Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fant4stic


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 7 August 2015
Director: Josh Trank
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 155 million
Stars:
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson

The Plot:
Genius scientist Reed Richards’ (Teller) research into teleportation attracts the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Cathey), who invites him to help complete Victor Von Doom’s (Kebbell) “Quantum Gate”, which he recklessly travels through to a parallel dimension alongside his co-workers. Though they are transformed by their exposure, Doom is stranded and Reed becomes a fugitive, but he is forced to repair his fractured relationships when Doom plots to harness the dimension’s  power for his own nefarious ends.

The Background:
Considering that there is some controversy surrounding the creation of Marvel’s First Family of superheroes, perhaps it’s fitting that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s dysfunctional family of intrepid adventurers has had a rocky road towards a big-budget, live-action adaptation. Although German producer Bernd Eichinger’s attempts to get a film off the ground resulted in the production being shut down and the negatives being confiscated to keep it from seeing the light of day, director Tim Story’s efforts at least resulted in actual movies being released. While the films were both modest successes at the box office, they were met with mixed reviews, despite praise for some of their performances, and plans for further movies and spin-offs were cancelled because of this mediocre reception. 20th Century Fox first announced their intentions to reboot the franchise in 2009; the initial script included another interpretation of Galactus but, when director Josh Trank signed on to the film, he immediately set about reworking the script into something more grounded and realistic.

Attempts to kick off a live-action Fantastic Four franchise continuously stalled and failed to impress.

While Trank sought to evoke a specific tone and atmosphere with his new take on the Fantastic Four’s origin, other creators and producers offered contradictory statements regarding the reboot’s connection to Fox’s X-Men franchise (Various, 2000 to 2020), and the film attracted controversy by casting up-and-coming actor Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, a character traditionally depicted as white (though Trank later revealed that he planned to make the entire Storm family black to create more diversity within the team). Additional problems occurred when 20th Century Fox ordered a number of reshoots after being dissatisfied with Trank’s efforts, and the film was further cut up and changed from Trank’s original vision in the editing room. The result was one of the most ridiculed superhero films ever made; Fant4stic’s underwhelming $167.9 million gross made it a box office flop and critics universally panned it, with even Trank actively distancing himself from the finished product. Although 20th Century Fox initially planned to produce a sequel, the film was quietly removed from their production slate; the characters subsequently became the property of Marvel Studios when Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2017 and another reboot was soon announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
While Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 movies may not have bee the greatest superhero or science-fiction tales ever produced, they were decent enough in their own right and seemed to be heading in the right direction with the second film; a third movie, and a spin-off, seemed likely and I have to say that I was a little let down that we never got to see another entry in that series of films. When I first heard that 20th Century Fox were producing a reboot, I was sceptical until I saw the first few trailers; the movie seemed to be advertised as a cross between Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) and easily Trank’s most notable film, the excellent Chronicle (Trank, 2012), with its darker, gritter approach and focusing more on the scientific aspects of the team. I was actually okay with this, and some of the casting changes, and barring one exception everything seemed to be shaping up okay…until I started hearing that it really wasn’t very good and saw how poorly it performed. When I first saw it, I remember actually thinking it wasn’t that bad, but it’s true that it’s probably my least-watched of the three commercially released movies.

Reed and Ben’s prototype for a teleporter eventually catches the attention of Franklin Storm.

Fant4stic separates itself from its predecessors by beginning in 2007 to show us Reed’s childhood as a child genius (Owen Judge) who has aspirations of building a teleportation device; although he is mocked by students and even his teacher, Mr. Kenny (Dan Castellaneta), for his claims to already be building the device, he catches the eye of young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann). While Reed is unfazed by the mockery he receives, Ben comes from a rough neighbourhood and an even rougher home where he is continuously abused by his brutish older brother, Jimmy (Chat Hanks), and forms a fast friendship with Reed when he sees first-hand that the boy’s prototype (powered by a number of Nintendo 64’s and materials scrounged from Ben’s family junkyard) is able to transport matter to an unknown dimension (though it also causes a massive blackout in the process). Seven years later, the now grown-up friends confidently display their newest prototype at their high school’s science fair (despite clearly being in their mid-thirties rather than around seventeen/eighteen); although Reed’s device is still a little wonky and destructive, it nevertheless works but, oddly, Mr. Kenny continues to be unimpressed (labelling it as a magic trick), and Reed is left dejected at the response to his lifelong project.

Doom agrees to work with the team despite his distrust of the suits overseeing the project.

His sprits soon turn, however, when Dr. Storm and his daughter, Sue (Mara), approach him, seeing the potential in Reed’s research and impressed by his progress; Storm has been working on a similar project but has been unable to retrieve matter from the source dimension, and immediately offers Reed a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation so that he can help them finalise an interdimensional transporter. Reed jumps at the chance to move to the city and be appreciated for his intellect for a change and, though it means being separated from his childhood friend, Ben fully supports his academic endeavours. Reed awkwardly tries to strike up a conversation with Sue, an intelligent young woman in her own right who uses music to help her concentrate on her work and specialises in “pattern recognition”. Still, Storm’s project attracts scrutiny from Doctor Harvey Allen (Nelson), who doesn’t subscribe to Storm’s claims of alternative dimensions, or his tendency to recruit children from science fairs or unpredictable wild cards like Victor Von Doom. Reimagined as a reclusive, unappreciated genius, Victor distrusts the military and governmental officials behind the Baxter Foundation but agrees to return to the project out of his affection and trust for Sue. Initially, Victor is so paranoid that he believes that Reed stole his research, but despite being critical of Reed’s childish drawings, is nevertheless impressed with his efforts; although he has little faith in the future of humanity or Storm’s dreams of using the Quantum Gate to repair the environmental damage done to the world, he’s willing to work alongside Sue and Reed on the proviso that they get to be the first ones through the gate to explore this mysterious other dimension.

The team is joined by Johnny and forever transformed by Planet Zero’s wild energies.

To complete the project, Storm drafts in his outspoken, hotshot son Johnny (Jordan), a rebellious youngster who’s more interested in street racing than putting his incredible engineering talents to good use alongside his father. Resentful of his father’s work, which has left him feeling undervalued, Johnny is forced to join the project after smashing up his car, but forms a fast friendship with Reed after he actually speaks to and treats him with some respect on a peer-to-peer level. In time, the four complete the Quantum Gate and successfully transport a chimp to this other dimension, dubbed “Planet Zero”, a primordial world of chaos that Storm believes holds the key to understanding human evolution and providing clean, renewable energy sources for the entire planet. However, the team is distraught and angered when Allen refuses to allow the four to be the first to travel to Planet Zero, resulting in them deciding the make the trip against orders after getting half-cut on alcohol. Intoxicated, Reed calls Ben and insists that he join them in making the trip, and in a bizarre turn of events Ben is transported alongside Reed, Johnny, and Victor while Sue…stays behind in the control room and wasn’t even asked to be a part of the experiment. In fact, she only finds out that they’re using the machine when her computer alerts her, meaning that she misses out on visiting the new world, which turns out to be an extremely hostile environment and home to a protoplasmic substance. However, when a series of eruptions force them back into the Quantum Gate, Victor is left stranded and the three are bombarded with the strange energy of the planet, which fundamentally alters their genetic structure to bond them with the four elements of the planet (with Sue being caught by a burst of energy from the returning gate).

The four’s powers are presented as monstrous, painful, and unstable genetic abnormalities to be feared.

Unlike in the 1994 movie and Tim Story’s first film, the four are immediately and horrifically changed by this process; Johnny is left a burning body, Ben is buried under a pile of alien rocks, Sue flickers in and out of sight, and Reed’s limbs are left strewn around the ruined laboratory. Following this, the four are subjected to a series of studies and tests by governmental officials as their powers rage out of control. Interestingly, in this version of the story, neither Ben or Johnny can control their powers; Johnny requires a specially-modified suit to regulate his flames, and even Reed struggles to concentrate on keeping himself in proportion, making the four’s abilities far more monstrous and dangerous as a result. Since she wasn’t at ground zero like the others, Sue’s powers are far more stable and, in time and with training, she’s able to control them, but Ben is left in constant pain and horrified by his rock-like appearance. Terrified and guilt-ridden, Reed flees the facility and goes on the run in a desperate attempt to stabilise his condition and find a cure for Ben’s hideous affliction, however this results in Allen manipulating Ben into becoming a weapon for the government and preparing Johnny for the same fate. After a year in hiding, Reed is finally tracked down by Sue, brought in by the enraged Ben, and agrees to complete a new Quantum Gate in return for the resources to cure his friends, and himself, of their dangerous powers, only to find that Victor also survived and has been irrevocably and dangerously altered by Planet Zero.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned above that Fant4stic is far more focused on the scientific content of the film, and that’s true; once Reed arrives at the Baxter Foundation, he is awestruck by the scope, resources, and technology offered by the facility and much of the film’s first act is devoted entirely to the fledgling team and Victor’s efforts to finalise the Quantum Gate. This involves a hefty montage of such science stuff involving Reed and Victor scribbling on a whiteboard, Sue creating the team’s protective suits, and the construction of the Quantum Gate itself. This is juxtaposed with the four slowly bonding over time, sharing meals and a real enthusiasm for the work they’re doing, though Ben is noticeably absent from the entire team-building process as Reed never once thinks to bring him in on the project.

The government takes an immediate interest in the military applications of the four’s powers.

Once the team returns from Planet Zero, the film takes a dark and dramatic turn; as a stereotypical governmental sleazeball, Allen is determined to not only take advantage of Ben, Johnny, and Sue to sell them as assets to the military, but to also mine the transformative properties of Planet Zero for similar uses. While Johnny is all for using his powers for something worthwhile, and pushing them (and himself) to the limit, Sue is determined to not be used as some tool for the government like Ben, who has become a despondent and stoic killing machine in Reed’s absence. While I question the casting of Jamie Bell in the role of Ben since he lacks the physicality and stature typically associated with the character, he does a pretty good job at portraying a loyal friend to Reed and the Thing’s torment at the emotional and physical pained caused by his grotesque transformation. Kate Mara is a much better fit for Susan Storm compared to Jessica Alba since she’s not some glamorous supermodel cosplaying as the Invisible Girl; instead, she’s a smart and slightly quirky scientist in her own right and has far better chemistry with Reed and Johnny than Alba’s version of the character. All I ever hear is people banging on about the reshoots and Mara’s wig but I can’t say it really bothered me that much or was even something I noticed; similarly, I really enjoyed Teller’s version of Reed as an awkward but likeable young man who is incredibly smart but still very relatable, and Michael B. Jordan delivered a great performance as the Human Torch thanks to his boundless charisma. The only real criticism I had about the casting was to do with some of the script and narrative choices; leaving Ben out of the team means that we don’t really get to see the same rapport between him and Johnny as in the previous movies and comics (Johnny generally directs his snark towards Victor instead), but otherwise this was a really strong cast.

CGI is used to bring the four to life, and for the most part it holds up pretty well and does a decent job.

One area where Fant4stic excels above its predecessors is in the CGI and special effects used to bring the titular heroes to life; while I have to say that I do prefer a practical suit to be used for the Thing, the CGI employed here goes a long way to emphasising just how monstrous and fearsome this version of the character is. A hulking, destructive being of superhuman strength and durability, the tragedy of the Thing is only heightened by his grotesque appearance and his being turned into a weapon by Allen. Similarly, the fire effects used to render the Human Torch are worlds better than in the previous film and probably some of the best fire effects I’ve ever seen, resulting in him being a fittingly blazing inferno. Sue’s invisibility is about the same, though there’s more of a blue tint to her forcefields and such; generally, her powers are used more to protect the others from harm and to allow the Thing to get the drop on Doom in the finale, meaning the vast potential of her abilities is again set aside in favour of trying to highlight each member of the time. Finally, there’s Reed; while he looks a little plasticy when he’s all stretched out following his return to Earth, his elasticity mostly looks much better (while his cobbled together suit isn’t massively comic accurate, it seems more suited to the CGI than the blue used in the last films) and we even get a scene that better showcases his ability to disguise his features.

Doom ends up being a raggedy, obsessive ass who wants to reshape the world in his image.

Rather than being a despicable monarch or a sleazy corporate scumbag, this version of Victor Von Doom is an arrogant, cynical slimeball who believes himself to be the most intelligent person in any room and who is obsessed with Sue (why that has to keep happening in these films is beyond me). Determined that the world will remember his name for his contributions to science, he refuses to be forgotten in favour of some hot-shot astronaut and his obsessions lead to him blundering into Planet Zero’s protoplasmic substance without thought for the consequences, causing the planet to erupt around them, granting the four their powers, and leaving him stranded on Planet Zero, where he is consumed by its strange energies. Infused with his suit and with a mysterious, otherworldly power coursing through his veins, Victor is transformed into a monstrous and vicious being who exhibits deadly telekinetic powers that he uses to explode people’s heads, repel bullets, and lay waste to the facility in order to return to Planet Zero. Driven mad by his powers and time in isolation, Victor takes the name “Doom” and plans to turn the destructive energies of Planet Zero against the Earth in order to forever transform it, reshaping it in his own image in order to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, killing both Allen and Storm in the process and refusing to listen to reason. To put an end to Doom’s plot to destroy the world using a black hole, the four travel to Planet Zero, where they find themselves overwhelmed by Doom’s command of the landscape; when their individual efforts to stop Doom are met with failure, the four set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat him. Following a co-ordinated assault using all of their powers in unison, the four are able to set Doom up so that the Thing can smash him into his own energy beam, disintegrating him and sparing the Earth (though the immediate area is left devastated). In the aftermath, the four are commended by the United States government and enter into an agreement where they are afforded the freedom to operate independently in return for lending their services for the good of the world as a superpowered team.

The Summary:
I’m a bit torn, to be honest; I feel there’s a lot of potential in Fant4stic, especially in the cast and the general direction that the film took. Focusing on the science and being this more gritty, grim retelling of the team’s origin was a good way to separate it from what had come before (which, to be fair, is essential for a good reboot), but I can see why this would have put off long-term or even casual Fantastic Four fans. There are some stumbles in the story that I seriously doubt even a director’s cut could fix; not having Ben be part of the Quantum Gate team until the machine is complete being chief among them, as is Sue not accompanying the team to Planet Zero, both of which were very strange choices to make. I liked that the film tied the team’s origin in with an adaptation of the Negative Zone to help mix things up, and having the Thing be tormented by physical pain and turned into a tool for the military was an interesting wrinkle to add to the story, as was the focus on the government desiring to harness and manipulate the team’s powers and those of Planet Zero. As ever, it’s the depiction of Doom where the film falters; had the script stuck to the original idea of him being a herald for Galactus, this may have helped with this new depiction of the character, but this is still a far cry from the maniacal despot of the comics and I almost feel like it would’ve been better to leave Doom’s fate unresolved and have the team battle a Planet Zero native, someone like Annihilus maybe, and tie up Doom’s loose end in the sequel. But, then again, I doubt even that change would have helped a sequel being produced, and that’s a real shame as I feel like a follow-up could have really improved upon the missed potential of this film and given everyone a bit more time to shine. Overall, I find myself actually enjoying this more than I expected, but it’s maybe a little too far away from the source material and the core of what makes these characters work, though I don’t actually think it deserves as much hate as it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Fant4stic? Were you a fan of the new cast and their depictions of the characters and what did you think to Johnny Storm being race swapped? Were you disappointed that Ben wasn’t a part of the machine’s construction and that Sue didn’t travel to Planet Zero? What did you think to the depiction of Victor Von Doom this time around? Do you think CGI is a better way to bring the Thing to life or did you prefer the practical suits of the previous films? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film, or an extended director’s cut release someday? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever your thoughts on Fant4stic, you can sign up to leave a comment below or let me know on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 15 June 2007
Director: Tim Story
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 130 million
Stars:
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Now regarded as popular celebrities, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Alba) find their attempts to get married constantly interrupted by a media circus. Just as they are about to tie the knot, an extraterrestrial dubbed the “Silver Surfer” (Jones/Fishburne) arrives, causing havoc with the team’s powers and catching Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom’s (McMahon) attention as it prepares the world for consumption by a cosmic being known only as “Galactus”.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s family of dysfunctional superheroes have had quite the chaotic journey to the big screen; their 1994 movie was never released and the eventual big-budget adaptation was met with mixed reviews after being in Development Hell for around ten years. Still, Fantastic 4s (Story, 2005) modest box office success of $333.5 million saw not only the release of an Extended Edition but also the return of director Tim Story and the entire cast for a sequel. Screenwriters Mark Frost and Don Payne came onboard to pen the screenplay and the duo drew significant inspiration from both the original “Galactus Trilogy” (Lee, et al, 1966) and an altered version of that same story seen in Ultimate Marvel (Ellis, et al, 2004 to 2006). The duo aimed to focus more on the enigmatic Silver Surfer than the Devourer of Worlds and there was a lot of speculation and anticipation surrounding the design of Galactus. Much of the film’s promotion was also focused around fan-favourite elements from the original Marvel Comics, such as the Fantasti-Car and the wedding between Reed and Sue, and practical elements such as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s suit were redesigned to allow actor Michael Chiklis to slip it off between takes. The titular Silver Surfer’s digital effects were the work of Weta Digital, who not only completely replaced stuntman Doug Jones with a sleek CGI model but also contributed to the design of Galactus. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer made about $32 million less than its predecessor, coming in with a box office of $301.9 million; though the film’s average review score is higher than the first film, it was also met with mostly mixed reviews, although the general consensus was that it was at least more entertaining than the first film. Plans for a sequel and a spin-off for the Silver Surfer were eventually quashed due to the overall lacklustre response to Story’s films and 20th Century Fox made the disastrous decision to reboot the franchise some eight years later.

The Review:
Fantastic 4 wasn’t really a bad film, really, just quite underwhelming considering some of the outlandish cosmic adventures Marvel’s First Family often get up to. Do I expect them to battle the likes of Galactus and Kang the Conqueror in their first movie? No, of course not, but maybe exploring the Negative Zone and encountering someone like Annihilus could have been possible with a script re-write (Reed discovers the Negative Zone and that’s where they get their powers from, rather than them going to space) while building towards a showdown with Dr. Doom for the sequel (since he was so underutilised and bland in the first film) and maybe, maybe Galactus for the third and final movie. I can’t, however, say that I’m too surprised that Fantastic 4 got a sequel; back then, mediocre movies were getting sequels all the time and it just seemed natural to do, though I definitely am not a fan of the overly long and wordy “Rise of…” title (Fantastic Four: Doomsday would’ve been better in my opinion, but what the hell do I know, right?)

Reed and Sue’s wedding is disrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who causes global havoc.

Since the end of the last film, the Fantastic Four have become wildly beloved, popular, and successful superheroes; while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Evans) continues to revel in their celebrity status and indulge himself with merchandising and sponsorship deals, Sue is troubled by the constant media storm that surrounds their lives. It’s bad enough that the interference of the press has caused Reed and Sue to continuously postpone their wedding, but Sue worries about what sort of impact the attention they bring and the circus of their day-to-day lives will have on any children she and Reed may have in the future. Sue’s characterisation seems to have taken a bit of a step back in this regard; she actually seems to think it’s acceptable to prioritise her wedding day over the fate of the world, arguably costing Reed valuable time in finding a way to track the entity causing worldwide havoc, and while Alba seems more comfortable in the role of the team’s matriarch, something seems a bit…off about her this time around (I think it’s her dazzling contact lenses). The world is thrown into chaos when the mysterious entity known as the Silver Surfer arrives; wielding the same cosmic powers that gifted the Fantastic Four and Doom with their abilities (a neat little wrinkle that I actually really enjoyed), the Silver Surfer is able to dramatically affect weather patterns across the globe, drying up lakes, bring snowstorms to deserts, and disrupting electrical devices the world over.

General Hager isn’t impressed with Reed, or the four, whom he views as freaks.

Reed is troubled by the disruptions; despite promising Sue that he is going to focus on the wedding, he can’t help but investigate the disturbances and is intrigued to find a link between the cosmic radiation and their powers. Johnny is able to turn Reed’s fascination with the ongoing global disturbances to his advantage and blackmail Reed into having a bachelor party, and though Reed adamantly turns down General Hager’s (Andre Braugher) request that he and the four lend their expertise in solving the global crisis, he ultimately goes back on his word and develops a way of tracking the anomalies out of his desire to help and sheer scientific curiosity. Obviously, Sue is angered by this as she’s obsessed with having that one perfect day even if the entire world is being thrown into chaos around them; Reed is trying to please everyone, as always, but ultimately chooses to stand up to Hager’s abrasive nature and demand a little respect for him and his team if the military actually want them to help. When he sees how upset Sue gets by the whole media circus, however, Reed proposes that they leave it all behind after the wedding, but ultimately they’re both able to come to terms with their crazy lives by the conclusion of the film. The Thing, easily the heart of the team, is in a far better place this time around; having taken to wearing an array of clothes and noticeably much more comfortable with himself and being out in public, he’s developed a brotherly relationship with Johnny and has absolute faith in Reed, even when he predicts the end of the world and suggests the team go their separate ways.

Doom is still somewhat underutilised but comes across a bit better in this film.

Although Reed discovers that the Silver Surfer has been preparing worlds for their eventual destruction all across the universe, the entity’s arrival has a more direct impact on the team when it passes over Latveria and awakens Victor Von Doom. A scarred and ruined mess of a man, Doom begins the film in a much more fitting place than he left it (holed up in a grand castle, glaring at an array of monitors, filled with egotistical mania, and fully embracing his role as a scheming and bitter supervillain). After encountering the Silver Surfer, though, Doom’s appearance is sadly restored by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, ruining any menace he may have had in his armoured guise, and he goes right back to being a sleazy, suit-wearing scumbag. Doom even weasels his way into studying the Silver Surfer further by sharing his data with Hager, who orders him to work alongside the Fantastic Four, much to their chagrin. Of course, Doom’s intentions are far from virtuous; realising that the Silver Surfer draws his powers from his “board”, Doom seeks to separate the silver-hued entity from it, depowering the once-might Sentinel of the Spaceways, so that he can claim it for himself. This allows Doom to briefly come close to matching the formidable threat he poses in the comics, and even don a far more impressive and visually interesting set of armour and spit his famous “Richards!” line, but once again it’s too little too late and Doom gets far too little time in the spotlight.

Contact with the Silver Surfer causes Johnny to swap powers with his teammates.

Instead, much of the film is focused on exploring the impact that the Silver Surfer has on the Human Torch; although he seems perfectly happy living a shallow life of materialism and still likes to crack jokes at both Reed and the Thing’s expense as often as possible, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to take off after the Silver Surfer when he disrupts Reed and Sue’s wedding and finds himself changed as a result of physical contact with the entity. Consequently, Johnny switches powers whenever he touches his teammates, which allows the Thing a brief return to his human form (something that never comes up again, despite Ben’s promise) also causes chaos when the Fantastic Four try to intercept the Silver Surfer in London. Feeling isolated because of the danger he now poses to the team, Johnny is distraught to learn that Reed and Sue are willing to break up the band so that they can lead “normal” lives and is forced to learn to set aside his ego and put the team before himself. This all culminates in him absorbing the powers of the entire team in order to match Doom’s stolen cosmic powers in the finale, basically transforming him into a version of Kl’rt/Super-Skrull and kind of negating his character arc since it takes one individual with all of the team’s powers to defeat Doom rather than the combined efforts of the team proper.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Strangely, considering that Rise of the Silver Surfer essentially deals with the impending destruction of the entire world, the film’s tone is as light and whimsical as the last film, for the most part, but the comedy definitely lands a lot better this time around. Johnny’s wisecrack about the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), potentially dying in a rockslide is hilarious, as is Sue using her powers to force Reed to listen to her, her “I’m on fire!” exchange with Reed, and Johnny’s all-too-brief transformation into a Thing-like creature. Having lived and operated together for some time now, the team has settled into their dysfunctional family dynamic quite nicely; out in the field, they tend to quarrel and discuss their personal dramas, which angers Hager, who sees them as freaks who can’t take threats seriously as they’re too busy bickering with each other. This leads to an impressive moment for Reed as he finally stands up for himself, and his team; in fact, Reed has adjusted to his role as the team’s leader extremely well compared to his characterisation in the first film. He’s still an easily distracted and awkward nerd, but he’s much more confidant in directing the team and keeping them focused in the field, at least until Johnny’s new powers cause disruption amongst the team.

The Silver Surfer prepares the world for this master’s arrival, who he dare not defy.

Sue ends up playing a pivotal role in humanising and characterising the mysterious Silver Surfer; a stoic and wholly alien lifeform, the entity is like living liquid metal, reflecting everything around him in his silvery skin and slicing through the air and even the vastness of space with a fluid-like ease. Impossibly fast and incredibly powerful, the Silver Surfer can not only cause chaotic events to happen all over the world and create ominous craters in the planet’s very crust, he’s also easily able to shrug off Doom’s electrical bolt, out-pace and exhaust Johnny in the upper atmosphere, and pass through Sue’s invisible barrier. Fascinated and intrigued by the Silver Surfer’s beauty, Sue questions the entity as to his motivations, which causes enough of a distraction to separate the Silver Surfer from his board and allow him to be captured by Doom and Hager. While the Silver Surfer has never exhibited such an obvious weakness in the comics, as far as I am aware, it’s necessary to render him vulnerable and exposit key information about the Silver Surfer’s master, the malevolent Galactus. Helpless and powerless without his board, the Silver Surfer reveals to Sue that he was once known as Norrin Radd and is bound to lead the entity to worlds for it to devour in order to spare his own, but takes no pleasure in this fact and finds himself besotted by Sue as she reminds him of his lost love. The Silver Surfer also reveals that his board draws Galactus closer, but initially refuses to use its power to repel his master since he dare not defy the World Devourer.

Some big set pieces and special effects keep things interesting, with the Silver Surfer being the highlight.

Surprisingly, the Fantastic Four’s costumes haven’t really been changed all that much from the last film; they seem a little darker, and maybe a little more refined here and there, but mostly appear to be identical, which is very unusual as superhero sequels usually always introduce new costumes for the characters. Thankfully, Doom definitely looks much better this time around; I could have done without seeing him return to normal in the middle there, but he definitely makes up for it in the finale with his more regal and detailed armour. The four have firmly established themselves in the Baxter Building and no longer have any money troubles; instead, they have all the resources they could ask for thanks to Reed’s patents and Johnny’s endorsement deals to franchise the team out to anyone and everyone. Reed’s focus is still on the science, and using his genius and the team’s abilities to help others, but he’s not above creating new toys for the team to use, such as the futuristic and criminally underused Fantasti-Car. While the Thing looks just as good as ever thanks to the impressive practical suit, some of the CGI and special effects have taken a bit of a hit, most notably Reed’s stretching powers (though this could just be because they’re showcased more often here). Still, the film has some impressive action set pieces on offer, such as the team’s efforts to repair the damaged London Eye, and the effects used to bring the Silver Surfer to life are absolutely top-notch. The Silver Surfer appears unsettlingly alien and unnaturally fluid; the chase between him and Johnny is quite exhilarating and the way he just kind of hovers and slips into frame is incredibly unnerving, and I think it was a wise move to spend more of the film focusing on the Silver Surfer as an antagonistic and mysterious force rather than the Devourer of Worlds.

Galactus may have just been a disappointing cosmic cloud but at least they tried to bring him to life.

Speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Galactus; one of Marvel’s most iconic and destructive cosmic entities, Galactus gained notoriety for being represented as a gigantic, abstract space cloud. I can understand the backlash about this as Galactus represents one of the most morally grey entities in the Marvel universe (he has to “eat” worlds in order to satisfy his great hunger, and does so not out of malice or evil but simply because he has to in order to survive and his existence is part of the cosmic balance of death and rebirth) and reducing him to a swirling, indistinct mass of cosmic energy is quite an insult to die-hard comic book fans. I can also understand the apprehension; these Fantastic Four movies are clearly drawing inspiration from Fox’s original X-Men trilogy (Various, 2000 to 2006) and going for a more grounded take on the comic’s more fantastical elements and the filmmakers definitely seem to have thought that a gigantic humanoid clad in purple armour stomping around New York City was probably a step too far. I, however, disagree and think these films (and any future Fantastic Four films) should totally embrace the more bonkers aspects of the source material, but I do have to applaud the filmmakers for even using Galactus in the first place. They didn’t have to do that and it’s pretty ballsy to jump into the character for the team’s second movie as how the hell do you top a world-devouring entity? Also, they seem to have pulled inspiration from “Gah Lak Tus”, the Ultimate version of the character that was a swarm of robotic drones rather than one massive being; the shadow and fiery silhouette of Galactus and his ship can also be briefly seen, hinting that the cloud is masking the being’s true form, and the proposed Silver Surfer spin-off was also supposed to reveal the character in full. Additionally, seeing  Galactus’ smoky tendrils devour that world at the start, watching it ominously advance through the galaxy and learning about its destructive history, and the shot of it preparing to swallow the Earth whole are all really effective at building a sense of awe and dread around the entity. I can definitely see that the filmmakers had some good intentions with the character but the execution does fall a bit flat; I think maybe it would have sufficed to see a gigantic hand reaching out from the cloud, or see hints of Galactus’ helmet poking through the storm and maybe his eyes glistening, but, again, I admire that they even tried to use the character, if nothing else.

After repelling Galactus, Reed and Sue finally marry and the Silver Surfer is freed from his master.

Despite the threat of Armageddon looming ever closer, Doom manipulates events to get his hands on the Silver Surfer’s board; conveniently cobbling together a wrist-mounted device that somehow allows him to assume control of the board, and thus the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, Doom kills Hager in spectacular fashion and refuses to give up his newfound power even in the face of worldwide destruction. In the process, Doom kills Sue when she takes a shot to protect the Silver Surfer, which finally convinces him to rebel against Galactus. After Johnny absorbs the abilities of his teammates in order to separate Doom from the board in an all-too-brief fist fight, thus restoring the Silver Surfer to full strength, the Silver Surfer uses the Power Cosmic to resurrect Sue and heads up into the atmosphere to confront Galactus as the titanic cloud prepares to drain all life and energy from the planet. There, in the centre of the swirling, chaotic mess of cosmic energy, he renounces his service and uses all of the board’s power to dissipate Galactus in a very obvious Christ metaphor, presumably transporting it away or destroying it outright, and is assumed dead from the exertion. In the aftermath, Johnny is returned to normal (though I think it would have been a nice touch to allow Ben to change to and from the Thing at will as a result of contact with the Silver Surfer), Reed and Sue finally marry in a small ceremony away from prying eyes, and the team resolves to stick together, even with the chaos of the superhero fame, while the Silver Surfer is revealed to have survived in the depths of space.

The Summary:
Well, this was certainly a step up from the last film; the cast, dialogue, and world definitely all seems to feel a lot more comfortable and work a lot better, and overall Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a much more enjoyable movie since it doesn’t have to be bogged down with an origin story or explaining and exploring the team’s powers. The characters all seem very familiar with each other and gel as a dysfunctional family, operating as a cohesive team in the field while still bickering and having interpersonal dramas regarding their superhero celebrity status. The banter between Ben and Johnny remains the clear highlight of the four, though I much preferred Reed this time around (leadership definitely suits him), with Sue remaining the weak link for me just because of the way Jessica Alba is presented and the fact that she’s so woefully miscast as the Invisible Girl. Doom looked and acted a bit more like his boastful comic book counterpart, but was again way too underutilised for a villain of his stature, but thankfully the film does a brilliant job of bringing the Silver Surfer to life. Mysterious, powerful, and inhuman, the Silver Surfer is also vulnerable and tragic and a true visual marvel. Yes, it’s massively disappointing that one of Marvel’s most enigmatic and iconic entities is reduced to a mere cloud, but I do admire the filmmakers for daring to even utilise Galactus and it’s clear that they had plans to do him justice in a later film, but again I feel like if you’re going to go big like that just go all-in and leave it all on the table.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Did you feel it was an improvement over the last film or were you just as disappointed with this effort? What did you think to the sub-plot of Johnny being able to absorb the team’s powers? Did you like the depiction and characterisation of the Silver Surfer or do you feel he was a little underpowered compared to the source material? What was your reaction when Galactus appeared as a giant cloud and would you like to see the character done justice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some day? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Sign up to share your thoughts on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the comments below, or drop your thoughts on my social media, and check back in next Friday for one last Fantastic Four review.

Back Issues: Fantastic Four #52/53

Writers: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – Artist: Jack Kirby

Story Title: “The Black Panther!”
Published:
12 April 1966 (cover-dated July 1966)

Story Title: “The Way It Began…!”
Published:
10 May 1966 (cover-dated August 1966)

The Background:
The popular story behind the Fantastic Four is that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman wanted then-editor Stan Lee to create a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used the opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a quick synopsis of a dysfunctional superhero family for legendary Jack Kirby to work on, thus creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration. While Kirby disputed this story, the two are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family – Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl, and her brother Johnny, the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing – whose comic books eventually introduced characters and concepts that would forever impact Marvel Comics. One such character was T’Challa, the Black Panther, whose name and appearance actually predate the Black Panther Party in a strange coincidence; initially dubbed the Coal Tiger in Kirby’s concept art and briefly flirting with the name Black Leopard, the Black Panther is notable for being the first-ever black superpowered character in comic books. Like the Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby disputed which of them came up with the character and concept of the Black Panther, though both claimed to have created the character out of a desire to include more racial diversity in their publications. Soon after his debut appearance, the Black Panther made several guest appearances in numerous Marvel Comics before hits first critically acclaimed series and graduating to a short-lived solo title in 1977. The Black Panther became a pretty consistent presence in Marvel’s line-up, building his own supporting cast, joining the Avengers, forming the super secret superhuman cabal known as the Illuminati, and featuring in a number of pivotal Marvel events and politically charged storylines. The Black Panther is also no stranger to adaptation, featuring in the 1994 Fantastic Four cartoon, getting his own Marvel Knights motion comic series, and being brought to life in live-action by the late Chadwick Boseman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) proved to be a spectacular critical and commercial success and, as the sequel is due out this Friday, this seems like a great excuse to revisit his debut story arc.

The Review:
“The Black Panther!” opens with three of the Fantastic Four (Reed, Sue, and Ben) flying through the skies of New York City in a fancy, high-tech craft unexpectedly gifted to Reed by a mysterious African chieftain known only as the Black Panther. Powered by magnetic waves, the ship is extremely nimble and manoeuvrable, but Ben is less than thrilled by the experience, which makes him more than a little air sick (to the surprise of even Sue, since Ben is an ex-air force pilot). After concluding their little joyride, the three land on the roof of the Baxter Building to chat with the Black Panther’s emissary; the enigmatic robed ambassador allows them to keep the futuristic craft if they accept an invitation to join the Black Panther (who goes unnamed beyond this throughout the arc) as honoured guests in the kingdom of Wakanda, where “the greatest hunt of all time” will be held in honour of their visit. Marvelling at the Wakandan’s clearly advanced technology and eager to see more, and noting that the team could do with a vacation, Reed accepts to invitation and the emissary sends word back to his nation using a peculiar communication device that uses “Cosmic Channel Waves” to instantaneously send messages across the globe. In the faraway jungle city of Wakanda, the chieftain rejoices at having correctly guessed that his invitation would be accepted and enters a vast, highly advanced bunker held within a colossal stone statue of a panther where he garbs the sleek, form-fitting “stalking costume” of the Black Panther to prepare for the team’s arrival.

The cunning Black Panther catches the Fantastic Four completely off guard.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the story switches over to Johnny Storm, who’s stressing over his recent exams when his teammates literally drop in on him to bring him along on their trip. Unfortunately for me (but not, as we’ll see, the team or the plot), Johnny asks to bring his roommate, college athlete Wyatt Wingfoot (one of comic’s most boring and unnecessary characters) along as well. Johnny is grateful for the distraction, however, as it keeps him from pining over Crystalia Amaquelin, a beautiful Inhuman girl he recently met who’s currently trapped (alongside the rest of her race) behind an impenetrable barrier (the story even briefly cuts away to show that all of the Inhumans’ incredible powers are as nothing compared to the “Negative Zone” shell that the mad Inhuman, Maximus Boltagon, has sealed them within). Once the team enter Wakanda, they’re both in awe, and suspicious, of the lush, verdant jungle that greets them. Although Wakanda shows no signs of industrialism or human pollution, it is merely a façade for the sprawling, technical jungle made up of a veritable chaos of computer dynamos, mechanical apparatus, and elaborate tubes and wires. Naturally, Reed is enthralled at the scientific wonders on display, but he tempers this with caution, which is only ignited when their guide suddenly spirits away to an elevator. Unimpressed with the wonderous technology surrounding them and suspecting a double-cross, the Thing leaps into action without hesitation and suffers a massive electric shock that leaves him “as weak as a blamed Yancy Streeter” (because we had to constantly have those Yancy Street references in Ben’s dialogue back then) and thus vulnerable when the Black Panther suddenly strikes to begin the great hunt…with the Fantastic Four as the prey! The Black Panther easily dodges Mr. Fantastic’s elongated fist, and just as easily tricks the Human Torch into flying into a fireproof trap that subdues him with an asbestos lining and powerful vacuum blasts. While the Black Panther watches them from the shadows, the Thing recuperates his strength and Wyatt and Reed stress that they need to think ahead as they have no idea what other boobytraps await them. In an effort to be useful and put his Native American ancestry to good use, Wyatt runs off to scout the area, meaning he’s not around when Wakandan soldiers suddenly rush in and blast Reed, Sue, and Ben with “magnetic polarity guns” that cause them to violently repel off each other like human pinballs.

After overcoming the Black Panther’s assault, the Fantastic Four learn his tragic origin.

Though the Invisible Girl tries to outwit their pursuer by turning invisible, the Black Panther’s keen senses easily lead him to her and he’s so fast that he’s able to leap inside of her forcefield as she’s raising it and render her unconscious with a blast of sleep gas. Rather than heed Wyatt and Reed’s suggestion, the Thing stops for a drink of water and finds his strength sapped once more, allowing the Black Panther (who boasts of being the continent’s boxing champion) to go toe-to-toe with him. In the end, though, it’s Ben’s impulsive nature that is his undoing as he blindly charges into a refrigeration unit and ends up frozen solid! Somehow, Wyatt stumbles across a hidden observation post and makes short work of those stationed there (though, realistically, you’d think Wakanda’s soldiers would stand more of a chance against some roided-up football star…), trashing the equipment to disrupt the Black Panther’s communications, but it’s of little consequence to the chieftain’s battle with Mr. Fantastic. Plunging the room into complete darkness, the Black Panther easily out-fights the elasticated scientist and successfully completes his hunt by trapping Reed in titanium cuffs. However, the Back Panther’s hard-fought victory is short lived as Wyatt frees Johnny from his trap, catching him completely off-guard; he’s even more off balanced when the entire team regroups around him, their strength restored and free from their confinement thanks to Wyatt and Johnny. Outnumbered and humbled in defeat, the Black Panther unmasks with the promise of revealing his motives and explaining his tragic origin story; this is related in “The Way It Began…!”, which finds the five being treated to a traditional Wakandan ceremony of friendship. Again, while the others are in awe of Wakanda’s technology and self-sufficient, primitive ways, the Thing is unimpressed and rudely dismissive of the Black Panther’s origin story since he’s seen it a hundred times in films and books about Tarzan. While casually lighting up a cigarette, the Black Panther regales them with the story of his warrior king father, T’Chaka, who pledged his life to defending the people’s virtually inexhaustible supply of super rare, super expensive, super absorbent “Vibranium”. However, when the unscrupulous mercenary known as Klaw, Master of Sound, led heavily armed goons into Wakanda to steal the Vibranium and power his “sound transformer” (which would let him change sound waves into any living form he can conceive), T’Chaka was brutally gunned down for opposing him. Despite the Wakandan’s advanced technology and tribal lifestyle, they are a largely peaceful nation and had no defence against Klaw’s machine guns and T’Chaka’s entourage are mercilessly gunned down, leaving only the young prince to stand against them.

The Fantastic Four hold back Klaw’s sound creatures while the Black Panther avenges his father.

As Klaw and his men burned down the village and slaughtered everyone, the grief-stricken youth turned Klaw’s sound blaster against him, destroying their weapons, damaging Klaw’s hand, and finally driving him from their lands in humiliation and defeat. Now, ten years later, the Black Panther has amassed a vast fortune from selling Vibranium to “various scientific foundations”, constructed his elaborate mechanised jungle “for a lark” to test his skills, and relates that his incredible superhuman abilities and senses come from special herbs and rigorous secret rituals. After a lifetime of preparation, he decided to hone all of his skills against the “supreme test”, the Fantastic Four, so that he’d know that he was truly ready to battle Klaw once more. Although the Black Panther knew that Klaw was planning to return at some point, the so-called Master of Sound conveniently makes his return in suitably dramatic fashion right as this origin story is wrapped up with a massive red gorilla made entirely of sound waves. Despite Wakanda’s best efforts, the beast absorbs any attack and hurls it back as a pure, devastating rush of destructive sound waves. Now that they’re all on the same page, the Fantastic Four (and Wyatt…) leap into action alongside the Black Panther to combat the beast, which shows no fear of the Human Torch’s flames and blasts the Thing aside with a sonic boom, completely invulnerable to conventional attack as it’s comprised of living sound and simply strikes back with a magnified version of whatever force is thrown at it. Rather than attack the creature head-on, the Black Panther goes directly to the most likely source of its creation, a large cave kitted out with more of Kirby’s bizarre mechanical art. There, he finds Klaw, now sporting a “force glove” in place of his shattered hand and the final version of his diabolical master conversion system, which allows him to sic a panther of pure sound energy onto his foe! Although the Thing is unable to triumph over another of Klaw’s creatures, this one a massive elephant, the Black Panther actually battles the panther to a standstill, much to Klaw’s shock. However, Klaw’s attempt to blast the Black Panther with his force glove results only in his beloved machine being destroyed, taking the entire cave and all his creatures with it. Finding solace in the defeat of his father’s killer, the Black Panther is encouraged to use his fortune and abilities to serve all of humanity rather than give up his crusade for justice. And what of Klaw? Defeated, humiliated, and desperate for revenge, he plunges into the master convertor and willingly transforms himself into a being of pure sound so that he may avenge himself on the Black Panther another day.

The Summary:  
This two-issue story arc did a decent job of introducing readers to this striking new character; clad all in black and sporting a superhuman agility and intelligence that is a cut above most Marvel characters, the Black Panther certainly makes an impression even beyond his race. Most prominently, he’s smart and capable enough to lure in the Fantastic Four (which includes one of Marvel’s smartest characters and is easily one of their most powerful and tightly-knit groups) and subdue them with relative ease thanks to his abilities and extensive research into the group. What better way to introduce a new character than by having him best the Fantastic Four, and not just through convenient or overpowered means but by using his wiles? Indeed, while the Black Panther’s abilities are somewhat vague (he boasts of his boxing prowess, agility, and keen senses but they’re not as dramatically on show as you might think) and Wakanda’s technology is seen as wonderous and almost magical, neither of these are explored in much detail so the Black Panther’s accomplishments seem more like skill than him being unnecessarily overpowered. Interestingly, there’s very little social commentary on the Black Panther’s race; Reed and the others are awestruck by Wakanda’s wealth and power and the mixture of traditions and technology, but never does anyone express incredulity that a Black man or a race of Black people could be powerful adversaries or allies. Even the Thing’s unimpressed demeanour is based more on his familiarity with pulp media rather than a disbelief in a Black man’s capabilities, and the entire experience is seen as an eye opening excursion for the team, who are completely caught off guard by how prosperous and dangerous such an out of the way nation is. Similarly, unlike many Black characters (and other characters at this time, particularly women and teenagers), the Black Panther and his cohorts never speak in some stereotypically contrived fashion; there’s no jive talk, no street slang, and no creole to depict them as being “lesser” or one-dimensional clichés and, instead, Wakanda is depicted as a place of very sacred traditions and an almost fantastical place with its mixture of technology and tribal customs.

While the Black Panther and Wakanda impressed, I wasn’t as taken by Wyatt Wingfoot or Klaw.

Although it seems like there’s a strange juxtaposition with this as Wakanda is comprised of a warrior race who wield both spears and special weapons and fully capable of creating these amazing technological wonders, but they’re easily gunned down by Klaw’s assault rifles and weapons, it’s clear that Wakanda has only fortified their defences and technology in the ten years since T’Challa’s death and that things were considerably less advanced before the chieftain’s son began accumulating his wealth and knowledge. There was a lot to like here; the action was fun, particularly in the Black Panther’s methods in subduing the Fantastic Four, and, while Sue often spouts some air-headed dialogue, it’s nowhere near as bad as the blatantly sexist and dismissive shit she normally says. If there are downsides, it’s Kirby’s surreal art (I’m not really a big fan of his overly elaborate and incomprehensible backgrounds) and the presence of Wyatt Wingfoot, who sticks out like a sore thumb and has no place running around with the Fantastic Four. He offers absolutely nothing to the story and he’s really just there to rescue the four after they’re subdued by the Black Panther, which seems incredibly lazy to me and completely unnecessary as the Black Panther later reveals that he had no evil intentions towards the team and probably would’ve set them free anyway. Klaw is also a pretty uninspiring and unnecessarily grandiose villain who basically amounts to a glorified ivory trader. He easily guns down T’Challa’s forces with his automatic weapons and the Black Panther’s entire mission is based on wanting to avenge his father’s death at the mercenary’s hands, but he doesn’t really have a visually interesting look (even after acquiring his metal hand…weapon…thing) and his sound creatures seemed overly cartoony. He’s basically just there to give the Black Panther and the Fantastic Four someone to fight against, spawning unbeatable sound creatures, and allowing the Black Panther to end the threat and thus further paint him as a formidable force. It’s a great cathartic moment for the new hero, for sure, but not a particularly interesting villain to pit him against and Klaw’s aspirations are ended pretty easily. These criticisms aside, the two issues are very enjoyable and it’s easy to see readers being interested to learn more about the Black Panther (whose true name we never learn) and Wakanda (whose society and traditions and technology are just barely touched upon), and I liked seeing the team completely overwhelmed by first his abilities and then Klaw’s sound monsters. For all their smarts and bluster, the Fantastic Four were very much on the back foot here, allowing the Black Panther to take the spotlight, and it went a long way to humbling the team and debuting this visually interesting character in a dynamic way.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to the Black Panther’s debut story arc? Did you enjoy seeing him running circles around the Fantastic Four or do you think he was a little too good in his first appearance? What did you think to Wakanda and Jack Kirby’s artwork? Are you a fan of Klaw or do you agree that he’s quite an underwhelming villain? What are your thoughts on Wyatt Wingfoot and the Inhumans sub-plot that both appeared in the comics at the time? What are some of your favourite Black Panther stories or moments? Whatever your thoughts on Black Panther, sign up to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Fantastic Four and Black Panther content throughout November.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Extended Edition


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’m dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Extended Edition

Released: 8 July 2005
Director: Tim Story
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget: $87.5 to 100 million
Stars:
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon

The Plot:
Doctor Reed Richards (Gruffudd), a genius but timid and bankrupt physicist, is forced to turn to the unscrupulous and wealthy Victor Von Doom (McMahon) to fund an expedition to a space station to study cosmic energy, though a miscalculation sees them bathed in cosmic rays and transformed into superpowered beings. While Reed works to find a cure for their condition, Doom becomes consumed by his powers, forcing the dysfunctional group to set aside their differences and join forces as a superhero team.

The Background:
While I wasn’t really a fan of the Fantastic Four’s debut issue, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s the concept of a dysfunctional family of superheroes went on the be a cornerstone of Marvel Comics, and even saw a decent amount of success in cartoon adventures outside of the comics. Their first effort at a live-action movie, however, didn’t exactly go as smoothly; not only was it hampered by a shoestring budget but the film never saw the light of day as Marvel executive Avi Arad shut down the production and confiscated the film’s negatives to avoid the film’s release tarnishing their brand. German producer Bernd Eichinger still held the rights to the characters, however, and the 1994 film’s universal derision and rushed production didn’t preclude him from continuing to push for a big-budget adaptation of Marvel’s First Family.

Producers continued to pursue a Fantastic Four movie even after the ’94 film got shelved.

With Arad now onboard as a producer, Chris Columbus was initially signed on to write and direct a new film the following year; however, writers and directors continued to join and drop out of the project over the course of around ten years. Eventually, Tim Story, a fan of the comics, signed on for the job and production began in earnest in April of 2004. Star Michael Chiklis lobbied hard for the role of Ben Grimm/The Thing and to don a practical suit to bring the character to life, though the film underwent significant rewrites after the release of The Incredibles (Bird, 2004), which was arguably the best Fantastic Four movie not titled Fantastic Four. Although the film’s $333.5 million box office meant that Fantastic 4 was a decent box office success, the film was met with mixed to mediocre reviews (although the chemistry between Chiklis and co-star Chris Evans was highly praised). To build anticipation for the upcoming sequel, this Extended Edition of the film was released on home media that restored several deleted scenes (including a longer opening title sequence and a strange cameo by Hugh Jackman) to the film, and that will be the version I look at today.

The Review:
Rather than dwelling on the past of its core characters, Fantastic 4 focuses on the present, which is great for getting things going but leaves a few questions unanswered; at the start of the film, Reed and his best friend, former pilot and astronaut Ben Grimm (Chiklis), are presenting to Victor Von Doom the opportunity to study a vast cosmic cloud that hopes to uncover the secrets of life and cure diseases. However, this isn’t the first time Reed’s made this presentation; having been turned down by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and with time and money running out, the two are forced to turn to the “larger than life” Doom for help as they’re in financial ruin. Reed’s finances are in such dire straights that he is forced to sign over 75% of the proceeds and all of the patents to the research to Doom just to get the project off the ground. Reed is even further dumbstruck to find his former flame, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), working as Doom’s Director of Genetic Research, but sets aside any grievances he has literally because he has no other choice and is determined to help people with his research.

Desperate for funding, Reed and Ben turn to the egotistical Victor Von Doom.

While Ben and Sue get along amicably enough and embrace each other as old friends, there are clearly some lingering issues between Reed and Sue; here, they were college sweethearts who dated pretty seriously for a time, but the relationship fell apart after Sue proposed them moving in together and Reed couldn’t quite take that next step. Indeed, Reed’s major character arc is balancing his obvious genius with his awkward social skills; his focus is always on the maths, the research, and the science, to the point where he is more interested in the uniforms made from “unstable molecules” than he is in how hot Sue looks in them (or anything for that matter). Sue is frosty towards Reed at the start of the film, but her icy demeanour soon melts as she sees his genius in action; it’s obvious that she’s still attracted to him, but she wants him to be proactive, take charge of his life, and be a little bold rather than always being so timid and clinical. While Doom believes that he has a chance with Sue, and can turn her head with money and wild gestures, she’s not interested in him beyond a professional relationship; something of a scientist herself, Sue is perfectly capable at holding her own when it comes to the science, which allows her to be so much more capable and world’s beyond the blond bimbo she was characterised as in the last film and the early comics. Sadly, though, as attractive as Jessica Alba is, I can’t help but feel like Sue was miscast; there’s a reason why Sue ends up in her underwear, after all, and it’s got nothing to do with how smart she is.

Conflict brews between the arrogant, hot-headed Human Torch and the gruff, tragic Thing.

Easily the standout characters in the film are Ben and Sue’s hotshot younger brother, Johnny Storm (Evans); while Ben is as gruff and grim as his namesake, he’s a consummate professional when it comes to his job and a stern military man, which is the perfect foil for Johnny’s brash arrogance. Relishing the opportunity to be his former commanding officer’s superior, Johnny takes every chance to wind Ben up and get under his skin; a show-off and an adrenaline junkie, Johnny cares more about the limelight and the attention than any kind of moral or scientific implications and prefers to flirt and hook up with as many attractive young women as he can rather than stay devoted to one, like Ben. Consequently, Johnny is the first and only one of the four to actually enjoy his newfound powers, which he immediately sets out to showcase and use for personal gain; his showboating only further aggravates Ben, whose monstrous appearance causes him to be shunned and feared by all, including his fiancé, and Sue’s efforts to curb Johnny’s behaviour do little to spare Ben’s pain.

Doom, a corporate scumbag, gains electrical powers and organic metal skin that send him into a frenzy!

Undeniably, the most altered character from the comic books is Victor Von Doom; rather than being a bombastic, egotistical monarch with a penchant for monologing and dark magic, this version of Doom is my absolute least favourite type of villain: a sleazy corporate slimeball dressed in a suit. Wealthy beyond measure, and chairman of Von Doom Enterprises, Doom has accumulated a vast amount of money and power and established a foothold in a number of scientific endeavours, not the least being his orbiting space station. However, he’s greedy and lustful and always wants more, especially that which he cannot have; despite his lofty stature, he delights in watching Reed squirm when he comes asking to use the space station and in lording himself over Reed’s genius, and he goes to any lengths, including referring to a proposal as a “promotion”, to try and woo Sue away from Reed and into his arms. Since his ties to Latveria are only vaguely hinted at (he doesn’t even have an accent or appear to be of gypsy descent), just about the only personality aspects Doom shares with his comic book counterpart are his hatred of Reed and his egomania. Doom is frustrated at having received a small facial scar from his time on the space station since it blights his perfect façade, but ironically only ruins his appearance further by indulging in his newfound powers, which escalates the organic metal infection to the point where he’s forced to hide behind an iron mask.

The team have plenty of time to interact and build their dysfunctional family dynamic.

Much of the film revolves around the four discovering their awesome new powers and trying to figure out how to first control, and ultimately cure, them; gifted to them by a mysterious cosmic storm, all five gain abilities that link their personality quirks with the elements (Reed’s “always stretching” so becomes fluid, Johnny’s a hot-head, Sue feels invisible around Reed, Ben is rough and rocky, and Victor is vain and cold), but Ben is permanently affected as he was outside of the space station’s protective shields, which is a nice way to address that lingering plot hole. Like in the 1994 film, Ben’s transformation takes some time to take effect, which is used largely for a genuinely hilarious wind-up on Johnny’s part, and Reed is somehow able to recoup finances enough to move them all into the Baxter Building to conduct tests on their newfound powers. Determined to restore Ben to normal, Reed works around the clock to try and recreate the cosmic storm, but Ben allows his frustration and despair to get the better of him and comes to blows with his friend, which also makes him easily manipulated by Doom. Although he tries to hide his transformation, Doom soon comes to enjoy the destructive potential of his powers, and embarks on a vendetta against Reed, whom he blames for costing him his good looks and his company. To that end, Doom takes the Thing out of the equation by curing him, freezes Reed with liquid nitrogen, tries to kill the Human Torch with a heat-seeking missile, and doesn’t hesitate to turn his devastating electrical blasts against the Invisible Girl in order to overpower them individually, and it’s only by putting their differences aside and coming together as a team that the four are able to overcome their foe.  

The Nitty-Gritty:
Released at a time when superhero films were still struggling to break into consistent, mainstream box office success, Fantastic 4 falters a little when it comes to its tone and direction; clearly, it’s straddling a fine line between a fun family adventure and a slightly campy kids’ movie, which is fine as the concept is quite whimsical and the four are known for having very fantastical adventures, but the film also wants to keep things grounded like X-Men (Singer, 2000) and Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002), so it never pushes the concept as far as it could possibly go. After the four’s big debut on the Brooklyn Bridge, they become instant celebrities (despite the Thing causing the accident…) but then withdraw from the public eye so that Reed can run his tests, which is largely where the film flounders; the four don’t really do anything of interest in that time, beyond Johnny’s motorcycle stunt show, which isn’t too great in terms of exciting or engaging the audience.

Distraught at his monstrous appearance, the Thing eventually grows tired of waiting for Reed’s cure.

However, in those moments, the film does do a far better job of developing and highlighting the unique dysfunctional family mechanic of the Fantastic Four. Sue struggles to maintain order as the default matriarch of the team and to keep the “kids”, Johnny and Ben, from arguing and getting under each other’s skin, and to help Reed better balance his time between work and relaxation. Guilt-ridden at the pain and trauma he has caused his friend, Reed works tirelessly to cobble together a suitably Jack Kirby-esque machine that he hopes will revert the Thing to normal, and Reed is so distraught by his friend’s outburst that he tests it on himself and nearly kills himself in the process. Annoyed at the constant criticism and lack of appreciation for their superpowers shown by his new teammates, Johnny revels in showing off his new abilities for the world to see, which only exacerbates the conflict between him and the others, especially Ben. Distraught at his grotesque appearance, Ben is only further dejected when his fiancé walks away from him and to find that his new rocky body is cumbersome, awkward, and hideous to others. While he finds momentary reprieve in using his newfound strength to put right the accident he unwittingly causes on the Brooklyn Bridge, he allows Doom to get in his head and is enraged to find Reed cosying up to Sue rather than making good on his promise to help, despite the fact that Reed has clearly been dedicating his every moment to fixing Ben’s predicament.

A combination of CGI and practical effects do a decent job of bringing the Fantastic Four to life.

Undeniably, the Thing’s practical suit is the film’s most impressive visual effect; due to being augmented by rocky sound effects and subtle CGI, there’s a real weight and physicality to the Thing thanks to the suit, which keeps him from appearing cartoony and out of place like some CGI characters from that time, such as such as Doctor Henry Jekyll/Mister Edward Hyde (Jason Flemyng) from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Norrington, 2003). The Fantastic Four’s suits are also nicely translated to the screen; while they lean a little more towards the sexy onesie look than being realistically practical, the texture and colour look good and they’re a decent bridge between the bright, colourful costumes of the comics and the film’s more grounded direction. Doom eventually takes on an extremely faithful comic accurate look as well; however, it comes very late in the film and I feel his hood and outfit lacks detail in some areas, making him a far cry from the imposing despot who is one of Marvel’s most ruthless and formidable villains. Obviously, the CGI and special effects are going to be of a higher quality than the 1994 film, and for the most part the hold up pretty well (thanks, largely, to the film utilising practical effects, sets, and stunts that are merely augmented by CGI); the Human Torch’s flames look pretty good, though his flaming body effects can still be a little cartoony, and Reed’s elasticity is rendered quite well but again suffers from there being few instances where it can actually be of practical use. Sure, he rescues a man from falling off a bridge, ties Ben up, and helpfully directs a water hydrant in the finale, but Mister Fantastic never seems to get as many chances to shine through his powers as the others; the focus is always more on his genius, which is fine, but it can make for quite a bland character (in many of the promotional materials, for example, he’s just…standing there…). Sue’s powers extend beyond simple invisibility; she’s able to project invisible forcefields, which helps here to contain fire, form protective shields, and blast foes away, making her one of the most versatile in the team.

After some additional scenes, the four triumph over Doom and bask in their newfound glory.

This Extended Edition of the film also includes a number of new, extended, or alternate scenes; the first of these is seen right at the beginning where the film is proceeded by an animated set of credits showcasing the film’s key characters, followed by a couple of additional quick shots in the foyer of Von Doom Industries that establish what Doom’s company does and that it’s a bit of a snobby place to be. While some alterations are quite minor (such as Reed and Sue having a moment in his supply room, Johnny increasing the temperature in the lift to get women all hot and bothered, and Sue reading fan letters sent to the team), others are more poignant and add some punch to the film (like the Thing having additional interactions with blind artist Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), Doom blasting a hole through one of his shareholders rather than simply electrocuting him, Victor trying to tempt Johnny away from the team with women and merchandising offers, and him being humbled while showing off). Of course, the most noticeable addition is a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine, which makes for quite an awkward scene as it’s basically a repetition of one that came right before it and the effect is more of a cheap CGI wash than Reed actually transforming his features. Still, the crux of the film remains unchanged; separately, the four are capable of great things but, together, they form an almost unbeatable team that is the perfect balance of power, intelligence, and charisma, though they struggle to build that rapport throughout the movie. Once Ben sees how vital his abilities as the Thing are to stopping Doom, he willingly subjects himself to the cosmic rays once more to battle Doom and free Reed, bringing the team together for a brief scuffle with Doom on the city streets that involves a lot standing around, exchanging blows and cliché lines from Doom, before Reed and the Thing knock their enemy off balance a bit so that the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch can superheat him and turn him into a living statue. In the aftermath, the four embrace their newfound powers and celebrity status as superheroes, with Reed and Sue rekindling their romance, the Thing accepting his new status quo, and Johnny reveling in their fame as Doom, who still shows signs of life, is shipped back to Latveria…

The Summary:
It’s not that Fantastic 4 is a bad film, it’s just that it’s a bit underwhelming considering the concept; I think it definitely played things a little too safe by leaning into that grounded sci-fi aesthetic of X-Men and could have benefitted from being a little more over the top and adventurous in its scope. As a fun, family movie, it works very well and I’m sure there’s a lot here for kids to enjoy, and there are a lot of positives to the film: the effects and presentation are really good, and Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are fantastic in their roles. Of all the actors in the film, they perfectly capture their characters; Ben’s anguish is as much a highlight of the film as his rapport with Johnny, which basically saves it complete mediocrity. It’s a shame that they’re not in a better movie, to be honest, as they were perfectly cast and did a great job; Ioan Gruffudd is okay as Reed, if a little bland and wooden, and I like Jessica Alba but she really wasn’t right for this character. Of all the cast, though, Julian McMahon is the biggest misstep; I almost feel like it might have been better to save Dr. Doom for the sequel as he’s so neutered and lacklustre compared to the maniacal despot seen in the comics. Some decent comedy and fun action scenes help keep the film interesting, and it’s a reasonable first attempt at a big-budget adaptation of the team that’s bolstered a little further by the additions seen in this Extended Cut, but you’re not really missing much anything if you skip it, if I’m being brutally honest. I get that it’s a difficult and expensive concept to bring to life, but the Fantastic Four should be this wacky hybrid of science-fiction and fantasy, not a middling affair that plays it safe simply because grounded, semi-fantastical superhero films were the norm.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Were you a fan of Fantastic 4? Which of the cast and characters was your favourite and what did you think to the relationship between Johnny and Ben? What did you think to the film’s portrayal of Dr. Doom and do you think that the character got shafted a little here? Were you a fan of the direction the film took or do you think it played things a little too safe? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about Fantastic 4, let me know on my social media or sign up to leave a comment below, and check back next Friday for more Fantastic Four content.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: The Fantastic Four


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’m dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: Never (initially scheduled for 19 January 1994)
Director: Oley Sassone
Distributor:
New Horizons Pictures
Budget: $1 million
Stars:
Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, Michael Bailey Smith/Carl Ciarfalio, and Joseph Culp

The Plot:
While in college, genius scientist Reed Richards (Hyde-White) experiments on a passing comet but a mishap results in the apparent death of his friend, Victor Von Doom (Culp). Years later, Reed recruits Benjamin Grimm (Smith), Susan Storm (Staab), and her hot-shot younger brother Johnny (Underwood) to continue the experiment using a space shuttle. However, the four are bombarded with cosmic rays and gain extraordinary abilities in the process, which they must then put to the test when Victor returns bent on revenge as the maniacal Doctor Doom.

The Background:
Although the process behind the creation of the Fantastic Four is a little more confusing the most other comic book heroes (they were either the result of Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasking Stan Lee to create a team of superheroes to rival DC Comics’ Justice League of America or Jack Kirby came up with the concept himself, basing them on his Challengers of the Unknown), both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby undoubtedly created Marvel’s First Family. Unlike other superhero teams, the Fantastic Four aimed to be more relatable by leaning towards a family dynamic that caused them to bicker with each other as much as their enemies no matter how wacky their adventures got. Although I didn’t care much for their debut issue, the Fantastic Four have been a consistent staple of Marvel Comics ever since their introduction and have featured prominently in cartoons, but it was German producer Bernd Eichinger who first set in motion plans for a live-action adaptation.

Sadly, the Fantastic Four’s comic and cartoon success wasn’t enough to release the movie.

Although Eichinger was able to acquire the rights for a “not enormous” amount since Marvel’s lawyers practically gave away the license, budget problems hit the production almost immediately. Desperate, he turned to notorious low-budget producer Roger Corman, who arranged a pitiful $1 million for the film. Within less than a month, the film was cast, shot, and completed, resulting in a number of rushed and subpar special effects but also a legitimately impressive practical suit for the Thing. However, as soon as the film was finished, Marvel executive Avi Arad shut the production down, paid back the money spent, and confiscated the film’s negatives to avoid the brand being diluted and cheapened by the film’s release. Although Eichinger would go on to eventually produce live-action versions of the comic book characters that actually saw the light of day, the closest that The Fantastic Four has come to being released is through bootlegs and a documentary detailing the strange events surrounding the film. Those that have seen the film generally report it being pretty terrible, though others enjoy film’s the B-movie appeal and even consider it a surprisingly faithful attempt at an adaptation considering the budget and effects of the time.

The Review:
I’m gonna kick this off with a quick disclaimer that should probably be obvious, but I think it’s worth saying: the video quality of this film sucks, quite frankly. Because it never got an official release, we never even got a VHS release of the film let alone a 8K, HD Blu-ray digital transfer so I don’t exactly have much choice but to pull pictures from very low quality bootleg versions of the film. Secondly, there’s no official way of seeing this; it can be watched online for free on many streaming and video platforms but I’m not going to include any links to that. I honestly would love to see the film be dusted off and officially released some day; I find it just astounding that it’s never happened, especially as we’ve seen official releases of other, equally awful Marvel movies from the nineties but, until that happens, this is the best version that I could find to view so we’re all just gonna have to deal with it.

After his initial experiment results in Victor’s death, Reed assembles a rag-tag crew for a space mission.

The film begins with Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, and Victor Von Doom as college students, where they learn of an incoming comet, dubbed “Colossus”, that promises to unlock the mysteries of faster-than-light travel. Reed and Victor have spent the last four years been working on a machine to run experiments on this comet, though Reed is concerned that Victor’s calculations fail to consider velocity variations that could jeopardise the entire project. Although Reed insists on running a simulation to ensure everything goes safely, Victor pushes the experiment forward due to the limited window they have to observe Colossus, and his arrogance and recklessness cause their machine to overload and strike Victor with bolts of electricity that, despite Ben’s best efforts, apparently leave Victor dead. By the time Colossus rolls around ten years later, Reed has finalised the construction of an experimental spacecraft that Ben is all-too eager to pilot. Reed first met Sue (Mercedes McNab) and Johnny (Phillip Van Dyke) when they were children at the boarding house he stayed at in college; even though she was little more than a pre-teen, Sue had a major crush on Reed, which makes it frankly a little disturbing that they develop a mutual attraction when they reunite some ten years later when she’s all grown up. However, the oddities don’t end there as Ben makes the decision to draft the grown-up Sue and Johnny to fill out the crew of Reed’s spacecraft despite the fact that the Storms are not trained, qualified, or in any way suitable to undertake such a mission (Hell, I’d argue that Reed isn’t qualified to go into space based on what we’ve seen so far). Even Reed points out what a daft decision this is but Ben insists on bringing them along simply because of their familiarity with the project, and Reed’s doubts are apparently immediately quashed as soon as he sees how grown-up Sue has become, and the group are subsequently dubbed the Fantastic Four by the Storm’s matriarch, May (Annie Gagen). Reed feels a tremendous amount of guilt over Victor’s death and wishes to see their research come to fruition to honour his friend’s memory, which is all the motivation the others need to sign on to the mission.

The four gain fantastic powers and catch the attention of the bombastic Dr. Doom.

However, disaster strikes when the four are on the mission and, though they survive, they are forever changed by strange and powerful cosmic rays; these changes are gradual and reveal themselves shortly after the four inexplicably survive their shuttle crashing back to Earth and are rendered in the most underwhelming and preposterous way imaginable. Johnny discovers his flame power by sneezing, Sue is initially entirely invisible, and Reed find that he can stretch a bit when he saves her from impaling herself on a piece of the space shuttle. For some reason, Ben’s more gruesome and noticeable mutation doesn’t occur until later that evening, and of course sees him transformed into a rock-like creature. While Reed is insistent that he can find a scientific explanation for their predicament, and both Sue and Johnny react in fear and disbelief at their newfound powers, poor Ben is left distraught by his monstrous appearance. The four are taken into military custody and, in scenes that I guess could be best described as “amusing”, quickly learn control over their abilities (in this iteration, Johnny literally activates his flame by saying “Flame on!” rather than this simply being his catchphrase), and quickly realise that they’re being detained by an unknown party posing as the military. Of course, this turns out to be Victor, who it turns out, actually survived his ordeal, albeit with horrific burns. After being spirited to safety back to Latveria by his fellow countrymen and donning ceremonial armour, Dr. Doom spents the next ten years establishing himself as Latveria’s ruling despot and sets his sights on acquiring the diamond that is so crucial to Reed’s experiments, which he plans to use to power a laser cannon capable of destroying New York City. For much of the film, Dr. Doom remains elusive, ominous, and cloaked in shadow, and primarily operates through two Latverian henchmen, and he watches with glee as the four are left to die in space after his inaction sees their mission compromised. Although initially angered to find that they have survived, he arranges for his men to capture the group under the guise of he military in order to learn more about their powers, and theorises that the cosmic energy of Colossus could bestow similar superhuman abilities to himself.

The Jeweler takes a shine to Alicia, but she only has eyes for Ben no matter his appearance.

While you’d think that Dr. Doom would be enough of a threat for the Fantastic Four, the film also includes an additional villain, the Jeweler (Ian Trigger), a troll-like man who lives in the sewers and underground tunnels of the city and steals the gem to gift to blind artist Alicia Masters (Kat Green) in a desperate bid to win her over. Ben had (literally) bumped into Alicia before his ill-fated space excursion and became immediately infatuated, and comes across her again after she has been kidnapped by the bizarre, Leprechaun-like creature and Ben has fallen among the Jeweler’s kind after being left despondent by his new rocky disposition. The Jeweler actually proves pivotal to the film’s plot since he steals Reed’s diamond and replaces it with a fake, which is influential in causing the group being bombarded by cosmic rays and gaining their powers, but honestly could have easily been dropped from the film entirely as Dr. Doom could have been the one to swap out the diamond and more time could have then been devoted to building a more natural a poignant romance between Alicia and the Thing rather than them suddenly declaring their love for each other and wasting time on a nonsensical twist where Ben reverts to his human form for absolutely no reason at all.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s hard to really tell what The Fantastic Four is going for in terms of its tone; Reed is the straight man, mostly serious and taking the scientific route, which makes perfect sense and is generally conveyed quite well, but the remainder of the film has this odd, camp tone that makes it more cartoony than even the group’s animated endeavours. If I had to make a comparison to another art form, I would say the closest parallel is a pantomime; nowhere is this more evident than in Dr. Doom’s bombastic and over the top line delivery. Joseph Culp massively exaggerates every movement, no matter how small, and seems to be basing his portrayal of the character more on Dark Helmet (Ric Moranis) than Darth Vader (David Prose/James Earl Jones), resulting in a maniacal and overstated performance that would be out of place even on a stage.

While the team’s costumes are incredibly accurate, their personalities are a bit hit and miss.

Although Reed postulates a link between their powers and their personality quirks (Reed’s always stretching himself too thin, Sue gets shy around him, Johnny (apparently) as a fiery temperament, and Ben’s always favoured brute strength over his mind), and Reed and Ben are generally pretty close approximations of their comic book characters, Sue and Johnny leave a lot to be desired. Sue’s personality seems to be based more on her earlier, less progressive characterisation; she’s infatuated with Reed and a bit bossy towards Johnny, but is far from the capable and independent matriarch of the group that I prefer to see. Similarly, while Johnny is a bit temperamental and impulsive, he’s world’s away from the arrogant little brat of the comic books and has virtually none of the usual banter you’d expect with Ben and the others, coming across more like a shadow of his egotistical and conceited comic book counterpart. However, considering the extremely low budget of the film, it’s impressive that the filmmakers went out of their way to faithfully recreate the blue-and-white spandex costumes from the comics; however, in the context of the film, it really doesn’t make all that much sense for them to even wear the outfits. It’s not like they’re modified versions of their spacesuits or anything; Sue simply designs them their costumes so that they can live up to their “Fantastic Four” moniker and put their powers to use as superheroes.

With the exception of the Thing, all of the film’s special effects are atrociously low budget.

It’s a shame, then, that the special effects are so hokey; even the bolts of lightning that strike Victor are cartoonish and amateurish, and the film makes heavy use of stock footage and interior shots to mask the shuttle’s launch (and doesn’t even show its return to Earth, to say nothing of the ridiculous and obscure lightshow used to simulate the cosmic storm and the cheap-ass edits employed to save money on filming actual fight scenes). Sue’s invisibility is realised using age-old camera tricks that were pioneered in The Invisible Man (Whale, 1933) and, apparently, the filmmakers were incapable of improving up in the forty-odd-years since that film’s release, Reed’s elasticity is ludicrously rendered using floppy and awkward appendages and poorly-concealed camera trickery, and Johnny’s flame powers are generally brought to life using obvious animation techniques. While this does eventually result in an ambitious fully animated rendition of the Human Torch, it also has the effect of turning the film into a 1930s cartoon for the finale, and it’s astounding to me that the filmmakers were able to do such a great job on the Thing’s suit and yet make such a hack job of the Human Torch. Brought to life through an impressive practical suit and animatronic head, the Thing genuinely looks of the same quality as the efforts of Jim Henson and his studio around the same time and, sure, he might look a little rubbery and awkward at times, but it’s clearly the best and most impressive aspect of this mess of a film. Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for Dr. Doom; while I can’t fault the accuracy and fidelity of Doom’s armour and overall appearance, he appears more plasticky and clunky than metallic and menacing.

After defeating Dr. Doom and saving New York, Reed and Sue marry so this mess can finally end.

Although Ben sees himself as a grotesque freak of nature, he quickly overcomes his self-loathing after Alicia declares her love for him and he rejoins the team just in time for them to take the hastily-introduced Fantasi-Car back to Dr. Doom’s castle to put a stop to his plot. When Reed found the time to build this vehicle is beyond me, and seeing it struggle to life as an obvious model effect that would make Gerry Anderson blush is almost as absurd as the clumsy fight between the Thing and Dr. Doom in the finale. After the four throw every cheap, Halloween-store effect in the book at Dr. Doom’s disposable forces, and with the Human Torch out matching cartoon blasts with Dr. Doom’s laser in space (because he can totally breathe in space, apparently…), Reed confronts his old friend and goads him into a final confrontation. However, this is far from the epic showdown you might expect; rather than being a technologically gifted sorcerer, Dr. Doom is just an egomaniac in a suit of plastic armour, so he has none of the magical abilities and weaponry that make him such a formidable foe. Plus, Reed easily overpowers him with Dr. Doom’s greatest and most persistent weakness…really obvious, weak-ass stretchy punches to the face. This results in Dr. Doom taking a tumble over the castle wall and, despite Reed’s best efforts, falling to his apparent death, only for his severed gauntlet to inexplicably come to life to hilariously sow the seeds for a sequel! In the aftermath of the team’s victory, the Fantastic Four become celebrities, and Reed and Sue consummate their inappropriate and unsettling romance by hastening into marriage and driving off to a happy ending with Reed’s ludicrous stretchy arm waving goodbye to their guests to finally bring this car crash to an end.

The Summary:
I mean, what can you say about The Fantastic Four? I like to think I’m generally quite positive and forgiving in my reviews and always try to look for something constructive to say, but it’s not that easy with this mess of a film. I guess you could say that it was an ambitious project given how miniscule the budget was; the Fantastic Four is, by its very nature, a difficult property to bring to life in live-action even in modern times and needs a sizeable budget to do it justice, and $1 million was never going to cut it. You know it’s bad when The Punisher (Goldblatt, 1989) had more money behind it than Marvel’s premier superhero team, and it definitely shows in the presentation, direction, and acting displayed here. The whole film feels cheap and hokey, with the filmmakers apparently leaning into the campier aspects of the source material and having everyone act either too subdued or massively over the top, making for quite an inconsistent watch. Obviously, the special effects are a constant source of derision and ridicule, and rightfully so. However, it is impressive that they were able to cobble together such a remarkable Thing suit and produce comic accurate looks for the team and their main adversary….it’s just a shame that the rest of the effects can’t live up to these “standards” (and I use the word very loosely). Honestly, I don’t think that a bigger budget would have really helped this film all that much as the actors and script are incredible lacklustre; Dr. Doom is often a megalomaniacal and over the top villain, of course, and the Thing is probably the best and most accurate interpretation of his comic book counterpart, but everything feels so dumbed down and the line deliveries are so foolish that it’s not hard to see why this film got canned. Having said that, though, I still feel an official release is long overdue as they could make some money off a home media release rather than nothing at all by leaving it to gather dust. But, there again, maybe that’s for the best.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Have you ever watched this unreleased film? Would you like to see this film get an official release some day? What did you think to the Thing’s practical suit and the other special effects in the film? Did you also find the Reed/Sue romance a little unsettling in this version of the story? What did you think to Dr. Doom’s portrayal and appearance? What are some of your favourite stories involving the team? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about the Fantastic Four, sign up to leave a comment down below or let me know on my social media, and check back in next Friday for more Fantastic Four content.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of this very film, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Released: 6 May 2022
Director: Sam Raimi
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor,

The Plot:
Following a number of reality-altered events, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is unexpectedly thrown into a fight not just for his life, but for the fate of the entire multiverse when a girl with the power to traverse alternate dimensions is threatened by a corrupted force seeking to take her power for her own.

The Background:
Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s bizarre creation, Dr. Strange, has undoubtedly become one of Marvel’s most pivotal figureheads since his unimpressive debut and has had a storied history with adaptation. After an ill-fated lie-action film in the seventies, a number of animated ventures, and a long period of Development Hell, Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts finally made his big-screen debut as part of the MCU to both universal praise and incredible financial success. Development of a sequel began in 2016, with director Scott Derrickson eager to incorporate the villain Nightmare and really delve into Dr. Strange’s weirder aspects. MCU producer and figurehead Kevin Feige saw Dr. Strange as the linchpin on the MCU’s fourth phase, which would expand upon the multiversal aspects of their successful franchise, while Derrickson initially aimed to introduce more horror elements to the sequel. This caused some creative differences between the two parties, and led to Derrickson stepping down and Sam Raimi being brought in as the director and injecting his own blend of horror to the script after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After attempting to introduce the character in previous MCU projects, Feige finally found an avenue to bring in America Chavez, and the script was rewritten to both play to Raimi’s strengths as a director and to further expand on Wanda Maximoff’s (Olsen) character growth from WandaVision (Shakman, 2021). Seeking to infuse a horror vibe to the MCU and explore the consequences of dabbling in black magic and the multiverse, the film also ended up including a number of cameo appearances from iconic actors and fan casted characters to tease towards even bigger things for the MCU. Despite the film not seeing a release in LGTBQ+-intolerant countries, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness amassed a worldwide gross of $955.8 million and was met by widely positive reviews; critics praised its harrowing tale of grief and desperation, the unique horror slant, and the visual spectacle on offer, though some found it to be a bit formulaic and bloated at times.

The Review:
Right off the bat I have to say that I’m not actually the biggest fan of comic book movies delving into the multiverse concept. It’s a strange opinion to have given I regularly celebrate the trope and have enjoyed a lot of multiversal stories in comics, but I’m having a lot of difficulty reconciling that audiences aren’t more confused by it all. I’m a lifetime comic book fan and even I struggle with it a bit and, as much as I enjoyed Spider-Man: No Way Home (Webb, 2021) and Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, I can’t help but wonder if bringing that version of that villain back cost us seeing a new actor’s take on the character. I give Marvel a lot of leeway, though; after ten-plus years of building up their cinematic universe, exploring science, the cosmos, time and space, I think they’re in a far better position to start exploring beyond the confines of their singular reality. It’s not like, say, the DC Extended Universe, which jumped into alternate versions, timelines, and multiverse shenanigans just a few years after their first movie, to the point where they’re already having to rejig their timeline to try and make sense of it all. I feel Marvel’s execution so far has been very respectful and very exciting for us die-hard fans of the comics and movies, and also suspect that this phase of bringing back popular actors in their iconic superhero roles may soon pass as we head towards whatever the culmination of Phase Four really is.

With the world still reeling from the Blip, Dr. Strange is thrust into the chaotic multiverse.

Still, if you’re going to explore the multiverse, what better character than the Master of the Mystic Arts himself? When the movie begins, Dr. Strange is still guarding the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City but, thanks to being dusted during the Blip, is also still no longer the Sorcerer Supreme, with those duties now being fulfilled by Wong (Wong). Their relationship isn’t one of master and servant, but more one of bickering peers; there’s a recurring gag that Dr. Strange refuses to bow to Wong since he’s still a bit annoyed at having lost his lofty position but, despite this, he remains a dedicated and powerful spellcaster since Wong’s duties are more focused on training sorcerers at Kamar-Taj. Dr. Strange is, however, facing a bit of a personal crisis; his dedication to his newfound lifestyle, and having been gone for five years, means that he’s missed out on the girl. Doctor Christine Palmer (McAdams) has not only met someone else, but is getting married to him, and he’s plagued by doubts concerning his decision to surrender the Time Stone to the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), which saved the lives of billions but also disrupted the lives of countless others, including his former colleague, Doctor Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), who questions Dr. Strange’s actions. Strange remains justified, however, as he acted out of the greater good, having viewed millions of potential timelines, but these doubts over his character and motivation continue to surface throughout the film when he learns from America Chavez (Gomez) that his alternative selves have been so focused on the big picture that they’ve been driven to unspeakable acts, such as attempting to take America’s power for his own and even being corrupted by the forbidden magical tome, the Darkhold. Since she’s being pursued by forces far beyond her power, and is unable to control her dimension-hopping abilities, America has little choice but to trust Dr. Strange to protect her, but both her and the alternate versions of Christine have reservations about Strange’s character after seeing the lengths his other selves have gone to to keep the vast multiverse safe.

Devastated at losing her kids, Wanda covets America’s power and wages all-out war as the Scarlet Witch.

America is quite the anomaly; in an infinite number of alternate realities, it appears as though there’s only one of her, since she hasn’t encountered a counterpart in all of her random travels throughout the multiverse and she doesn’t dream (the film posits that dreams are a window into the lives of our alternate selves, which is an intriguing concept). Desperate, afraid, and alone, America is carrying a great deal of guilt after her chaotic powers accidentally sucked her mothers to an unknown fate when she was a child. America’s ability to conjure a massive, star-shaped portal to anywhere in the multiverse is triggered by fear and panic, meaning she has little control over her abilities but they offer a wealth of possibilities to more powerful and experienced forces who could absorb her power for their own ends. Dr. Strange first meets America when she’s being pursued by an unspeakable eldritch abomination, which he and Wong recognise to be a creature of witchcraft rather than sorcery, so he seeks out console from Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, hoping to recruit the former Avenger to help protect America. However, Wanda has been so consumed with grief after losing her magically-conjured sons, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) from the conclusion of WandaVision that she’s turned to the Darkhold to find ways of being reunited with them in an alternate reality. The Darkhold’s dark magic, coupled with the destructive potential of the Scarlet Witch, have driven Wanda into a maniacal obsession with obtaining America’s powers and, when Dr. Strange refuses to hand the girl over peacefully and condemn her to death at the Scarlet Witch’s hands, Wanda launches a brutal all-out assault against Kamar-Taj and, after they’re stranded in the multiverse, to force Wong to take her to the forbidden land of Mount Wundagore, where the Darkhold was transcribed, to both locate them and find the power to “dream walk” into the body of her alternate self to relentlessly pursue them, slaughtering anyone and everyone who gets in her way.

The alternate Mordo brings Dr. Strange before the Illuminati, but Wanda mercilessly slaughters them all.

Since America can’t control or direct her powers, Dr. Strange immediately out his alternative self for help, only to find that he heroically died saving the universe from Thanos and that his former mentor, Baron Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), has taken his place as the Sorcerer Supreme. For those who were hoping for a resolution to Mordo’s vow to hunt down and eliminate sorcerers at the end of Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016), you’ll be disappointed to learn that “prime” Mordo (i.e. the one from what the MCU calls “Earth-616”) isn’t actually in this film and his counterpart is a far less antagonistic character…or so it seems. Initially, Mordo is welcoming and courteous but, all too soon, Dr. Strange and America find themselves drugged, fitted with power-dampening restraints, and placed in holding cells under the observation of the alternative Christine to determine whether 6161-Strange is as much of a threat as his counterpart. This leads to Mordo bringing Dr. Strange before the judgement of the “Illuminati”, a panel of superpowered beings who stood against Thanos and executed their version of Dr. Strange after he became corrupted by the Darkhold. Comprised of Mordo, Captain Peggy Carter/Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Maria Rambeau/Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Blackagar Boltagon/Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Professor Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart), and Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski), the Illuminati underestimate Wanda’s devastating power in favour of focusing on Strange’s potential threat, which ultimately results in all of them being mercilessly slaughtered by the raging Scarlet Witch when she puppets her alternative self right into their chamber. Wanda easily negates Black Bolt’s destructive voice, turning it back on himself so he blows a hole in his head, slices Captain Carter in two with her own shield, crushes Captain Marvel to death, reduces Mr. Fantastic to spaghetti, and snaps Xavier’s neck in a harrowing sequence that’s just one of many allusions to director Sam Raimi’s past as a horror director. Thought assisted by Christine and led towards the Book of Vishanti, which promises the power to oppose Wanda’s black magic, this tome is destroyed, America is captured, and Dr. Strange is forced to turn to another corrupted version of himself, and ultimately the Darkhold, to find the means to keep Wanda from killing America, regardless of the toll such dark magic threatens to extract on his soul.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Loneliness, grief, and desperation are core themes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness; Dr. Strange maintains that he’s perfectly happy being the Master of the Mystic Arts and with his newfound purpose in life, but it’s clear that he still has feelings for Christine and regrets losing his chance to be with her. All throughout the film, he’s disturbed (but not surprised) to learn that his alternate selves all fumbled their chance at happiness, though the ramifications of this were far more destructive for his counterparts; similar to Strange Supreme from What If…? (Andrews, 2021), Strange’s corrupted doppelgänger was turned towards dark magic after losing Christine and his focus on trying to scour the multiverse for a world where they could be happy directly led to his universe being torn asunder by an “incursion” event, the very thing the Illuminati feared both their Dr. Strange and 616-Strange would cause if he wasn’t put down ahead of time. America’s fear of her powers and of trusting others is directly tied to that traumatic incident in her childhood where she literally swept her parents away in an accidental outburst, and her reluctance to trust Dr. Strange is based entirely on his alternative self turning on her to keep her powers out of Wanda’s hands, so her character arc isn’t just about learning that the ability to control her powers has been within her all along but also about finding a place to belong in the infinite worlds of the multiverse. Finally, Wanda is so desperate to be reunited with her children that she not only allows the Darkhold to corrupt her vast powers but also attacks friend and foe alike, embracing her destiny as the destructive Scarlet Witch and fully prepared to sacrifice America’s life (and the life of her doppelgänger) to be with her children once more.

The multiverse and all its monstrous potential is vividly brought to life in this visual spectacle.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes the rules of magic and the snippet of the multiverse we saw in Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: No Way Home and absolutely runs with it; in the years since his debut movie, Dr. Strange’s power and command over magic has vastly increased, meaning he’s able to do far more than just conjure protective shields or glowing whips. Now, he can summon magical buzz saws, demonic hands, animated musical notes and use them as projectiles, and perform all manner of miraculous and visually entertaining feats. Naturally, this makes him an incredibly over-powered character, but the film goes to great lengths to put him in jeopardy by placing even greater, often more monstrous, threats in his path; when Gargantos attacks America, it takes both Dr. Strange and Wong to put it down, which is a feat in and of itself, but even they and their magical cohorts of Kamar-Taj are no match for the full fury of the Scarlet Witch, who leaves an untold number of charred corpses and ashen remains in her wake as she pursues America. When America transports herself and Dr. Strange through the multiverse, the film really starts to come alive; they are blasted through an animated universe, the Quantum realm, the Dark Dimension, a universe where they’re turned into paint, and one where they’re literally pulled apart into tiny pieces. Eventually dumped in the M. C. Escher-esque void between universes and a desolate universe where a devastating incursion has caused reality and physics to fold in on itself, Dr. Strange’s brief and violent tour of the multiverse sees him travelling to strange worlds where society and history are slightly different, characters are noticeably changed, and even possessing the lifeless body of one of his counterparts in order to oppose Wanda. I can certainly see why Wanda’s turn to the dark side probably rattled a few people; I definitely didn’t expect that to happen (or, at least, I thought maybe the reveal that she was behind it all would happen mid-way through or near the end) and I was doubled surprised by just how many references were made to WandaVision since the MCU has notoriously ignored its TV projects in the past. WandaVision was a startling examination of the destructive power of grief, and I think the idea that someone can just get past the sort of trauma Wanda has been through without lasting repercussions is a bit unlikely, and the film definitely paints her as someone in a great deal of pain and corrupted by the Darkhold’s influence. While seeing her match Dr. Strange blow for blow was a great way to showcase her power, having her tear through the Illuminati was an even greater example of her potential threat to the multiverse.

Dr. Strange is forced to use dark magic to combat the threat Wanda poses to the multiverse.

While it’s clear that many of the Illuminati’s actors weren’t all on set at the same time, it was fun seeing Patrick Stewart back in his iconic role (and accompanied by the nineties cartoon theme, no less) one last time, and to see long-time fan casting John Krasinski portray Mr. Fantastic, but it was Anson Mount returning as Black Bolt which really surprised me as I never thought we’d see the Inhumans referenced or included after their disastrous show. Again, you could argue that these characters were “wasted” but I saw them as fun little bits of fan service for long-time fans; I said up top that I get annoyed at other actors not having a crack in these roles, though, so I am still holding out hope that we see a new actor portray Xavier if and when the X-Men are properly introduced to the MCU. Dr. Strange doesn’t come to this decision lightly; all throughout the film, his goal has been to claim the Book of Vishanti to acquire the power to stop the Scarlet Witch but, when it’s destroyed, he’s left with no choice but to turn to the Darkhold possessed by his corrupt alternate self. Transformed into a three-eyed, monstrous version of himself, this alternate Strange has become as consumed by the Darkhold as Wanda and, after his defeat, the lingering question of how the book will affect 616-Strange hangs in the air for the finale. Thankfully, the alternate Christine is on hand to act as his moral compass, encouraging him to utilise the power of the dark spirits seeking to punish him for desecrating his other self’s body, which is enough for him to save Wong from Wanda’s rock monsters and free America before her power (and life) can be consumed. Finally harnessing her incredible powers, America first lashes out at Wanda and then, when she realises she’s no match for the Scarlet Witch, grants the corrupted Avenger her wish and transports her to her boys, who are naturally terrified of this malevolent version of their loving mother. Devastated at seeing them cower in fear of her, Wanda abandons her crusade and, to atone for her heinous actions, willingly brings Mount Wundagore down around her, presumably killing herself in the process (but we never see a body, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t pop up again in some way, shape, or form). in the aftermath, Wong beings repairing Kamar-Taj and training his students (with America among their number, the implications of which could make her one of the MCU’s most powerful characters ever) and Dr. Strange finds a peace with himself after finally admitting to the alternate Christine that he loves her. However, his jovial mood is immediately shattered when he’s crippled by whispering voices and the emergence of a third eye on his forehead like his corrupted counterpart as a result of the Darkhold’s influence, but even this is instantly swept under the rug when, in a mid-credits sequence, a mysterious woman (apparently Clea (Charlize Theron)) demand she help her repair an incursion in the Dark Dimension…

The Summary:
After seeing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, I have to commend Marvel for their marketing strategy; while the trailers hinted at Wanda’s turn to the dark side, nothing was made explicit and even the official blurb was little more than a vague statement about the film, so I was very surprised to see her transform into this malevolent, vindictive witch of incredible power. Wanda’s pain and grief are very real and believable, and I was also surprised that the film didn’t shy away from assuming the audience was familiar with WandaVision as a part of her character arc, and seeing her become this malicious force of darkness definitely raises the stakes for the MCU and means that anything can happen to these characters, no matter how heroic they may be. Dr. Strange also had an intriguing arc in the film; torn between his regrets and his duties, he fully commits to protecting America at all costs, no matter the sacrifice and the lingering question over whether he will also succumb to the darkness helps add a fascinating edge to the character as his concerns must be on a far wider scale at all times, necessitating tough choices and questionable actions. The exploration of the multiverse was great; I definitely think the film has established a short-hand for the concept and that future iterations of it will simply be taken for granted going forward, and I did enjoy seeing some new and old faces appear in cameo roles as the Illuminati, which again hints towards some exciting things in the MCU’s future. The film does suffer a little from some pacing and repetitive issues, however; obviously it can’t be all action all the time, but it does slow down to explain its concepts one time too many, and I found the framing of Dr. Strange’s meeting with the Illuminti jarring as it just highlighted that many of the actors weren’t actually there. Leaving Mordo’s vendetta unresolved was also a bit of a disappointment for me, as was the mid- and post-credits sequences, but I’m interested to see these plot threads resolved in a future film and had a blast with the film’s bizarre visuals and bat-shit-crazy moments. Bolstered by some great horror-themed shots and full of fan service and surreal imagery, the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was an entertaining thrill-ride and absolutely galvanised Dr. Strange as one of the cornerstones of the MCU and, I hope, has opened the door for new versions of some of Marvel’s most popular characters to join this ever-expanding cinematic universe.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Are you a fan of the muliverse concept or do you find it a bit too complex? What did you think to Dr. Strange’s character arc and the potential of him turning bad? Were you a fan of America Chavez or do you think she’s a bit too overpowered? What did you think to Wanda’s turn to the dark side and were you disappointed that Mordo was pushed to the side? Which member of the Illuminati surprised you the most and what did you think to their inclusion? Were you a fan of the film’s horror elements? Whatever your thoughts on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, sign up to leave your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and thanks for sticking around for Multiverse Madness!

Back Issues [F4 Friday]: The Fantastic Four #1


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. Accordingly, it’s only fitting that I dedicate a day to commemorate the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family…and what better day for the alliterative nature of the team than a Friday!


Story Title: The Fantastic Four!
Published: November 1961
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
The story of the creation of the Fantastic Four is a little…contested, to say the least. The popular notion is that Marvel Comics big cheese, Martin Goodman, wanted then-editor Stan Lee to create a team of superheroes in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Creatively unsatisfied with the comics industry, Lee sought to use the opportunity to create stories and characters that were appealing to him and drafted a quick synopsis of his idea for a dysfunctional family of superheroes for the legendary Jack Kirby to provide the artwork for, thus creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration. Kirby, however, disputed this story and claimed to have come up with the idea, which was extremely similar to a similar concept he had developed for DC, the Challengers of the Unknown.

Whatever their origins, the Fantastic Four have been one of Marvel’s most influential successes.

Regardless, the two are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family, a team that, even today, is unique in that it is comprised of a family dynamic that, for all their intelligence and abilities, is just as likely to come to blows with each other as with their enemies. This dynamic allowed the team (comprised of Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl, and her brother Johnny, the Human Torch (not to be confused with he android of the same name from the 1940s/1950s), and Ben Grimm/The Thing) to juxtapose their wacky adventures with a very real and relatable humanity. The team also stood out from other superheroes of that era since they didn’t hide their identities behind masks or from the public, were revered with a celebrity status, and didn’t even acquire their iconic outfits until the third issue of their series, which went on to introduce characters and concepts that would forever alter Marvel Comics in the decades that followed.

The Review:
“The Fantastic Four!” beings in medias res with a dramatic flare shot into the skies of Central City (courtesy of a mysterious, shadowy figure, the leader of the Fantastic Four) call out for the titular team. Upon seeing the signal, Susan Storm responds immediately by turning herself invisible and preparing to introduce the world to the Invisible Girl, shocking pedestrians and a taxi driver with her transparent nature.

Sue and Ben cause some disruption in answering Reed’s summons…

Elewhere in the city, a large, bulky man in a trenchcoat is attempting, unsuccessfully, to shop for clothing that will fit his broad dimensions. When the store attendant reacts to the signal for the Fantastic Four, the man discards his restrictive clothing, revealing himself to be a monstrous, rock-like man-monster! His appearance causing panic and fear, the creature escapes from police gunfire by ripping a manhole out of the street and fleeing through the sewers beneath the city, being mistaken for a Martian in the process. Finally, a young man named Johnny is busy getting his beloved car fixed up when, upon seeing the signal, he suddenly bursts into flames and blasts off into the sky in response! The presence of an unknown object flying through the city results in the Mayor alerting the National Guard and fighter jets being called into action. Despite the flaming Johnny’s pleas for the planes to pull back, he inadvertently reduces the jets to slag with his intense heat and is left at the mercy of a nuclear missile!

Despite Ben’s objections, the team easily get to their rocket and blast off into space.

Luckily, a fourth individual steps in to dispose of the missile before it can explode and kill Johnny (…and the entire city); he then rescues Johnny who, exhausted from the physical exertion, has lost his flame and in free fall. This fourth individual is able to accomplish all of this by use of super stretchy, elastic limbs and is, of course, Reed, the very same man who summoned these fantastic individuals in the first place. With the team united, the comic then flashes back to tell us who these people are and how they can do the extraordinary things we see. It seems their leader, Reed, was once a scientist working for the government and researching “cosmic rays” and planned to fly a ship into space to further his studies. His friend and colleague, Ben, initially refuses to pilot the ship since he believes that Reed hasn’t properly prepared for the potentially fatal effects of the cosmic rays but Sue (Reed’s fiancée) convinces him (more like manipulates him) into joining the expedition after believing him to be a coward who would allow “the Commies” to beat them to the task. Although it’s made somewhat obvious that Reed is the brains behind the research and Ben is the pilot, it’s not entirely clear why they bring Sue and her brother along; Sue simply insists on coming since she’s betrothed to Reed and Johnny, similarly, insists on going simply because his sister is. The race to beat the Commies is apparently so close that the group cannot wait any longer, or for official clearance; they simply race to the launch site, sneak past the one guard, and are able to take off completely under their own power.

The cosmic rays cause the team to undergo startling physical changes.

Though the ship performs perfectly, Ben’s worst fears are quickly realised when the ship is bombarded by cosmic rays that easily penetrate the ship’s shielding. Initially, there is no physical pain as the rays are “simply” comically charged radioactive rays of light but, all too soon, the four begin to feel the full transformative effects of the radiation. Despite being debilitated by the pain and physical mutations they are undergoing, the team’s ship is able to return safely to Earth thanks to its automatic pilot. Upon emerging from the ship, the team are shaken…but alive, with Sue lamenting the loss of Reed’s years of research and Ben still bitter at Reed not taking the proper precautions and endangering them all. While Ben’s fears become reality as Sue suddenly, briefly fades from sight, they are realised all too horribly when he transforms into a super strong, rock skinned…thing! Furious with Reed’s attitude, the Thing rips up a tree and tries to make him pay for his actions but Reed shocks everyone by abruptly displaying his powers of elasticity, which easily allows him to avoid Ben’s wild swings and ties him up in a mess of rubbery limbs. Panicked at the events unfolding before his eyes, Johnny unexpectedly bursts into flame but, unlike the others, he is elated to find this not only doesn’t harm him but gives him the ability to fly through the air.

The Fantastic Four are quickly separated after arriving on the mythical Monster Isle.

Taking stock of their predicament, Reed begins to make a speech about how the four must use their newfound powers fort he benefit of mankind but Ben, despite his grouchy demeanour, cuts him off and voices that conclusion as though it is the most natural recourse for powers such as theirs. The four then put their hands in, giving themselves their colorful code-names and dubbing themselves the Fantastic Four. The story returns to present day in the next part, “The Fantastic Four Meet the Mole Man!” where Reed reveals that he called the team together because of a series of gigantic holes that have swallowed up atomic plants across the world. At that very moment, Reed’s fancy radar machine picks up another cave-in happening right at that moment over in French Africa. The cause of the destruction is revealed to be a gigantic subterranean beast not too dissimilar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which might seem incredible but it’s nothing compared to the fact that Reed pin-points the source of the events to a land known as “Monster Isle” that, despite Ben’s claims of the island being a myth, they immediately fly to as though it’s a well-known tourist destination! Monster Isle, as you might be able to guess, is home to a wide variety of enormous monsters that, despite the powers and versatility of the Fantastic Four, cause the team to become separated.

The Moleman explains his unremarkable origin.

The third part of the story, “The Moleman’s Secret!” sees Ben and Sue, still trapped on the surface, come face to face with an huge rock-like creature; being a man of rock himself, the Thing steps in to defeat the creature with ridiculous ease thanks to his superhuman strength. Johnny and Reed, however, find themselves captives of the Moleman (or “Mole Man”, the story freely alternates between the two names/spellings), the master of Monster Isle, in his enigmatic abode beneath the island’s surface. Like any good supervillain worthy of his salt, the Moleman regales his captives with his origin story: it seems he was once a very odd looking hunchback of a man who was routinely mocked and turned away by society despite his qualifications because of his grotesque appearance. Bitter and dejected, he head out into the icy wilderness in search of solitude and found himself on the mythical Monster Isle; however, whilst exploring a cavern, he was…somehow…blinded by a terrible fall towards the center of the Earth but, despite this handicap, he…somehow…was able to not only tame the wild beasts that roamed the island but also build a magnificent empire for himself deep underground.

Ben and Sue arrive to rescue their team mates but are met by the Moleman’s massive creature!

Thanks to the strange “adhesive suits” the Moleman has forced Reed and Johnny into, the villain, clearly driven to insanity, easily beasts them in combat and reveals his mad plot to destroy every atomic plant in the world and then rise up alongside his monsters to destroy the surface world! Though Ben and Sue arrive (and Johnny and Reed are able to get out of their suits by simply burning through them or…taking them off, raising the question as to what the bloody point of them was in the first place), they are too late to keep the Moleman from summoning the most deadly of his creatures, the same one that we saw attacking the power plant in French Africa earlier in the story. Interestingly, despite the elaborate cover art, the Fantastic Four don’t even try to fight this gargantuan creature; instead, Johnny simply distracts it so that Reed can capture the Moleman and the team simply escape through the caverns beneath the island. Even a horde of underground gargoyles aren’t able to impede their progress as Johnny simply causes a rockslide to keep them at bay and the Fantastic Four escape the island safely…but without the Moleman! Yes, in the confusion, Reed decided to leave the villain behind since they had effectively sealed off his empire and, as they escape, the entire island explodes, apparently trapping the Moleman and his beasts underground forever. And…that’s kind of it as the issue ends in a pretty anti-climatic fashion.

The Summary:
Wow…so, once again, another debut issue just kind of falls of a cliff right at the end. It pains me to say it as I have a real soft spot for the Fantastic Four but, outside of the team’s origin story and diverse powers, The Fantastic Four #1 is a pretty terrible comic. I thought it was quite unique to introduce the team individually and already possessing their powers and to flash back to their origin as it’s not often you see that in comics but the comic wastes so much time showing what the team can do that it rushes through other equally important things, such as what motivated them to go into space in the first place and, of course, the ending.

Ben’s objections are dismissed by Reed, whom Sue blindly supports even when he nearly kills them!

These introductory sequences provide the absolute bare minimum of exposition into the character of each team member: Sue is first seen having tea with a “society friend” and is both polite towards others and support of her fiancée…perhaps blindly so. Ben has legitimate concerns regarding the trip ones that Reed fails to heed and Sue dismisses; the way she manipulates Ben into joining the expedition seems really out of character and, even worse, when Ben turns out to be right Reed doesn’t even offer an apology! Instead, he takes offense to Ben’s “insults and complaining”, as though Ben were simply mocking Reed and moaning about a long car journey! The poor bastard almost died and now he’s a rock monster but all Reed cares about is that Ben has been a grouch the entire time! Johnny is basically a shell of his former self; sure, we see he likes cars and enjoys the power and freedom of being the Human Torch but that’s pretty much all we know about him.

Sue may as well be invisible the entire time since she really contributes nothing to the team.

The story kind of makes up for this by having him be one of the two most useful members of the team (the other being the Thing, whose strength gets them out of a bind numerous times), which puts him in a little higher standing than Reed or Sue. Reed basically spends most of his time rescuing the others, which is fine, or making decisions for the team’s actions; I’m not entirely sure, or convinced, of what makes him qualified to be their leader since the last time he lead them anywhere he almost got them killed! Sadly, there’s no sense of grief or guilt on Reed’s part or of the genius intellect that would come to define his character; he’s simply the older, pipe smoking man so he’s the leader by default. Still, the so-called Mr. Fantastic still gets more to do than the Invisible Girl; although she is spared the condescending, sexist attitudes that were prevalent towards women in comics at that time (for this issue, at least), Sue is still basically useless. She uses her invisibility to get through some crowded streets simply to test them out and that’s pretty much it as they (and she) really don’t factor into the finale at all. I’m sure that the intention was to have her be the “heart” of the team but…she really isn’t. She’s supportive of Reed, yes, but if hadn’t have been then maybe they would have been spared their fate and, beyond that, she’s just kind of…there to say stuff now and then. The only plus side is that she doesn’t get captured and need to be rescued but, honestly, I think I would have preferred that!

The Moleman’s threat is severely diminished by his ridiculously flawed plan for world conquest.

The biggest let down, really, is that the cover promises a big battle between the team with the giant creature in the middle of the city but this never happens! The creature hardly appears and, when it does, they don’t even fight it; they just…get away as easily as you could like. What is the point of having a team of superpowered individuals if you’re not even going to show them using their abilities in battle? Sure, they do showcase a lot of the diverse nature of their abilities when on the surface of Monster Isle but we don’t really get to see them working together as a team, which is one of the Fantastic Four’s biggest unique aspects. Similarly, the Moleman is a pretty poor villain; his motivations are paper thin and the ease with which he and his monstrous creatures are defeated is pretty pathetic, with Reed not even bothering to keep the villain captive when they escape. He could have easily had his monsters rampage across the globe using those emergence holes but, instead, he chose to target atomic power plants rather than military bases or major cities because, as we all know, when you plan to conquer the world with a bunch of horrific monsters, it’s the power plants that are the greatest cause for concern!

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Were you a fan of The Fantastic Four #1? Do you feel I have committed the ultimate sacrilege by being unimpressed with the team’s debut story or do you agree that the Fantastic Four greatly benefitted from the input of other writers and artists over the years? Which of the four team members is your favourite and why? What did you think to the Moleman and who is your favourite Fantastic Four villain? Who would you like to see form a new version of the Fantastic Four and what are some of your favourite stories involving the team? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about the Fantastic Four, go ahead and leave a comment down below and let me know your opinions.

Screen Time: That ’70s Marvel Cinematic Universe

Superheroes may dominate television screens these days, but it all started back in the seventies. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) took cinemas by storm and drummed up enough cash to sink a small cruise liner, Marvel Comics had ventured into live-action adaptations of their comics books by licensing their properties to studios like CBS and Universal Television. This produced the iconic Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982) television show that firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness and produced tropes that became synonymous with the character for years to come.

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You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…

However, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t the only live-action adaptation of a Marvel Comics property to be produced in the seventies; in fact, there were so many productions (or, at least, so many Marvel characters) around this time that a version of the MCU can be seen to have existed long before Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) graced cinema screens. So, today, I’m going to take a quick look back at some of these productions and have a chat about the MCU we very nearly saw come together back in the days of Pink Floyd, frayed jeans, and mullets…

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As I mentioned, The Incredible Hulk kicked all of this off; starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Bruce Banner, the show depicted a scientist recklessly experimenting on himself with gamma radiation in a bid to unlock the hidden strength and potential of the human body. When he absorbs too much gamma radiation, moments of stress and anger cause him to transform into the green, bestial Hulk (Lou Ferrigno), a creature of limited intelligence, immense rage, and incredible strength.

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McGee relentlessly hounded Banner.

Believed dead at the Hulk’s hands, Banner is forced to wander around the country in search of a cure, helping those in need with both his intelligence and the strength of the Hulk when pushed too far, all while being relentlessly pursued by reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin). The show was famous for coining the phrase: “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, which has since become so synonymous with the character that it has appeared in most Hulk adaptations. Equally popular was both Bixby’s portrayal of Banner as a wandering nomad, desperate to cure himself of his alter ego and return to normal life, and Ferrigno’s portrayal of the Hulk (a role that Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for and that originally went to mammoth actor Richard Kiel).

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Ferrigno always had a place in Hulk adaptations.

Ferrigno has since become so associated with his role as the Hulk that he went on to not only voice the character in the animated Incredible Hulk (1996 to 1997) television series but also collaborated with Mark Ruffalo in voicing the Hulk in the MCU and cameoed in both Hulk (Lee, 2003) and The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), a movie that was heavily influenced by the ‘70s television show.

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It took some time to get Hulk properly articulating.

If there’s any downside to the show, and Ferrigno’s performance, it’s that they both popularised the notion that the Hulk is a feral, growling creature rather than a semi-to-impressively articulate individual. While Stan Lee himself may have signed off on this at the time (“I had the Hulk talking like this: “Hulk crush! Hulk get him!” […] that would have sounded so silly if he spoke that way in a television show” (Lee, quoted in Greenberg, 2014: 19 to 26)), I feel this was more a case of Lee signing off on anything for the licensing revenue. This portrayal even carried over into the MCU, where the Hulk was capable of rudimentary speech (one or two growling lines here and there) but did not properly articulate until Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017); to compare, Bradley Cooper was snarking up cinema screens as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) before Hulk was allowed to properly talk.

The Incredible Hulk returned with a bang.

In any case, The Incredible Hulk ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982. Banner’s adventures, however, continued in the made-for-television film The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988). While the TV show shied away from including any Marvel characters aside from Banner and the Hulk, much less his fellow Marvel cohorts, The Incredible Hulk Returns featured two of the most unlikely inclusions you could imagine given the show’s relatively rounded approach to its source material. After successfully suppressing the Hulk for two years, Banner’s idyllic life is turned upside down when an old student of his, Donald Blake (Steve Levitt), seeks him out. Right as Banner is on the cusp of finalising a potential cure in the Gamma Transponder machine, Blake reveals that he discovered an enchanted hammer in Norway that, upon his command, releases the mighty immortal warrior Thor (Eric Kramer) from Valhalla.

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I honestly can’t tell the difference…

When Thor upsets Banner, he briefly battles with the Hulk and damages Banner’s the Gamma Transponder, but the two (three, I guess) are forced to work together to stop criminals from stealing Banner’s research and harming his life interest, Dr. Margaret Shaw (Lee Purcell). In the end, while Shaw is rescued, Banner is forced to destroy a vital component to the Gamma Transponder and, with the Hulk’s presence catching McGee’s attention, promptly returns to the road to seek out a new cure for himself. When I was a kid, I never got the chance to watch The Incredible Hulk, so one of my first exposures to it was with The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I found to be hugely enjoyable largely because of the thrill of seeing the Hulk in live-action and the banter between Blake and Thor. Rather than transforming into Thor, as in the comics, Blake instead brings Thor forth with the hammer and is charged with guiding him in life and in the fulfilment of a number of heroic deeds so he can take his place at Odin’s side in Valhalla. It’s absolutely mental, especially as a continuation of the TV show, but Kramer is so much fun as the loud-mouthy, arrogant, meat-headed Thor that you can’t help but smile when he’s onscreen, especially when he’s drinking and fighting in a bar or battling with (and alongside) the Hulk.

Banner forms a kinship with Daredevil.

I said I never really watched the show but, in truth, my first ever exposure to the Bixby and Ferrigno team was the follow-up movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989), in which Banner, now a desolate soul who’s lost all hope, wanders into a city and, after disrupting a mugging on an underground train, is wrongfully imprisoned. As luck would have it, his appointed attorney is none other than Matt Murdock (Rex Smith), a blind lawyer who also patrols the streets at night as the black-clad vigilante Daredevil. Murdock is pursuing evidence against Wilson Fisk (John Rhys-Davies), an entrepreneur whom Murdock (rightfully) believes is a dangerous crime boss. While Banner is content to stay safely locked up in jail, the idea of being put on trial causes him to Hulk out and, eventually, team up with Murdock/Daredevil in bringing Fisk to justice.

John Rhys-Davies was great as Fisk.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is notable for a couple of reasons; it features Stan Lee’s first-ever live-action cameo in a Marvel production, it heavily adapts elements of Frank Miller’s iconic run on the Daredevil comics, and the titular trial only actually takes place in a nightmare Banner has while imprisoned. Nevertheless, Rhys-Davies is exceptional as Fisk; he’s never referred to as the Kingpin onscreen but that doesn’t stop him being a cool, calculating puppet master of a villain; his eventual escape (in a God-damn rocket ship!) is a loose end that was never tied up as the final TV movie, The Death of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1990), chose to bring an end to the Incredible Hulk series and did not feature any additional Marvel characters.

Hammond was a decent Peter Parker…and he had a great stunt double.

Hulk wasn’t the only one to get his own live-action TV show though; after the feature-length pilot, Spider-Man (Swackhamer, 1977), proved popular, Marvel’s web-head got his own thirteen episode series in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man (1977 to 1979). In addition, episodes of the show were edited (“cobbled”, is probably a better word) together into two made-for-television movies, Spider-Man Strikes Back (Statlof, 1978) and Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (ibid, 1981), both of which (along with the pilot) are the only exposure to this show I’ve had. The Amazing Spider-Man starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker (with the show’s stunt co-ordinator, Fred Waugh, taking the role of Spider-Man, which was pretty obvious given their wildly contrasting size and builds) and, if you thought that this show took more from the source material than The Incredible Hulk then you’re going to be woefully disappointed.

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I mean…they did the best the could…

Jonah Jameson (played by both David White and Robert F. Simon) featured quite prominently but Robbie Robertson (Hilly Hicks) and Peter’s Aunt May (Jeff Donnell) only appeared in the pilot episode and, though Spidey tussled with hypnotists, terrorists, and gangs, he never once butted heads with any of his colourful rogues gallery. Spidey (and Parker) also initially ran afoul of Police Captain Barbera (played with gruff, loveable glee by Michael Pataki), but this character was sadly dropped for the show’s second season. The Amazing Spider-Man was an ambitious project, especially for the seventies; Spider-Man is a character who requires a lot of effects and stunt work to pull off correctly and is arguably far more dependent on modern computer effects than the likes of even the Hulk. As a result, while the show featured an incredibly faithful recreation of Spidey’s origin, costume, and web shooters and did its best to portray Spidey’s wall-crawling and web-slinging through wires, pulleys, and other camera tricks, the show always came across as being far more absurd than its Universal counterpart.

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For whatever reason, Doctor Strange got a movie too.

There was more to come from Universal Television, however, as they also produced a Dr. Strange (DeGuere, 1978) made-for-television movie that featured Peter Hooten in the title role (I guess Tom Selleck was unavailable…) and Jessica Walter as Morgan Le Fay. This one’s especially obscure and many have probably never heard of or seen it; it actually got a DVD re-release in 2016, coincidentally around the same time as Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016) was released in cinemas. Interestingly, Stephen Strange is portrayed as a psychiatrist rather than a physician and stumbles into his destiny as the Sorcerer Supreme when Le Fay possesses one of his patients, Clea Lake (Eddie Benton). The movie also featured other recognisable faces from the source material, such as Wong (Clyde Kusatsu) and the Ancient One (Michael Ansara), which is already a bit of a leg up on the Hulk and Spider-Man outings.

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More like Dr. Obscure, am I right?

What scuppered Dr. Strange, though, was, again, the fact that it was produced at a time when special effects simply were not up to the task of doing the character justice. It also didn’t help that the film was criticised for being overly long and boring and lacking any real urgency. In all honesty, there really isn’t much to see here that’s worth you rushing out to watch except the novelty of seeing a C-list character like Strange get a live-action movie well before his time.

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Yeah, I don’t think K.I.T.T. had anything to worry about…

CBS also had one another Marvel character to offer the seventies; Captain America (Holcomb, 1979) brought the star-spangled Avenger to life on television screens and…dear Lord, is this a sight to behold! Reb Brown starred as Steve Rogers, a former marine-turned-artist living in the present day whose patriotic father was known as “Captain America”. After he’s nearly killed by an attempt on his life, he’s inexplicably chosen to be administered with the super-serum F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain), which turns him into a superhuman. He then decks himself out in a horrendous version of the Captain America costume and takes to the streets on a modified super-cycle so massively over-the-top with gadgets and features than even K.I.T.T. would blush!

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Cap does love a good motorcycle.

Luckily, by the end and the sequel, Captain America II: Death Too Soon (Nagy, 1979), Rogers adopts a more faithful version of the costume and uses his abilities to oppose the plans of General Miguel (inexplicably played by Christopher Lee!), who desires to create a dangerous chemical. I’m actually far more familiar with the equally-lambasted Captain America (Pyun, 1990), which is still a guilt pleasure of mine. Nevertheless, both films were released on DVD and, while Dr. Strange was lost to the mists of time and obscurity, these films appear to have at least partially influenced the MCU as Cap (Chris Evans) does favour a motorcycle (but, to be fair, so did the comics Cap…).

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I would’ve watched a show with either of these two in.

Both The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk introduced Thor and Daredevil with the intention of setting them up for spin-off shows of their own but, for a variety of reasons, this never came to be and that’s a bit of a shame. Smith is no Charlie Cox but, while his Murdock was quite dull and boring, he gave a pretty good turn as Daredevil and it would probably have been easier and far cheaper to produce a Daredevil TV show than a Hulk or even Thor one. Similarly, I love the portrayal of Thor in Trial; sure, he doesn’t look or act anything like his Marvel Comics counterpart, but it could have been pretty fun to see him tossing fools around, getting into bar fights, and learning lessons in humility on an episodic basis. One thing that is equally unfortunate about all this is that the inclusion of Thor and Daredevil really took a lot of the focus off of Banner and the Hulk; sure, in the show, he was often a supporting player in a bigger story and other character’s lives, but these movies devoted so much of their runtime to pushing and establishing their new characters that it’s easy to forget that Banner and Hulk are even in them. The Death of the Incredible Hulk rectified this, but at the cost of killing both characters off in what was, while emotional (as a child, anyway), probably the lamest way imaginable.

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All these guys co-existed at about the same time…

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much love shown to The Amazing Spider-Man over the years; it’s never been released on home media outside of a few VHS tapes and, while Hammond appears to have been the basis for Parker’s design in the Spider-Man (1994 to 1998) animated series, he’s never returned to the character or the franchise again, not even for a quick cameo or a voice role (though I’m hoping the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman, 2018) will rectify that). Interestingly enough, there were apparently talks in 1984 to produce a movie that would see Spider-Man cross paths with Banner and the Hulk, with Spidey even donning the black costume during the film. There were, apparently, also talks of an additional made-for-television Hulk movie, The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk, which would have seen Banner (somehow) revived and forced to recreate the accident that turned him into the Hulk (or be reborn as the Hulk with Banner’s intellect, depending on what you read) but neither of these ideas ever came to fruition and were ultimately halted when Bixby sadly died in 1993.

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Magic linked these shows together, however tenuously.

However, none of this changes the fact that, sometime around 1978 to 1979, there were all these Marvel characters running around on television screens at about the same time, all produced by two studios and, in some cases, airing on the same networks. What this effectively means, then, is that it’s easy to imagine an alternative world where negotiations never broke down and the shows and movies proved popular enough for Spider-Man to crossover with the Hulk and, by extension, interact with Thor and Daredevil. So, what if…? What if there were a threat so big, so far beyond petty street crooks and one-note villains that these heroes would be forced to band together? Dr. Strange was heavily steeping in magic and mysticism, which was already (however unfitting) be proven to be a part of The Incredible Hulk’s world; hell, even The Amazing Spider-Man dabbled in the paranormal at times.

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It’s easy to image these guys existing in the same place and time.

Perhaps the threat would involve Fisk waging a war against Daredevil and all costumed heroes? The city is never named in The Incredible Hulk Returns but it could easily be New York City, the same New York City that Spider-Man swings around in. Perhaps this would be a chance to do a supervillain team-up, of sorts, between Fisk and Le Fay or to introduce other classic Marvel villains, such as Loki and the Red Skull. I would have loved to have worked Nick Fury (David Hasselhoff) into this imaginary Marvel team-up but it’s difficult to do that seeing as Bixby died in 1993 and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Hardy, 1998) didn’t release until 1998 but what if…? What if Bixby hadn’t suffered from cancer, or had beaten the disease and Banner had been resurrected in The Revenge of the Incredible Hulk? Perhaps we would have seen a version of the Professor Hulk or Grey Hulk personas, one that merged the brawn and the strength together, and Fury could have banded these heroes together to fight a common enemy.

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Spidey and Daredevil often work well together.

Personally, though, I would have preferred to see Banner and Hulk as they were portrayed in the television series; Bixby would have been the veteran actor who held this team up together and I would have limited his Hulk outs to two or three occurrences. Have him be the team’s moral compass, the hesitant advisor who learns to reconcile with his enraged alter ego through working with the other heroes. Murdock, as the older of the two, could have also acted as a kind of mentor to Spider-Man as the two are often portrayed as friends in the comics and have a lot in common with their “everyman” approach to super heroism. While the effects would not have allowed us to properly see the two swing across the New York rooftops, I think they could have cobbled together enough to produce some semi-decent, maybe even slightly acrobatic, fight scenes between the two.

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These guys are worlds apart.

You’d obviously think that Captain America would be the natural leader of this group but, remember, this isn’t the war-tested superhero we all know and love and I am not proposing an Avengers movie; Brown’s Cap is more of a secret agent, an enhanced super soldier who hasn’t nearly a fraction of the combat experience that Cap is usually known for. Because of that, I’d imagine him as the public face of the group and (in the absence of S.H.I.E.LD.), a source of the group’s intelligence resources. Perhaps Cap prefers to work alone and he has to learn to work with a group, rather than tackling everything head-on.

Thor still had a lot to learn about humility.

Instead, I’d have Doctor Strange be the de facto leader of the team by virtue of his age and power as the Sorcerer Supreme. His arc, perhaps, would have revolved around him needing to shift his focus from the bigger picture to factoring in the smaller issues that his peers face on a daily basis, effectively making himself both a public figure of the superhero community and improving his interpersonal skills. And then there’s Thor (and Blake, of course); Thor would be the group’s hot-headed jock, the guy who runs in, hammer swinging, trying to fix every problem with brute strength. This team up would be the perfect opportunity to teach Thor proper humility, to accept that he must work alongside mortals and lead by example rather than being a blundering buffoon. While he learned some of this in The Incredible Hulk Returns, it was clear that there was more to tell with his story and, perhaps, this team up and his learning of humility would be the final heroic act that would earn him his place in Valhalla, allowing Blake to, however sorrowfully, begin his life anew.

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In the end, for as hokey and cringe-worthy as a lot of these seventies Marvel shows were, it does disappoint me that we never got, at least, to see Spider-Man, Hulk, and Banner crossover onscreen. There was a lot to like about each of these, from the impressively realised costumes to the heart-felt emotion, to even the woeful action scenes and I would honestly have loved to see all of these characters come together to battle a common enemy. What do you think about Marvel’s television show and movies from the seventies? Do you have fond memories of The Incredible Hulk? Do you also wish that The Amazing Spider-Man would get a release on DVD? Perhaps you hated the monotony and ridiculousness of these shows. Whatever your opinion, leave a comment below and get in touch.

10 FTW: Things I Hate About Movies

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So, when it comes to movies, I am surprisingly optimistic. This may be because I would never pay to see a movie if I wasn’t reasonably sure that I was going to enjoy it and because I stick to genres and franchises that I know I like, but I usually go into a film with certain expectations and, as long as those are met, I am generally satisfied. With that said, there are some things about movies that drive me mad…or, at least, annoy me. Tropes that I would like to see less or, if not phased out entirely, and I’m come up with ten of them to rant about right now.

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10 Lack of Opening Credits

I’m fairly certain I’m the only person who cares about these days, where everyone is all about cutting right to the action, and I do understand that but there’s something I find innately lazy and annoying about not even seeing the movie’s title appear onscreen at the start of a film. We have to sit through grandiose logo sequences for movie studios, some that last about three minutes and sometimes watching up to five in quick succession, but we can’t just plaster the movie’s title on the screen? I believe the earliest I was exposed to this was in RoboCop 2 (Kershner, 1990) but it’s become especially noticeably in the works of Marvel Studios. I’m not expecting entire cast credits, as these can be admittedly annoying to sit through (though you can just place them over the opening scene, as in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) or the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014; 2017) films), but just throw the movie’s title up there and help me out a bit!

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9 Pointless Post-Credit Scenes

I am a sucker for post-credit scenes; Marvel Studios have popularised this to the point where it’s now expected that every movie has some kind of pre-, mid-, or post-credits scene. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t really worth sitting through ten minutes of credits for. Marvel have become especially lazy with this in recent years; no longer to their post-credit scenes set up further events or hints of things to come and, instead, they’re usually just throwaway gags or scenes purposely made to troll us (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017)!) These days, it seems like the pivotal, must-see scenes for Marvel movies now come before the credits rather than after them and the worst thing about a lot of these is that they are often used to hint at sequels that either never come or are fundamentally altered between movies; this is especially true of the DC Extended Universe but it also applies to the Dark Universe, which is seemingly dead in the water.

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8 Mismatching Title Fonts

Another thing that really bugs me is when movies use a specific title font for the posters, merchandise, and DVD covers but never actually use this font or logo in the film. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), which has that awesome orange font for its logo but instead uses a simpler, less grandiose font in the film. What’s worse is that Spielberg used the Indiana Jones logo for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (ibid, 1984) but reverted back to the much less exciting font for the subsequent Indy films. While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight (2005 to 2012) trilogy may not have had the most exciting title font ever, at least this was uniform across the film and merchandise. It seemed like Warner Brothers were employing this as the standard font for their DC movies…until Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) ruined it by using the basic font on the posters and a far more exciting, comic-inspired font in the movie!

7 Prequel Sequels

You know what really gets my arse up? Numbers in movies are sequential; you have the first movie, then the second, then the third and so forth so, when movies use a number in their title, a 2 should mean it’s the second movie and, therefore, a continuation of the first. But, instead, movies like to slap a 2, 3, or even a 4 on there when, in actual fact, it’s a prequel! Tarzan 2 (Smith, 2005) and Insidious: Chapter 3 (Whannell, 2015) are perfect examples of this but, for a better example, take a look at the Scorpion King (2002 to 2018) franchises! The Scorpion King (Russell, 2002) is a spin-off of the Mummy (1999 to 2008) franchise, taking place before The Mummy (Sommers, 1999). Its sequel, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, despite having a 2 in its title, is actually a prequel with the subsequent three sequels all being sequels to The Scorpion King, resulting in the following viewing order:

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior
The Scorpion King
The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (Reine, 2012)
The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (Elliot, 2015)
The Scorpion King: Book of Souls (Paul, 2018)
The Mummy
The Mummy Returns (Sommers, 2001)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Cohen, 2008)

6 Senseless CGI

I grew up in an age where special effects were constantly evolving, where complex camera techniques and detailed prosthetics were the order of the day. Consider the laborious effort that went into composting all of the matte paintings, models, and sets in Aliens (Cameron, 1986), a film that also employed fantastic suits, miniatures, and puppets that really made it seem as though there were hundreds of Xenomorphs out for Sigourney Weaver’s blood. Nowadays, filmmakers just CGI the hell out of it and be done with it and, while this can result in some breathtaking movies and action scenes, often it’s an egregious use of a tool that should be used to enhance films rather than overwhelm them. Let’s talk, again, about George Lucas, one of the pioneers of practical effects, who used puppets, models, and complex filming techniques to craft his original Star Wars (1977 to 1983) trilogy. However, when it came time for him to produce the prequel trilogy (1999 to 2005), he used nothing but green screens, digitally adding almost every element of the films in after this actors stumbled through scenes with no frame of reference. Honestly, just because you can use CGI to create all the Clone Troopers doesn’t mean you should and, to me, it just seems unnecessarily lazy and an arrogant use of your time, budget, and resources.

5 Panic Stations

I’m probably the only person who will admit to liking the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man films (2012; 2014); I loved the suit in The Amazing Spider-Man, the slightly different take on Peter Parker’s origin, and that it looked like Sony were finally going to be setting up the Sinister Six…and then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 happened. Despite making $700 million worldwide against a nearly $300 million budget, reception of the film was mixed and, rather than finish the series off with a finale, Sony finally decided to cooperate with Marvel Studios and opted to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. However, rather than integrate the MCU with the Amazing films (as had been previously suggested), Marvel Studios opted to complete recast the character, bringing in Tom Holland. Now, I like Holland as Peter/Spidey, but his introduction in Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016) came just two years after Garfield’s last appearance. Considering The Amazing Spider-Man rebooted the franchise only five years after Spider-Man 3 (Raimi, 2007), that is a lot of reboots and changes to Spider-Man in a very short amount of time. Halloween (Green, 2018), Hellboy (Marshall, 2019), and Terminator: Dark Fate (Miller, 2019) are also guilty of this, falling back on rebooting, retconning, or straight-up ignoring previous movies and returning “to their roots”. The DCEU has also suffered from Warner Brothers panicking to the reactions to their darker, gritty comic book movies, which caused Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) to suffer from rewrites and drastic changes.

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4 The Wilhelm Scream

The Wilhelm Scream used to be cute, a fun little recurring gag in movies. Like the creator cameos (popularised in recent years by Stan Lee showing up in Marvel movies), this used to be a fun Easter Egg for knowing audiences. Now, though, I have come to really despise this over used sound effect. It has been done to death in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films alone but seems to crop in every movie you see these days and I am just so sick of hearing it; it really takes me out of the experience and just makes me grimace every time it gets snuck in there.

3 Daft Movie Titles

Movie titles should be simple and striking; they should relate what’s going to happen and give the general gist of the movie. They should not be a chore to read or be indistinguishable from other film titles and, yet, we live in a world with films like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Story, 2005), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt, 2011). Here’s some alternative titles just for those movies: Tomb of the Mummy, Fantastic 4: Doomsday, Rise of the Apes. As for Batman v Superman, I don’t think it ever should have had a title at all; it literally should have just been the Batman and Superman logos on top of each other, with the film referred to as Batman/Superman. Let’s not forget such lazy titles as Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard, 2018), The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013), and The Dark Knight Rises, all of which could have easily been called Smuggler’s Run, Wolverine: Ronin, and Knightfall. Don’t even get me started on all the movies we got with Rise of, Age of, and Dawn of in their titles not that long ago!

2 Repeating Past Mistakes

I’m looking at Spider-Man 3 for this one; by the time that movie came out, it was pretty well known that a lot of comic book fans weren’t too happy with the revelation that Jack Napier/the Joker (Jack Nicholson) was the man who gunned down Bruce Wayne’s (Michael Keaton) parents in Batman (Burton, 1989). Yet, Sam Raimi seemingly didn’t hesitate at all to do exactly the same thing when he fingered Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) as the gun man in his movie. And why? Just so there would be a “connection” between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Sandman…despite the fact we already had a personal connection between Spidey and Harry Osborn/”New Goblin” (James Franco). It wasn’t the only mistake he made in that movie but it was one of the most baffling, especially considering all the controversy surrounding the Joker revelation. We saw a similar situation when Green Lantern decided that Parallax (Clancy Brown) would be much more effective as a big ol’, CGI mess of a space cloud, something that worked out just as well for Galactus in Rise of the Silver Surfer. Similarly, Justice League didn’t earn itself any favours by repeated the same “big fight against a CGI monstrosity” from both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), which were its direct predecessors and the subject of a lot of online backlash.

1 Ignoring Continuity

I touched on this earlier but there’s nothing I hate more than a film series or sequels completely ignoring their established continuity. The X-Men (Various, 2000 to present) series is the worst offender of this, throwing continuity out of the window with every entry and thinking it’s cute to poke fun at it in their Deadpool (Various, 2016; 2018) spin-offs. The Terminator series (Various, 1984 to present) is also just as bad with this, mainly because the film rights keep being passed between different studios and bodies, but it seems like every new Terminator movie disregards chunks of, if not the entirety of, their previous entries, making for a disjointed franchise that’s difficult to care about, with the upcoming Dark Fate looking like a mish-mash of its predecessors rather than something fresh and new. I get that, sometimes, aspects of films or entire movies/sequels aren’t received too well but I would much rather the screenwriters tried to address and move on from any problems rather than simply ignoring them or waving them away. If you’re just going to ignore what’s come before, make a remake or reboot and start completely fresh; otherwise, try something a little lazy than just ignoring entire movies.

How about you? What tropes of movies and cinema do you dislike? Let me know in the comments, or if you think I’m full of shit.

Talking Movies: Marvel Studios’ Fantastic Four

Talking Movies
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Those who actually read my articles may recall that, some time ago, I wrote a piece discussing some ideas for the inevitable integration of the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Disney reacquired the rights after their big purchase of 20th Century Fox. In all honesty, bringing in the X-Men is probably one of the hardest tasks faced by Marvel Studios given the popularity and mainstream awareness of the existing movie franchise. As detailed in my piece about films that desperately need a remake, I believe that it would be comparatively easier to bring in a new version of Marvel’s first family of superheroes, the Fantastic Four, and that this should be the main goal following the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame (Russo Brothers, 2019). The Fantastic Four are, obviously, no strangers to live-action adaptation; Roger Corman infamously co-produced, but never released, the extremely low-budget The Fantastic Four (Sassone, 1994) back in the nineties, Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 (2005) and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (ibid, 2007) actually saw the light of day but came under a lot of criticism for some of the effects, tone, casting, and the handling of Galactus, while Josh Trank’s 2015 grim and gritty reboot, Fant4stic, was beset by studio interference, an oddly serious tone, and a dramatically altered interpretation of Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell). Having seen each of these adaptations, I can say that each does have its fair share of problems but there are some positives to be found as well.

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The Fantastic Four have certainly had their fair share of movies.

The Fantastic Four is probably the closest to the 1960s version of the characters; the Four are bathed in cosmic rays and obtain their superpowers, wear very comic-accurate costumes (to a fault, as they literally just look like Halloween costumes), and Doctor Doom’s (Joseph Culp) origin, abilities, and appearance are probably the closest to the comics out of all three adaptations. Also, while every other effect in the film was cringey to the point of embarrassment, Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith/Carl Ciarfalio) was phenomenally realised in a practical, semi-animatronic costume similar to those seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990). Fantastic 4, while suffering from the tired depiction of Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) as a suit-wearing businessman and some questionable casting (Ioan Gruffudd isn’t bad as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic but also isn’t that great and Jessica Alba was woefully miscast as Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, a fact made all the more prevalent by the gratuitous shots of her in her underwear rather than emphasising her intelligence), was basically saved by Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans, whose chemistry as the Thing and the Johnny Storm/Human Torch, respectively, are well worth the price of admission. Rise of the Silver Surfer improved on the lacklustre finale of its predecessor and, while Galactus was little more than a formless space-cloud, at least the movie tried to do Galactus when it could have just as easily gone down a safer, more boring route. The Silver Surfer (Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne) was also realised extremely effectively, looking great and being a powerful yet empathetic character; while tying his powers directly to his board did weaken him somewhat compared to his comic counterpart, it simplified matters considerably. Oh, also, the Fantasicar is in this and looks amazing!

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When the first trailers for Fant4stic hit, I was actually quite excited as it looked like it was going to be a more grounded, scientific, realistic interpretation and its trailers, look, and marketing reminded me a lot of Interstellar (Nolan, 2014). I also heard a lot of negative reviews surrounding the movie and went into it expecting this dull, boring, disjointed mess of a film but found myself surprisingly enjoying it. For one thing, the cast is much better; Kate Mara is a far better fit for Susan Storm (though the fact that she doesn’t actually go on the mission with the others is a problem), Miles Teller is also far more suitable, portraying Reed as a somewhat awkward but determined and enthusiastic young genius, and Michael B. Jordan was absolutely brilliant as Johnny Storm because of his natural charisma and totally proved that race shouldn’t always be a factor when casting these characters. On the flip side, Toby Kebbell is quite underwhelming as Doom and Jamie Bell really didn’t have the physical stature to properly fit the role of Ben Grimm, though I did like the CGI used to create the Thing. One of the things that separate the Fantastic Four from other superheroes is that they are a family; their strengths lie completely in their unity and, while each are powerful and talented separately, the idea has always been that the four of them together are a formidable unit. Tim Story’s movies emphasised the “dysfunctional family” dynamic of the team quite well; though miscast, as I said, Sue acts as the “mother” to the team, being the voice of reason and logic and intervening in arguments; Johnny and Ben are the bickering children who are just as likely to fight each other as other threats; and Reed is the level-headed, hyper-intelligent “father” of the group, though Gruffudd rarely exuded the charisma, confidence, or intelligence you might expect from such a character. This ended up being a theme in Fant4stic, with the team officially forming at the film’s climax and staying together out of a true sense of friendship that developed over months of working together after being introduced as strangers. Reed and Ben were close as kids but, once Reed becomes part of Franklin Storm’s (Reg E. Cathey) interdimensional project, he leaves Ben behind and forms a fast friendship with Johnny, which is an interesting twist as Johnny is generally treated as a kid brother by Reed.

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Doom’s always been a bit…obsessed, to say the least…

Also at the heart of the team’s story is their complicated relationship with Doom; all three interpretations portray Doom as a former colleague and rival to Reed but only The Fantastic Four and Fant4stic delve into their friendship. Reed and Doom are supposed to be equally matched in their intelligence and separated only by Doom’s megalomaniacal ego and lust for power, which is generally realised in his live-action adaptations; The Fantastic Four’s Doom descends into one-note revenge and a desire to conquer the world while Fant4stic-Doom, similar to Fantastic 4­-Doom, revels in his newfound power and desire to use it to subjugate others and prove he is the better man than Reed. In the films, Doom’s motivations are generally further bolstered (or diluted, you might argue) by his attraction to Sue; Fantastic 4-Doom proposes to her and actively pursues her simply because she is unobtainable, making his motivations much less threatening. Even in Rise of the Silver Surfer there is a suggestion that he seeks to obtain the Surfer’s powers simply to displace Reed in Sue’s life. Personally, I don’t like this addition to Doom’s motivations; I think it’s enough to have Doom be this selfish, egotistical madman who desires power and more power and to prove that he is superior to Reed and, by extension, his extended family. With their acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Marvel Studios now has the opportunity to bring the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; with the Four come some of Marvel’s greatest characters and villains, including Doom, Silver Surfer, Namor, Annihilus, and Galactus and their significance in the greater Marvel universe cannot be understated, with Reed being an integral member of the Illuminati and the team being the force that drives away Galactus’ threat.

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Perhaps the Fantastic Four have been trapped in the Negative Zone for a while?

Unlike the X-Men, bringing in the Fantastic Four can be a relatively simple affair; one of the things I liked about Fant4stic was that the team travelled across dimensions, rather than into space, to acquire their powers. Either approach is fine to me because the main thing here is that the Four are explorers and scientists first and adventurers and superheroes second, so you could very easily have the Fantastic Four return from an excursion into the Negative Zone, either by design or having been trapped there by Doom. That way you can establish that the characters and the Baxter Building have existed in the MCU for some time but they have either been away or lost for some time, similar to how Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) was introduced to the MCU. There are, however, a few ways you could portray the team; Marvel Studios could take inspiration from Fant4stic and Ultimate Fantastic Four (Various, 2004 to 2009) and have the Four be in their mid-teens. Perhaps Reed is a genius savant and Doom is his former teacher, embittered by Reed’s intellect and youth, or maybe they were peers driven by a friendly rivalry that turned sour. It’s definitely a route to go down if you want longevity from the actors and characters and to maintain some of the youthful vigour Tom Holland brings to the MCU as Spider-Man.

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Reed gives an opportunity to bring in another seasoned actor to the MCU.

However, I would actually go the alternate route, especially as I’m hoping for the majority of the X-Men to be teens at Xavier’s School for the Gifted as in X-Men: Evolution (2000 to 2003), and use this as an opportunity to bring some older actors into the roles and have a few more seasoned voices of authority to be peers with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). This puts me in a bit of a bind, as I already had Pierce Brosnan eyed for Magneto, but he’d be equally great as Reed; in another time, I would have also said Bruce Campbell, but he maybe doesn’t have the acting gravitas I envision for Mr. Fantastic, though maybe Bradley Cooper would be a good fit (and it’d give him a chance to be seen onscreen in a Marvel movie) or even Nathan Fillion, if he isn’t going to appear as Simon Williams/Wonder Man any time soon.

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Definately need someone young and sexy for Torch and gruff but loveable for the Thing.

I previously suggested Zac Efron for Johnny Storm, which I think I’ll stick with; a young, cut, utterly handsome hot-head is just the sort of thing the Human Torch needs. He also needs to have good chemistry with the Thing, who I would hope to either be some Hulk-level top-quality CGI or a combination of a practical suit and CGI; I would also keep Ben as the Thing the entire time, meaning Marvel only need to bring in a quality actor to voice the role, like they did with Rocket Raccoon. I previously, somewhat jokingly, suggested Danny DeVito, mainly because of his accent, but maybe Brad Garrett or Dean Norris would be equally good fits.

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Doom needs a deep, booming, theatrical voice and presence.

As for Sue, I’m at a bit of a loss; perhaps a Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams (if she’s really done with DC movies), or Emily Blunt, if Marvel could get her. I’m not too good at casting females, to be honest, but I definitely think Marvel would be better off looking for a Kate Mara than a Jessica Alba (someone like Felicity Jones, maybe) as Sue doesn’t need to be some drop-dead gorgeous bombshell; she should be smart and sophisticated and have good chemistry with Reed. Similarly, for Doom, you want an actor who won’t be a one-and-done as, unfortunately, Hugo Weaving was; Red Skull should be a much bigger presence in the MCU but Weaving’s comments and attitude seem to have prevented that, and Doom should definitely be a massive threat to the MCU, hopefully similar to Marvel’s version of Magneto. I would push to only see Doom unmasked in a flashback to his time as Reed’s peer, meaning you either need an actor willing to be behind the armour for the entire movie or cast a decent stunt man (bring in Doug Jones, maybe) and an ominous voice actor; off the top of my head, though, I would love to see Tony Todd play the role due to his menacing stature and haunting, raspy voice, though Peter Mensah or Sterling K. Brown would be just as fitting.

Pretty sure the Skrulls will be a big deal going forward.

I would also take quite a bit of inspiration from Captain Marvel (Boden, 2019), especially as that film is bringing the Skrulls to the MCU. At this point, I am hoping that the Skrulls play a significant role in the next phase of Marvel movies, with mid- and after-credit sequences and subsequent movies revealing that certain characters are actually Skrulls in disguise and that the shape-shifters have been secretly invading the Earth in the Four’s absence. Marvel’s Fantastic Four movie could initially take place some time after Captain Marvel, in the late-nineties, with the Four discovering the Skrull invasion or their home planet on an excursion and being left stranded there when their gateway/module explodes. Upon their return, the Four (who would perhaps assume Doom died in the explosion) would use their resources to prepare for the invasion, or fight back against it, only to find that Doom is alive and well and lording it up in Latveria, where his dimensional gateway (a combination of technology and magic) has been allowing the Skrulls to come to Earth over the intervening years. Doom would reveal that he discovered the Skrulls first and struck a bargain with them and that he sabotaged the Four’s gateway; when the Four confront him, they could battle the Super-Skrull (a nice thematic parallel as they essentially have to battle themselves and their own powers) and, upon defeating Doom, find that it was simply a sophisticated robotic decoy and that not only is Doom still out there, but countless Skrulls have infiltrated the human race. Admittedly, this is very thin and doesn’t really delve into how the Four get their powers; maybe they obtain them during their time in the Negative Zone or on the Skrull planet, perhaps even through Skrull experimentation? Either way, I definitely feel Marvel’s Fantastic Four should show that the Skrulls are still at large if only to set up towards a Secret Invasion (Bendis, et al, 2008 to 2009) style conclusion to the whole Skrull storyline in a New Avengers movie.

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Namor could be a great role for an Asian actor.

Following this, and with the Four playing key roles in a New Avengers movie, a Fantastic Four sequel could juggle a few famous Fantastic Four plots; aside from the obvious return/revelation that Doom is still alive, perhaps Sue is pregnant and ultimately gives birth to Franklin Richards to actually get that Power Pack movie off the ground? Also, it would be a great opportunity to bring in Namor; given how successful Aquaman (Wan, 2018) was, though, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing Namor in the first of Marvel’s Fantastic Four films and end with the revelation of Doom’s existence/survival. Namor is quite the complex and layered anti-hero and would introduce a whole new world to the MCU while still tying in with the introduction of Mutants; I’d also use Namor as a chance to bring in an Asian actor for the role, like Donnie Yen or Lee Byung-hun. Anyway, the second Fantastic Four movie would also have a sub-plot whereby Reed is constantly monitoring or noticing a strange energy spike crossing the globe and the post-credits scene would show that this is, of course, the Silver Surfer. I’d then have the Silver Surfer appear in this fashion across every subsequent Marvel movie; perhaps, during the films, there would be news reports, headlines, clear spoken dialogue referring to craters appearing, ecological changes, power shortages, and sightings of a strange silvery alien. Definitely, though, I would take a page out of previous Marvel movies and have a few post-credits stingers showing the Surfer preparing various sites and, finally, summoning Galactus to Earth. This would culminate in what I’m going to title Avengers: Doomsday (perhaps New Avengers: Doomsday), a movie that would feature the Silver Surfer as the main antagonist for the first third, Doom for the second (after he drains the Surfer’s powers and uses them for his own ends, possibly in league with other villains), and Galactus for the last two thirds. If anyone can pull off a decent Galactus it’s going to be Marvel Studios, who made Thanos (Josh Brolin) one of their greatest threats and are generally really good at bringing their comic characters to life in a way that is believable and also faithful to the source material.

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Part of me feels like it would be a disservice to Galactus to resolve his threat in one movie, even one that involves most the MCU’s greatest heroes, especially as one of Marvel Studios’ more questionable decisions was to limit Ultron (James Spader) to one appearance. At the same time, though, I don’t really want to see a two part Avengers movie again as it would be too much of a repeat of what Marvel Studios did with Thanos so, instead, building Galactus (through the Silver Surfer) through multiple movies and the two Fantastic Four movies would allow for a much greater payoff in Avengers: Doomsday. Plus, Galactus doesn’t really have any minions for the heroes to fight so it’d be much more about how they are supposed to defeat this giant, God-like being that is sucking the Earth dry. All-in-all, the Fantastic Four would be a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offer a lot of opportunities for new characters, new heroes and villains, new worlds and new technology, and to include some more seasoned, mature actors to bring a sense of maturity and authority to the MCU. Having Reed Richards (and Professor X if Marvel also bring in the X-Men) also allows for a potential, movie-spanning arc involving the Illuminati and opens even more doors for new stories to tell. The Fantastic Four also really deserve a good crack of the whip as all of their live-action adaptations have been lacking and I know that Marvel Studios would be able to present them in the proper way; plus, if it gives us a really good, menacing, sinister, and complex villain in Doctor Doom then all the better!