Something weird has happened…
Because no one, whom I know personally, said that the newest Fantastic Four movie was any good, at all, I subsequently avoided it like the plague. Much like I did, for so long, with Halle Berry’s Catwoman (2004). When I finally *did* see Catwoman, I was quite disappointed, and wished I had listened to my friends who said it was worth overlooking, as it was.
You see The Fantastic Four is one of my oldest, and most favorite, comic-book memories, from childhood, and it already pained me that the FF movies of 2005 and 2007 didn’t live up to my expectations of greatness. Wonderful memories come to me of reading Marvel comics about Reed Richards (“Mr. Fantastic”), his wife Sue Storm (“The Invisible Girl”), her brother Johnny Storm (“The Human Torch”), and their friend Ben Grimm (“The Thing”). This was before I even really understood science-fiction. A man that could stretch his body to great lengths? Wow! A woman who can turn invisible and create force-fields? No way! A guy who can burst into flames, without harming himself, and fly? Unreal! And, wait, a super-strong dude made of orange rocks? Disbelief suspended! I was hooked from the get go.
That aside, the latest 20th Century Fox film is not about that group. Okay, so it actually is, but it isn’t, or shall I say… it should not have been. Let me explain. Last night I finally gave in and let curiosity kill this cat as I watched Josh Trank’s latest take on FF. Mind you, this is one of three of Marvel Comics’ most well-recognized super-groups of all time (along with The X-Men and The Avengers, of course). No, the Guardians of the Galaxy don’t count, as most of America, and the world, had never even heard of GotG before it’s movie hype began.
Here’s that “something weird” that I mentioned at the beginning… I liked this new Fantastic Four! There, I said it. I won’t take it back. Yes, there are disclaimers and caveats, but all in all I enjoyed it. I didn’t sit and stew in anger about how they butchered the super-group that I know so well. I didn’t wrinkle-up my nose at the so-so special effects and CGI. Nor did I try to over-examine the plot-holes and lack of character motivations, which were present. All I did was to sit down, suspend disbelief, and let some interesting science-fiction wash over me. Was it groundbreaking and took sci-fi somewhere it had never gone before? No, not at all. Was it devoid of sci-fi content that piqued my interest? Again, no, it was not, and in fact made me wish there were a bit more to see.
Did it need to be a Fantastic Four, specific, film? Not a bit. Except for the fact that the movie title has immense audience-draw, this movie could have been a pretty darned awesome non-Marvel movie. The sad fact that we all know is that much of Hollywood is looking for a “sure thing.” They want to have analyzed data that shows that audiences will spend money on a big budget film. Therefore, it is in their best interest, financially speaking, to put out a sci-fi film called Fantastic Four rather than rolling the dice on a risky film called “Four People Get Superpowers.”
As for the guts of the film, it is about three scientists who manage to build a machine that can teleport people to another dimension. While they don’t know much about that dimension, they do determine that they can build containment suits that will make it possible for explorers to go there and come back safely. Of course, the government wants in, and of course, wants control of the whole shebang, so two of those scientists and two others use the teleporter to go through to the other side before the gov can get their greedy hands on it. Predictably, once there, they encounter deadly challenges and only three of them return, but all have been exposed to strange energies from the other “world.”
On a side note, the one scientist who did not take the trip, was instrumental in helping the three travelers return, and was exposed to the unknown energies when the teleportation portal opened up again, bringing them home. Don’t forget that one other scientist got left behind. I’m not mentioning names of who’s who in the unraveling of these events, in case you haven’t seen the film, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. Without giving too much more away, as you already know they end up with powers, the four people in this dimension begin displaying unique superpowers and the government does what it does and steps in to take over. If it weren’t for that all too stereotypical governmental behavior of seeking to make everything powerful into aggressive tools of war, then the story might’ve ended with four mutated metahumans with powers living as they see fit.
Disclaimers and caveats: So, if you are looking for a wildly original sci-fi story, then this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a beautifully written story and script, this might not be your cup of tea. If you’re looking for top actors giving performances at the top of their respective games, then you’ll surely be let down. Lastly, if you’re a snob for seamless special effects and computer-generated-imagery, then you’ll turn your nose up in a scene or three. However, if you love science, science-fiction, and superheroes, then you might be a lot like me and you might just enjoy this movie.
Speaking more specifically about science, I think it is worth mentioning that this is another film which promotes interest-in and careers-in science which I feel is so very necessary. Much like The Big Bang Theory and Big Hero 6, this movie spotlights science in a way that showcases it as explorative, adventurous, and fun. My hope is that more and more kids will want to become scientists in the coming decades because of it. Not that I want reckless scientists tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum and risking all of our lives, but you get the idea.
Okay, let me wrap this up. The bar has been set pretty high in today’s day of filmmaking technologies. Science-fiction, especially, cannot rest on its laurels in attempts to pass sub-par sci-fi past our all too savvy and scrutinizing eyes and ears. Had this film been released BEFORE films like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, my guess is that it would have been perceived better. Still, for what it’s worth, I really enjoyed “Four People Get Superpowers” aka Fantastic Four.
Guest post by artist comic book fan and film critic Steve Oatney.