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Fantastic Four (1994)
I don’t recall where I first learned there would be a movie based on Fantastic Four, my favorite childhood comic book—in one of Stan Lee’s editorial “Bullpen Bulletins,” perhaps. I specifically remember seeing a flyer at my local comic shop announcing the guy who played Reed Richards would appear for a signing.
As time passed, and it became clearer the movie would not come soon to a theater near me, I was disappointed. This was before the renaissance of comic book movies that began with Blade and X-Men and Spider-Man and continued with Iron Man and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC. Films like Batman and Robin and Superman IV taught me to lower my expectations.
Then the FF film went straight to video, and bootleg copies popped up at conventions. At one, a dealer played it on a small TV screen and I finally caught a snippet.
I believe it was the scene with the Human Torch flying. (I say “the scene” because it’s the only one in the movie!) I recognized it as the Torch; that was encouraging, no? Maybe it would’ve looked better on a big screen. Maybe it needed to be seen from the beginning for me to truly appreciate. It wasn’t fair to judge based on an out-of-context clip from a bootlegged copy shown at a noisy and crowded comic convention.
Besides, I had seen a few photos of the cast: they got the costumes right (except the “4” logo was so low it was practically on their stomachs), the Thing was massive and rocky like he was supposed to be (even if he kinda looked made out of papier-mâché), and they really overdid it with the grey in Reed’s hair, but the most important things were the acting and the story. As long as I could believe in the whole thing, the rest wouldn’t matter. One day I would see it and judge for myself.
It couldn’t be that bad, right?
I have pondered why Hollywood can’t get the FF right on the big (or even the small) screen when they’ve succeeded with weirder concepts—and I’m not the only one. The name has become so tarnished in Hollywood it would take a superhuman effort indeed to rehab it in the eyes of the public, though I’m sure Marvel Studios will try its best.
If I was Kevin Feige, I’d make a Doctor Doom movie first. Arguably the greatest supervillain in comics history, Doom has an origin story that’s practically Shakespearean in its elements of nobility, hubris and tragedy, but just as the FF have never been perfectly captured in four (count ‘em!) movies, neither has their toughest, most popular adversary. If villains like Joker, Venom and Morbius can have movies, so can Doom.
In fact, I’d build a trilogy around him: first film, the origin, ending with him putting on the mask and armor for the first time; second film, he takes over his homeland of Latveria; third film, an adaptation of this.
Throughout it all, I would weave the creation of the FF into the background, with Reed as a minor, but important, recurring character, like how Nick Fury started out in the Avengers solo films. I’d show only enough to build an interest in them, so that when the time was right, I’d relaunch the FF, but only after an interest had been built and sustained—and I wouldn’t have to bother with retelling the origin, either. But perhaps Feige will spearhead something just as good.
In the meantime, let’s set the WABAC Machine to the 1990s, when Fandom Assembled could only dream of a cinematic universe, and live-action versions of characters like Spidey and the Hulk could only be found on the small screen.
A recent documentary covered the making of the first FF film: German production company Constantin Films had held an option to make an FF movie, and in 1992 they brought in the legendary B-movie king Roger Corman to produce, since they knew he could do it fast and cheap. Music video director Oley Sassone helmed a screenplay by Craig J. Nevius & Kevin Rock, at a budget of a million dollars.
Imagine making a Marvel movie for only a million dollars today. That wouldn’t even cover Robert Downey Jr’s entourage.
It’s not a good movie overall: plot holes, shoddy FX, way too much of Doom gesticulating to compensate for his face mask, an annoying secondary villain.
That said, a fan of the source material, i.e., the original comic book, would recognize this, for the most part, as the Fantastic Four. There are details I could dwell on, but I did get a sense the filmmakers actually read the comic, which is more than I could say for the other three movies.
Anybody else, however, would likely chuck this after the first half hour and put on The Incredibles instead, and I wouldn’t blame them.