Despite being warned against it, I recently DVRed, and last night I watched, the 2015 cinematic version of one of my favorite comic books ever: “The Fantastic Four.”
Much has been made of the supposed train wreck of this film, but I needed to see for myself. I’ve watched the 2 previous “modern” incarnations of the FF starring Jessica Alba and the much-more-suited-for-Captain-America Chris Evans. I’ve even got the 1994 Roger Corman version lying around here on DVD somewhere.
So I had to watch this one, if only for completeness? I mean, it couldn’t be as terrifically, fantastically, horrible as I’d been led to believe, right? (See what I did there?)
Well, for argument’s sake, let’s start by taking a look at the film in a vacuum, and not as a Fantastic Four movie.
It starts as a respectable sci-fi fantasy, as Reed Richards attempts to develop a teleportation device in the fifth grade. He shock-and-awes a classmate, Ben Grimm, into becoming his partner in crime into high school, as they attempt to perfect the device.
Recruited by the Baxter Group to come work and study on his project, Reed encounters Sue Storm, adopted daughter of his benefactor, Franklin Storm, and Victor Von Doom, who initially conceived of the project a decade ago that Reed has inadvertently fixed in his garage workshop.
But it’s not a teleportation device, at least not in the sense Reed was going for. Instead, he learns that his test subjects have been going into another dimension.
They build a four-person “shuttle” and successfully transport a monkey to and back from “Planet Zero” in the alternate dimension. After learning that NASA will be heading up the manned trips instead of them, Reed, Victor, and Johnny Storm decide, after a little liquid courage, to make a trip that night, plant the flag, and be first.
Refusing to go without him, Reed calls Ben to come with them.
Okay, first problem here: they left Sue out of the trip for no reason that I can figure out. Sure, she didn’t stick around to drink with the three of them, but went off to help her father fight for their side. But whatever.
After successfully traveling to “Planet Zero,” the four of them get out of and begin exploring a primordial world in which energy flows in rivulets across the terrain. Victor expresses his impression that he can feel the energy like nerves, alive…
After plunging his hand into a pool of the energy triggers an eruption that chases them back to the shuttle, Victor is lost while ascending a cliff they had come down to explore. Though Reed tries to save him, Victor is blasted away from the face and down into the roiling energy abyss.
Barely making it into the shuttle’s compartments, Ben’s door malfunctions and he is pelted with rocks from the surface, Johnny’s windows is blasted by an explosion of energy that sets him ablaze, and Sue is only barely able to active their return sequence after figuring out what they’d done.
She is blasted by a wave of energy from Planet Zero as the shuttle returns, hence, she gets her powers.
So far we have a fairly standard, “scientific experiment goes awry” storyline. Acceptable, even enjoyable up to this point…
Then things go down hill.
Awakening in a government facility in the middle of nowhere, Reed escapes after seeing what happened to Ben/The Thing. He promises Ben that he will “fix this,” then leaves. The government promises the remaining three that they will do everything they can to cure them if they will help them.
Here, help means that Ben is sent on missions with special ops, into war zones, ripping up tanks, racking up kills, etc.
Johnny is learning to control his flame powers with the help of a suit designed by the government, and is about to volunteer for similar missions, despite his father’s objections, in a typical “you don’t run my life” exchange.
Sue is tasked to help find Reed, hiding out in the world, using her not-Planet-Zero-induced gift of pattern recognition.
Reed is brought back in time to help complete and activate the second generation of the shuttle, and an exploration party is sent, where they encounter Victor, now merged somehow not only with his survival suit, but with the energy of the Planet Zero. He is now simply “Doom.”
Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben travel through a portal created by Doom designed to absorb and destroy everything on Earth that passes through it (I know, bit of a logic shock, there), and battle to destroy him.
Suffice to say, they win, Doom is destroyed by his own portal/weapon, and the Earth is saved. Somehow extorting the government into giving them control of a massive research facility in exchange for… nothing?… Reed and the crew go to work inventing stuff, presumably not to cure themselves.
So, as a science fiction movie, it starts off good, though not great, then loses itself entirely in the second half. It’s as if two movies were grafted together by a blind butcher.
As a Fantastic Four movie, it’s horrible. A completely changed origin (including Victor Von Doom’s, who isn’t supposed to have super powers at all, but simply a super brain), a crappy back story for Reed and Ben (who comes off as a beaten down kid instead of a BMOC and eventual pilot), the downplaying of contributions from Sue Storm (easily arguable as the most powerful of the four, if you’re a fan of the comics), a tattered plot, all wrapped up in a nonsensical ending.
I’m not glad I watched this version, but I’m not sorry I kept avoiding it, either. Now I know, I know, just how badly Fox screwed it up.
Please, Fox, for the love of Galactus, sell the Fantastic Four back to Marvel so they can be done right.