Jordan defends Fantastic Four

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007 Horrorthon Posts

I guess this falls into the “Guilty Pleasures” category. I checked out the original Fantastic Four (2005) again (in preparation for the sequel) and I have to say that I actually really dig it. I know this places me in a category of scorn-deserving fools, but I’ve just got to be honest about my likes and dislikes regarding comic book movies, damn it!

Let me hasten to add that I totally accept all the critiques viz. the movie’s rather obvious shortcomings, including the lame director, the contrived story, “shapely but talentless” Jessica Alba (in octopunk’s inimitable language), the generic Eurotrash actor who plays Victor Von Doom (who makes the Casino Royale villain look like Laurence Olivier in comparison) and the basic stupidness of the Brooklyn Bridge sequence.



Let’s face it: The Fantastic Four are, well, silly. The whole concept is silly; the characters are silly; the set-up is silly. Go all the way back to the most famous and expensive Marvel comic of all time, Fantastic Four #1, and what do you find? Beloved history, yes, and the template for all Lee/Kirby 1960s collaborations, yes, but also, it must be admitted, a profoundly silly tale. It’s all cold-war paranoia and blatant rip-offs of the successful Justice League series and people who say “Bah!” to emphasize the point they’re making. Even the name is silly! I mean, they’re “fantastic.”

But so what! If anything, the 1961 silliness is part of what makes it so great. There are few things in art as appealing as the historical view of the aging masterpiece that was, in its heyday, a groundbreaking quantum leap (and Fantastic Four was certainly that, since it basically spawned the entire Marvel Universe). I’m thinking of the Bauhaus, the DADA movement, Baroque fugues, early music videos; it’s all so quaint because it was so cutting edge at an earlier time, and that only enhances the enjoyment to the modern viewer/reader.

The 2005 movie is not afraid of the silliness. With the exception of the turned-around Dr. Doom story, the whole extravaganza is basically reproduced wholesale, “It’s clobberin’ time” and all. No attempt has been made to coat it all in irony or hipness (as happened with both X-Men and Spider-Man, in effective and subtle ways.) (Those are vastly superior movies, by the way. I mean, I’m not crazy.)


Michael Chiklis is incredibly good. He basically sells the whole thing. The costume is great. The face is great. I’m a big fan of anything being done (well) in CGI, including Bill Nighy as Davy Jones (where some of the time only the eyes are his, and the rest of the time he’s been completely rebuilt by those ultimate badasses at ILM); but the insistence, here, on a real rubber costume works perfectly. You can really see him; you can see the actor underneath; you can see his eyes, and his soulful performance steals the movie.


I’m sorry but the effects in this movie are extremely good. They’re better than anything in the first two Spider-Man movies, in which my beloved New York gets, well, a little weird-looking every time Spidey is web-slinging around or fighting. Don’t get me wrong; I love that stuff. It’s just that it veers off into a strange kind of Sam Raimi nonreality whenever the action starts. By contrast, The Human Torch (who is no less of a special effect than Spidey) looks real, real, real in every shot. So does Reed Richards’ stretching (and the aforementioned Thing). Really, all the effects (including the projectiles, the space sequences, and all the ridiculously overdone “computer displays” all over the place) are very, very good.


One of the best things about the original Fantastic Four was the lack of secret identities. In the paperback collection Origins of Marvel Comics (which was pretty much the coolest object one could possibly own back in fifth grade) Stan Lee explains that he always hated the “secret identity” schtick. While I don’t necessarily agree (since I’m not ready to throw away all the groovy Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent-style angst in comics) (and it was only a few months later that Lee and Ditko created arguably the best “secret identity” dilemma in comics when they came up with Spider-Man) it’s cool to have a superhero movie in which everyone just knows who they are and we can get down to business and dispense with all the coy lines where they almost give it all away etc. In Fantastic Four Lee’s idea is taken to its logical extreme in several sequences in which the FF have big, important conversations and arguments right in front of hundreds of pedestrians, as if the movie’s exuberantly flaunting the concept that they don’t (and wouldn’t) be sneaking around like kids pretending to be spies when there’s a legitimate superhero situation to deal with. “Hey, it’s Sue Storm! The Invisible Girl!” a guy yells out (while she scopes out her own photo on the cover of People). Excellent.


It’s got heart. What can I say? They’re not “kidding” or “slumming;” they mean every word they say (even Alba, who can barely talk). When Ben Grimm laments “What have I done?” after turning back into himself, you can legitimately feel his pain. When the crowds go nuts over the four of them, it’s well done (see #4 above). When they win, they’re so happy! It’s all great fun. There is no need to “go dark” (Tim Burton style) in order to make a cynical modern audience buy it. (And that approach worked, by the way; audiences happily took a break from all the “superhero suffering” and the movie made a fortune.) It’s comic book fun: sure, it’s silly and doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But they mean it, just like Kirby and Lee did in the early sixties, using manual typewriters and KOH-I-NOR pen nibs to turn India ink into cosmic dreams. Excelsior!