much, and one of the writers keeps talking about acting and production. As they are only on the extended version, you have to sit through that much more nonsense.

The first disc has deleted and extended scenes… but they’re the same scenes that are in the extended version. I guess that’s beneficial if you want to watch the theatrical version and still see the added material, but I don’t know why it’s also linked from the extended cut’s menu.

The mother of a bonus disc includes a feature-length making-of, at over 90 minutes. It doesn’t get much more generous than that, at least not for a hokey movie. Everything from practical and digital effects, to the antics of Julian McMahon, to actors conversing with Stan Lee, is here.

Also included are a brief feature about the Baxter building set, and a bunch of multi-angle scenes which you couldn’t really pay me to “study.”

On the comic side of things, there’s an hour-long retrospective of the comics, which goes from the origins all the way around to the retelling of the origin… and yet another retelling of the origin a few years later.

Alex Ross gets his own very brief feature on this, where for some reason, he shows busts of The Thing and Doctor Doom that you can buy, but which he didn’t have to.

Another brief feature shows clips from the movie in relation to similar scenes from the comics.

Apart from still galleries, the disc is filled up with one remaining feature: an hour and three minutes about Jack Kirby. Quite frankly, after the comic book feature, I just couldn’t be bothered with this. I think Kirby’s art is, or at least became, too weird, and I prefer to think of him as an LSD addict with a rare compulsive disorder and a unique hand spasm that caused him to constantly scribble things that happened to look like really fucked up, box-headed people and guys with heads in their stomachs. Two hours of unattractive people talking about fictional or dead people is too much for me. I’d rather just watch the movie again.

Film Connections:
DVD Review #20: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (The Power Cosmic Edition)

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