For those who haven’t been following my descent into madness, whenever a remake or a reboot of a franchise with a reviled past comes along, I revisit it to see if time and distance has bred anything other than contempt. And Fantastic Four and its companion piece, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, sure get a lot of contempt — most of which is deserved!
To some degree, this franchise is a victim of its studio. Fox, in the early and mid-2000s, was run by a studio head who hated comic books. Further, the two Fantastic Four movies were directed by Tim Story, based on the success of… Barbershop. You know, a low-budget comedy with no special effects or action sequences, based mostly on comedians improvising! What could possibly go wrong?
As a result, this movie is just aware enough of camp to avoid it, but so in love with shtick that it stumbles into it anyway.
It’s fine whenever he’s got Chris Evans or Michael Chiklis on-screen — both are clearly having a ball, especially when they’re asked to mess with each other. But the movies also star Ioan Gruffudd, a fine actor, but not exactly a comedic powerhouse, and Jessica Alba, who might as well just be called “Boobs” for all her character development and impact on the plot. Worse, the central plot of both movies is more or less a sitcom written on a galactic scale; Reed loves Sue! But also science! How can Reed balance being nice to Sue and science when women are so confusing and unpredictable? Of all the things to be faithful to from the comics, they picked this?
It gets worse in the second movie, when they can switch powers by touching each other. By that point, they might as well have just bagged it, set the whole second act to “Yakety Sax,” and called it a day. Let’s not even get into the whole Silver Surfer plotline. Galactus being a cloud doesn’t bother me, the fact that nobody thinks the guy who named himself Doctor Doom and nearly blew up New York in a fit of pique might be up to something kind of stands out as a plot hole.
As I watched these movies, I began to ask myself if making a straight Fantastic Four movie is even possible. Yes, yes, I know, The Incredibles is an amazing movie, but it’s not the Fantastic Four. The family dynamics are completely different, and the family dynamics are what define the Four.
If anything, the best interpretation of the Fantastic Four is the brutal deconstruction that Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have made into a running thread on The Venture Brothers. It’s telling to compare that take, which simply plays out the natural consequences of Reed Richards being a complete dick, with these movies attempting to make Reed just incredibly absent-minded — an effort to soften Reed that has backfired horribly. He comes off like that one friend everybody has in their early 20s, a human intersection between self-centeredness and learned helplessness, the kind of guy who doesn’t mean to drink all your beer or clog your toilet, it just sorta happens and keeps happening. That’s Reed, only he maims his best friend and nearly destroys the world.
And, in the end, that’s the problem with these movies. In trying to be faithful without alienating audiences, they fall backwards into the worst problems of the Fantastic Four as characters. If Fox goes for a third reboot, maybe they should just pay Hammer and Publick whatever they want and let Reed go full jerk. Hey, at least it’d be compelling.