The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 July 2005

After bathing at the Baxter Building

I already had been warned about the Fantastic Four film by Mister Snitch, who announced a couple months ago that "The FF's original self-mocking, pulp sci-fi wit and sweeping scale were lost on its cast, who treated the project as just another gig."

The reviews have not been particularly kind, either; Roger Ebert complained in his Chicago Sun-Times review that it was "all setup and demonstration," and Doug Bentin sniffed in the Oklahoma Gazette that "you will come away from the theater feeling like you've just spent a couple of hours reading circa 1965 comic books."

Bentin is right, but that's exactly what I wanted from Fantastic Four: by 1965 I'd been reading FF for four years, and I still read it today, five hundred or so issues later. It's not hard to see why, either: while I could relate to Reed Richards' single-minded pursuit of answers at the expense of everything else — "difficulty with forest-spotting due to tree quantity," to borrow a phrase — I had a certain empathy with perennial misfit and occasional grouch Benjamin J. Grimm. (And I was hopelessly in love with Sue Storm, but that's a different matter entirely.)

No, it's not deep, and yes, some of the jokes are a bit too obvious. In today's Ironic At Any Cost context, this might be considered a drawback, but the same was true of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby originals; we didn't care then, and I don't care now. As a 2005 visualization of a 1965 concept, Fantastic Four works better than it deserves to, and while it won't make anyone's list of Best Pictures, it didn't bore me for a second. Besides, there's still Sue, and — well, let's not go there.

Addendum: Lileks has issues with the casting:

Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, while Charlize Theron lives and breathes? Do they not realize that Tim Robbins would be the perfect Reed Richards?

Tim looks the part, but I don't think he could bring out his Inner Dork in the manner required. And Charlize — well, do I really want to see her become invisible? (What am I saying?)

Posted at 10:21 PM to Almost Yogurt

I've heard this same meme elsewhere about the FF film. It's true - you don't complain about popcorn because it's not, I don't know, filet mignon. Popcorn has its place (and we'd miss it if it wasn't there). There's one problem though - in the movie business, this kind of popcorn costs about as much to make as steak. So the FF is a heavy-duty bet that folks REALLY want popcorn.

Mostly I object that the movie doesn't feel Kirby enough (too slick, no low camera angles, no twisted 'heroic' poses, no dramatic set pieces, no mysterious and satisfyingly superclunky machinery - and mainly no busted pavement) but that's me. I wanted that retro-sixties-emerging superhero look, something unique to this film. Spiderman is pretty satisfyingly Ditko-y. Batman Begins is rather Frank Miller-y. I have other objections as well - but you've already seen them in the reviews.

Anyway, people have been willing to eat the popcorn and even come back for more. $100 million (domestic) so far, not bad at all for a film fighting street buzz as a clunker. They may not rush to do a sequel, but it's no Catwoman.

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at 3:17 AM on 21 July 2005

I'd have to agree on the lack of mysterious superclunky machinery; all the high-tech toys seem a bit too cheerfully bland.

And while I shouldn't judge anything by a Wednesday night in Oklahoma, while most of the population is presumably at church, a turnout of 14 eleven days after release does not suggest "blockbuster," even allowing for the fact that three of the theater's 20 screens were reserved for it.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:58 AM on 21 July 2005

... Ah yes ... Sue. She IS the hot one no doubt and while the movie Catwoman did suck egregiously ... Catwoman herself is a hottie!

P.S. I too love Wednesday nights at the movies ... lots of room and choice seats ... a benefit for us heathen or backsliders whichever the case :)

Posted by: Ron at 9:35 AM on 21 July 2005

I'll go along with this. The X-Men and Spider Man movies were outstanding in their depth of storytelling; this wasn't, but you know what? I read FF and X-Men religiously in my yute, and the (Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin and afterward) X-Men comic books were outstanding in their depth of storytelling, and the FF ones weren't, really, they were more, um, fantastic, fewer brooding, dark subtexts like the murderous, hairy Canadian and the infinitely powerful woman who had to kill herself to save the world and the confused teenage girl who could walk through walls and had a crush on the metal guy. Maybe I'm remembering FF wrong. I thought overall it was faithful to the spirit of the comic, just like X-Men was.

Posted by: Matt at 1:46 PM on 21 July 2005

I'd say you aren't remembering FF wrong; the success of this and Spider-Man gave Marvel the confidence to do darker, more complex material like X-Men and, to a lesser extent, Daredevil.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:32 PM on 21 July 2005

I have to agree with Lileks - Charlize Theron would have been a great Invisible Girl.

In the What the Heck Do I Know Department, apparently the next FF installment *IS* more or less slated. Better you should hear it from me, I guess.

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at 7:41 PM on 21 July 2005

Frightening as it may seem, no one from Hoboken has ever given me a bum story. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 8:32 PM on 21 July 2005

And yet, you can't spell Hoboken without HOBO. (Unless of course we change the name.) Quel irony, huh?

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at 8:57 PM on 21 July 2005

You can always anagrammatize it into "HENBOOK".

Posted by: CGHill at 3:11 PM on 26 July 2005