By the time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original super team earned a modern reboot, screens were already filled with adaptations of Spider-Man, X-Men, Blade, Daredevil, and Hulk. None of these franchises still exist in the same way today with Spider-Man getting a reboot (or maybe two), Blade rounding out a trilogy then dying out, Daredevil spinning off into Elektra and an upcoming TV show, and Hulk undergoing not one but two face-lifts. Among all these successes and shortcomings, The Fantastic Four franchise stands out for its failure. At the time of Fantastic Four‘s release the big two Marvel franchises, namely X-Men and Spider-Man, were still going strong with momentum-sustaining second films. Daredevil and Hulk earned well but fell far short of the box office takes of the bigger franchises.
The story of Fantastic Four‘s release is more convoluted than that of the film itself, with the franchise rights changing hands several times and an unreleased Roger Corman film produced in 1994. With it’s 2005 release of a big-budget Fantastic Four adaptation, Foxwelcomed a second $300 million comic book franchise to its ledger alongside it’s pair of X-Men films. None of Fox’s endeavors could match Sony’s success with Spider-Man but what would be the franchise’s curse is not the film’s earning but its reception. Box office success earned a sequel, but the staying power of the franchise was not enough to complete of the trilogy. Remember that sequel was released in 2007, the so-called “Summer of the Sequel” with Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ocean’s Eleven, Spider-Man all completing trilogies and a number of other films going back for seconds with National Treasure 2, 28 Weeks Later, Hostel II, Evan Almighty and Hot Fuzz‘s continuation of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. But Fantastic Four‘s innocuous start left the foundation weak for a three-peat. Audiences assumed the Fantastic Four would finish a trilogy.
Fantastic Four is not a sour film or completely ineffective. Yet problems plague the film from the start. Like Daredevil and Hulk it suffers from competing interests and poorly learned lessons. The film has the feeling of a scavenger hunt with producers following the list of required inclusions for a modern comic book film. That list is culled from Spider-Man and X-Men and sets the arc for the film. We spend enough time with the characters early in the film to learn about their personalities, like we did with Peter Parker; we watch a transformation and power bestowment, again like Peter Parker; and get power reveals like the X-Men. The villain shares personal history with the characters and is a broken soul, not a completely sinister ghoul. Same goes for Magneto, The Green Goblin, and Doc Ock.
Each box is checked off the recipe list but the product tastes stale. None of the central characters demand our sympathy and the villain is far from compelling. The power reveals are packaged into flippant jokes and gimmicks. Sexy jokes and gimmicks that is, with Jessica Alba standing on a city street topless and a naked Chris Evans welcoming a nurse into his freshly melted snow pit. Once the powers are revealed our heroes transition quickly from astonishment to expert control of their abilities with no learning or trial-and-error, one of the charms of Spider-Man. The Thing’s appearance is not as horrendous as I recalled but the scenes with the Thing in trench-coat and top-hat are as laughable as memory served. Spider-Man, X-Men and X2 featured enjoyable scripts with minimal camp or silliness. Fantastic Four‘s best dialogue rivals the worst of those previous films. Chris Evans is tasked with delivering much of the humor of the film and while he is capable, he lacks the lines to save the film. Based on one trailer and rumors, it appears that the 2015 reboot of the franchise will take on a very different tone.
Bottomline: Jumping in on the upward slope of Phase II, Fantastic Four struggles by succumbing to pressures of previous film’s successes and feels hollow throughout.
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Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Monday, February 2nd with a review X–Men: The Last Stand. Check out the most recent entry in the Blogathon; a review of Blade: Trinity.
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