Friday, June 11, 2010

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

(Over at the Writing Blog, I discuss the basics of what I call space ecology.)

Or Fantastic 4, as its title is usually rendered in its graphics.

I've actually had a DVD of this movie lying around for ages (since shortly after it came out), but every time I suggested to my sister that we ought to watch it, she would mumble vaguely about how the Fantastic Four have always failed to really interest her.

She enjoyed it anyway, though she had complaints. The same is true of myself.

It always bothers me when adaptations radically depart from the original form of a character for no good reason, and on casual inspection, one could interpret some of the changes they made to the characters in this movie as unnecessary changes.

I'll never, for instance, be able to think of "Von Doom" as he appeared in this film as being Doctor Victor von Doom, mostly because he totally fails to be Victor von Doom. But that isn't to say that he's a bad character as such.

It was pretty stupid for Doom to gain his powers from the same source as the Fantastic Four, especially since, in the comic books and every other adaptation, Doctor Doom had no powers (unless you count his magical abilities, which is not considered to be a "power" as such in the comics, merely utilization of training), just sweet armor and lots of gadgets. It made for cool fight scenes and tension building, sure, but that slick, yuppie-like CEO made an utterly unconvincing crazed megalomaniac. (A megalomaniac, sure, but tame by comic book standards.)

No, what worked about Doom is that his motivations for hating the accursed Reed Richards was sensible (well, not "sensible," I suppose-logical, then), rather than merely a combination of misplaced blame for the damage to his face and fury about their college rivalry and being unable to accept that maybe Reed Richards is smarter than he is.

(Momentary aside: I tend to think that Doctor Doom is at least a bit smarter than Reed Richards. Why? Reed Richards is clearly the superior in a number of specific fields, but Doctor Doom at least rivals him in most of those fields, outclasses him in at least a few more [has Reed Richards ever invented a time machine, and if so, how long after Doctor Doom did the same was it?], and further has his skills and knowledge in magical, economic, political, and social endeavors, all areas in which Reed Richards sorely lacks. [In fact, even by comic book polymath standards, Doctor Doom is extravagantly polymathic.] So Doom ranting and raving and being insecure? Pretty stupid on his part. Which is actually kind of believable, because many very smart people are also total morons in some respect.)

A bit more intricate and interesting were the changes they made to Ben Grimm.

On the one hand, I can see why they didn't go with the comic book incarnation. In case you're not adequately familiar with that version, Ben Grimm is not in fact a middle-aged, overweight, implicitly past his prime astronaut... he's a young, handsome, athletic jet jockey turned astronaut. He played football and had nice hair.

So in the comics, his transformation into the Thing was traumatic because he had a great, wonderful life-he was attractive, skilled, and probably quite well-paid. Then, he went to massive, frightening, clumsy, and probably fairly difficult to place in a job, not to mention bald.

Hollywood being what it is, they didn't want to hide a handsome movie star behind the Thing suit. They like their actors' faces being on screen, hence many comic book adaptations trying to dispense with masked costumes. So they chose a dumpy bald guy to play him, figuring that said actor would not object to mostly being a voice actor.

(A bit of a shame, too-the dude's a pretty good actor, really. Possibly my favorite non-action/crazy comic book stuff scene in the movie was when he started to go on his spacewalk, and as the airlock opens into space, he gives one of the deepest smiles I've ever seen on a human being. His smile covered his whole face without being bizarre. That's talent, man.)

Not only that, but lots of people would be at least somewhat unsympathetic to an extremely successful, handsome man who was suddenly transformed into a bizarre-looking indestructible being. Lots of people would have seen it as whiny that he was that upset over it, taking him as rather self-centered.

Which would be why they gave him a wife who loved him, but couldn't handle him being a Thing. Being upset that your spouse left you over something you couldn't control, something that wasn't even necessarily that bad? That's something most people will have some sympathy for.

Of course, it's one of the things about the film that most stuck in my sister's craw, and one of the things that has always bothered her about the Fantastic Four: "What, only blind women can appreciate an ugly guy? WHAT? Also, the Thing wasn't Jewish enough." (In case you're wondering at that remark, it's a reasonably well-known fact that many aspects of Ben Grimm were based on his co-creator Jack Kirby, one such feature being his Jewish faith [another being his cigar-smoking].)

Johnny Storm? Eh, he was pretty much spot on, except that he was probably a little too successful at his, erm, escapades with women. (My sister was quite loudly annoyed.) Sorry, Hollywood, but that kind of character's a huge... erm, well, they're stupid.

Also, they sure loved the fact that Johnny's and Sue's powers encouraged them to take off/destroy their clothes, didn't they?

Eh, whatever. The movie was still pretty good.

-Signing off.

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