8/21/07

R035 Fantastic Four

(2005, Action-Superheroes, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

This movie has a fetish for defenestration.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A mediocre movie-length sitcom with superheroes in it.

Summary:

We bad...in the literal sense, unfortunately.Broke and desperate, renowned scientist Reed Richards begs his wealthy college pal Victor von Doom for funding to continue his research into cosmic space storm phenomenon. The unmistakably evil Victor agrees, intending to steal and profit from the results.

They go up into space to gather data, along with world-renowned twenty-something supermodel scientist Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her preternaturally obnoxious younger brother Johnny, and Reed’s friend and bodyguard Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis). Various love triangles and rivalry antics ensue—until the cosmic storm arrives, earlier and more powerful than anticipated. The various cast members reveal varying degrees of heroism during their attempts to rescue Ben from an ill-timed space walk. All except for Victor, whose cowardice leads him to lock them all out of the space station’s protective shielding.

Ben awakes some time later in a hospital on Earth, alive and in apparent good health. Everyone goes about their love triangle/rivalry antics until strange things begin to happen. Johnny bursts into flames while seducing a nurse on the ski slopes. Sue drops several rather transparent hints that she’d rather be with Reed than with Victor; the clueless Reed fails to notice, and she turns transparent herself out of frustration. In her surprise, she knocks over wine bottle; Reed’s arm stretches to twice its normal length to catch it. Ben turns into a pile of orange rocks and crashes through a wall in his desperation to escape.

Ben hops a freight train home to see his wife. She comes outside in an inconspicuous negligee to meet him, but flees in horror when she sees his rocky form. The next day he sits disconsolate at the edge of a freeway bridge. A depressed executive-type interrupts his morose cogitation with a suicide attempt. Ben prevents the jump by frightening the man into traffic.

Suicide Man falls down in front of a semi; Ben leaps onto the freeway to demolish it before it can squish him. This leads to a multi-car pileup, which results in a fire truck accident and the explosion of a truck full of oxygen tanks. Fortunately, Reed, Sue, and Johnny happen to be there as well, ready to deal with each emergency with overlong limbs, fire-retardedness, protective force fields, and invisible nudity. The television news crews arrive to turn them all into instant celebrities, apparently oblivious to the fact that they caused all the accidents in the first place. Ben’s wife arrives as well, to throw her wedding ring at his feet.

In the many montage sequences that follow, the foursome sequesters themselves in Reed’s only slightly run-down palatial penthouse laboratory/apartment while they search for a cure. Reed and Sue alternately fight and flirt while Ben mopes and Johnny chafes at his confinement. He breaks out to show off at a motor rally, provoking a fight with Ben and Reed.

Meanwhile, Victor fights for the future of his company, which was somehow thrown into ruination and chaos after the disastrous episode in space. Not only that, but it appears that the space station shield did not protect him from the cosmic storm energy after all, as his body slowly transforms into electrified metal. He murders his corporate rivals with his newfound powers, and then manipulates Ben into trying out Reed’s experimental Cosmic-Storm-Reversal chamber. It works, and Ben becomes human again.

Magic soap bubble, protect me!This is all according to Victor’s evil plan, of course. Now that Ben is soft and pink, Victor throws him through a wall, then twangs Reed several times like a rubber band before throwing him off the building. He takes his elastic nemesis back to his own penthouse office/laboratory for a little frozen torture session.

Sue and Johnny arrive at the laboratory to find Ben in the ruins, having survived his trip through several inches of metal and glass none the worse for wear. They tell him to find a safe place to hide while they go rescue Reed. Johnny sees a heat-seeking missile coming towards him (fired, of course, by Victor) and leaps from the building. He bursts into flames and flies away, leading the missile to impact harmlessly in the ocean. Sue, in the meantime, uses her invisibility to creep into Victor’s lab and release Reed.

Victor catches her, but before he can kill her, Ben bursts through the wall. (I think he somehow reversed the Cosmic-Storm-Reversal chamber to get his rocky powers back, but that’s just an assumption on my part.) The resulting fight sends all involved through large numbers of plate glass windows until everyone finally ends up on a busy street corner. Johnny heats Victor until he’s white hot; Sue puts a force field around them to keep the heat from scorching everyone else; Ben knocks over a fire hydrant; and Reed twists the water stream at the superheated Victor. Somehow this makes Victor’s metal body inflexible, defeating him. The onlookers applaud, though once again the Fantastic Four (as they’ve become known) have done nothing more than cause enormous property damage while taking care of a problem they created in the first place.

In the denouement, Reed proposes to Sue, Johnny irritates Ben, and some electrical interference implies that Victor will be back in the inevitable sequel.

Thoughts:

Perhaps the most irritating interpretation of a comic book superhero ever committed to film.Okay, Victor (a.k.a. Dr. Doom) hates Reed (a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic). Why? Well, Victor’s turning metallic and seems to think it’s Reed’s fault—an accusation I can’t really argue with—but later he decides to embrace his powerful new form, so...I don’t know. I read a Fantastic Four book or two as a youngster, but not far back enough to figure out the origins of this particular supervillain-superhero dispute, and apparently the filmmakers didn’t either. With the reasons thus lost in comic book antiquity, no one seems to think the issue important enough to make up new ones. Victor just hates Reed, and that’s all the filmmakers feel that we, the audience, need to know.

This unsupported devotion to the Fantastic Four mythos applies to the other relationships as well. One of the movie’s few innovations is to make Reed into a whiny, unlikable puss, and Sue into a catty little brat. As a couple they spend more than half of their “love scenes” on nasty, pointless bickering. Why would any two characters this wrong for each other want to get married? Well, they were married in the comic books, and dagnabbit, they’re going to get married in the movie too.

Even the departures from comic book continuity defy reasonable logic. Why do Sue and Reed want to cure their powers instead of use them? Why does Ben’s wife leave him? Why does the blind girl like him? Why is Johnny such a huge, gigantic tool? Does anyone in this movie ever do anything at all for any other reason than “the script told me to?” (Answer: No.) For a really good movie starring these characters (or as close to these characters as makes no difference) allow me to recommend Pixar’s The Incredibles. I’d say this movie is a steaming pile of crap, but that would be unfair. Crap can at least be used as fertilizer.

Fortunately, Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy are on hand to ease our pain. An opening shot of Victor’s metal mask leads to Kevin’s comment, “Al Gore looks like hell before makeup.” Later, when Victor pauses to inspect the humanitarian award plaque on his mask, Kevin adds, “In recognition of humanitarianism: an iron Satan mask.” As Ben’s wrestling match with Victor goes on and on through several windows, Kevin announces, “It looks like clobberin’ time will go into extra innings.” The commentary track lifts this horrible movie well above its source material, making it a lot of fun to watch.