Comics/Graphic Novels

I Watched a FANTASTIC FOUR Quadruple Feature So You Don’t Have To

C.P. Hoffman

Staff Writer

By day, C.P. Hoffman writes about digital accessibility and the law; by night, they write about comics, pop culture, books, and gender for Book Riot and other sites. They have lived across North America (Indianapolis > Chicago > New York > Montreal > Indianapolis again), but now reside just outside of Washington, DC. C.P. has a particular affinity for Spider-Women, but also loves Wonder Woman, comics about witches, and stories about time travel. For inexplicable reasons, they also tweet a lot about the Fantastic Four. Twitter: @CPHwriter

It all began when I noticed that the 2015 Fantastic Four film directed by Josh Trank was up on HBO Go, and I thought about giving it a whirl because, honestly, I wanted to see if it was as bad as the reviews said. Then, I discovered Netflix was streaming the 2005 Tim Story-directed film, ooh, and the Roger Corman-produced, but never released, 1994 film was on YouTube… It was decided: I had to watch them all, and I had to live tweet the experience. But, it’s a rule: you can’t have a Fantastic Four triple feature; I had to make it a quadruple feature, or, honestly, it just wasn’t worth doing. So, I threw in The Incredibles, which isn’t technically a Fantastic Four movie, but it may as well be, and, seriously, don’t I get to watch at least one good movie during this experience?

Now, it should go without saying, but here’s your obligatory spoiler warning:

Spoiler Warning

The action started Sunday night just before 10pm with this tweet:

Watching The Fantastic Four—directed by Oley Sassone and produced by Roger Corman—was a surreal experience. Of the four movies, it was by far the most comics accurate, though in an incredibly dated way. Sure, those white collar costumes are ripped straight from the comics, but they scream post-Byrne ’80s FF.

See, I told you.

See, I told you.

For some reason, Corman et al also decided it would be a great idea to keep the Storm boarding house backstory, so we have a whole scene where teenage Sue (played by Mercedes McNab of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!) fawns over Reed and Ben plays video games with a prepubescent Johnny. Later, Reed and Ben go back to the boarding house to pick up Sue and Johnny, who have apparently just been sitting around for a decade waiting to go to space.

The one “good” thing we get out of the boarding house is an utterly ridiculous origin for the team’s name:

The filmmakers also totally double down on Doom’s backstory. He’s the most comics-accurate Doom in any FF film, and he even lives in a castle in Latveria. I mean, check out his throne room:

But, this being a comic book movie, Doom can’t be the only villain; there’s also a weird dude in a trench coat, who I called “Creepy Coat Guy” for like half the movie.

Turns out that was a jeweler’s loop, and he was in fact named “The Jeweler.” I never really figured out what was up with the jeweler-theme; I mean, he stole a “diamond” (it was definitely not a diamond) from Reed & Co early on, but it wasn’t really clear why other than, hey, it’s a jewel and he’s the Jeweler. Mostly he just lived in the sewers and led a group of mangy sewer dwellers who were pretty much just Morlocks with goatees. Also, he for some reason falls in love with Alicia Masters and has her kidnapped so that he can make her his queen of the sewer folk. He makes literally zero sense, but for some reason is featured really prominently in the movie’s trailer. (I’m told he was originally meant to be Harvey Elder, the Mole Man, but the filmmakers didn’t have the rights, so he’s instead a weird jewelry-themed Mole Man expy. Believe it or not, he’s not the only one.)

The movie isn’t all bad, though; it ultimately has a lot of heart, even if it has no budget. It has the feel of something I might have watched on USA’s Up All Night or Mystery Science Theatre 3000 at the exact time it was being made. It’s basically the movie equivalent of a puppy: it’s so campy it’s impossible to stay angry with it for more than a couple of seconds.

And, seriously, what other film would give us this:

A few minutes later, it was on to the 2005 Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four you’re probably most familiar with. You know, the one starring Dark Angel, Captain America, The Commish, Sarah Michelle Geller’s husband from Ringer, and the guy from Nip/Tuck (want to say he was Tuck); the version universally renowned as “the one with Jessica Alba.”

Story had approximately 100 times as much money to spend as Corman/Sassone, and you can tell immediately. We get fancy schmancy opening credits instead of stock footage of space. We get actual action shots instead of awkward cuts designed to make it look like something happened. We get actors you’ve heard of before (nope, Mercedes McNab doesn’t count, cause we heard of her after her appearance in The Fantastic Four).

There’s a lot of wacky silliness that verges on camp here, but it’s actually almost a genuinely good movie. I’m not sold on either Alba or Gruffudd, but Evans and Chiklis are pitch perfect as Johnny and Ben.

But, they never really figure out what to do with Sue. She’s got some characterization, but way too much of her screen time is spent on wacky sexualization.

At one point, Reed totally mansplains to Sue about controlling her powers, and she just fumes instead of creating a tiny forcefield inside his brain.

While Alba isn’t great as Sue, I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame on her. She doesn’t have great material to work with. But at least they only did the “Sue strips down to escape from the crowd” thing once… Oh, wait, nope, they did it twice.

But, the crazy thing is, the movie still works. Or, at least the first 2/3 of it still work. It more or less falls apart during the third act when Doom comes to get his revenge. It just isn’t very exciting, and I’m pretty sure I managed to doze off for a few minutes in there. But, they manage to save the day doing the exact thing I predicted at the beginning of the movie.

And then they celebrate.

At that point, it was 1:40 in the morning, so I went to bed.

Sixteen hours later, I started back up with The Incredibles. If you’ve seen one of these movies, it’s probably The Incredibles. Surprise, it’s also by far the best of the four by a long shot. The Incredibles is kinda like Secretariat at the Belmont, and the camera keeps having to pan to wider and wider shots to even get the other horses/movies in the frame at the same time. But, it’s been almost a decade since I saw it last, and fresh eyes found a lot of flaws in it I hadn’t noticed before.

The movie starts with an extended flashback, which pretty much describes all Pixar movies, come to think of it.

And then we jump to years later and Mr. Incredible keeps going on about the good old days with his bro Frozone.

It was roughly here that I realized this is basically the same movie as The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

As the movie went on, I found myself hating Mr. Incredible with a fiery passion. It wasn’t that I didn’t relate to his “life was better back in the day when I could do that thing I loved” attitude; it was that I couldn’t get past the litany of lies and the patronizing attitude toward Elastigirl.

And I really loved Elastigirl when she got to vent her frustration.

But, of course, she totally forgives him and I wanted to throw something at the TV.

There’s also a surprising amount of sexualization and sexual innuendo for an all-ages cartoon, which was a huge disappointment.

That said, it included a lot of clever moments, and we got our second Mole Man expy of the Quadruple Feature:

(Yeah, clearly in my addled mental state I had forgotten about the Jeweler.)

I was now three-quarters of the way there, and only had one more obstacle in my path: Josh Trank’s critically-panned Fantastic Four from last year.

I hadn’t seen it before, but I obsessively read the reviews when it came out and had developed a theory. The reviews were universally bad, but most in a conflicted sort of way. They often said something along the lines of “this movie was a mess, but…” The result was a horrifically low 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I had trouble believing it was actually a worse cinematic achievement than Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (currently sitting at 16% of RT). Nope, this was a case where Rotten Tomatoes’ binary fresh/rotten categorization failed to account for the nuance of nigh-universal reviews that basically just said “meh.”

Well, let me tell you, I was both right and wrong. This movie was bad. Really bad. But, about 85% of the problems come down to one thing: the narrative structure is all kinds of screwed up. Imagine if you will if the Sam Raimi Spider-Man film had spent forty minutes with Peter before he was bit, another forty minutes before Uncle Ben got shot, and then the Green Goblin showed up in the last ten minutes. That was basically this movie.

There were also some major problems with the tone, which was apparent almost immediately.

On the other hand, we got some really great characters that the filmmakers put some genuine thought into.

The massive exception: Victor. Victor comes off as a complete jerk from the moment he shows up, and never has a remotely endearing moment. You are glad when he gets stuck behind in the other dimension and you hope against hope he’ll somehow never come back.

I think Victor’s problems arise from him having been the victim of extensive changes during rewrites; according to early leaks from the set, Victor was going to be a hacker who went by the name Doom online, which makes sense given how we first see him.

I’m not saying hacker Doom would have been better (OMG, it would almost certainly have been worse), but part of Victor’s problem here is that his character is just incredibly muddled.

Tim Blake Nelson also shows up as a sort of corporate/government stooge, and, with him, we seem to get yet another Mole Man expy. How is this a thing?

Anyway, Kate Mara as Sue was the total standout in this mess, and I was less frustrated every time she was on the screen.

About halfway through I started keeping track of how far into the movie we were and how little had happened.

To give you an idea of how little actually happens in this movie, here’s a description of the final scene:

My assessment:

And, with that, the long national nightmare was finally over. I had reached the end of my marathon of Fantastic Four films, and I had miraculously survived. Just remember; I did it for you, dear reader. I did it for you.

Still haven’t had enough? You can read the entire live tweet over at Storify.