Five Reasons Why Fantastic Four Movies Fail
I will immediately preface this post by saying that my familiarity to this franchise extends only to the four films as well as the mid 90’s cartoon which I haven’t watched since then. Though I have heard other descriptions of how the team works in the comics, at least before it was cancelled by Marvel earlier this year. This team of heroes has gone through three different iterations, none of them have been critical successes, one of them wasn’t even released, and only one was much of a financial success. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to adapt this family of four heroes with unique powers that act together as a family, I mean the Incredibles was able to do it, so why can’t the Fantastic Four? Here are a few reasons why I think it’s been so difficult.
#1 – The Fantastic Four is a Family That’s Not a Family
One of the biggest issues that the films have is that the Fantastic Four is a family that’s not really a family. Johnny and Sue are the only two who are actually related, though Reed and Sue get married at some point in the comics and in the second Tim Story film. But in the Tim Story version, the family side of things feels very forced, especially as they are essentially forced to live together in the first film, and they end up devolving into bickering. There is some merit to the sibling-like rivalry between Johnny and Ben which are some of the most enjoyable moments in the films from my perspective, though it is taken a bit too far into a caricature of sibling rivalry rather than real brothers. In the Trank version, there’s a nice relationship between Reed and Ben at the beginning, but it doesn’t really follow through to the rest of the film. There’s even the added aspect of the father figure Franklin Storm, but it still never really feels like they come together as a family in the end. Johnny and Sue barely feel like they’re supposed to be brother and sister, and it has nothing to do with their different skin colors. There should be some minor squabbling, but with underlying love and respect for each other. Even in an origin story, the seeds of those relationships should be building. But instead, the Tim Story version favors an hour of bickering with ten minutes of coming together and the Trank version has them all working on their own independent issues separately and again has ten minutes of coming together.
#2 – The Fantastic Four’s Powers are Silly
If there’s an easy reason to point to as to why the Incredibles works as a pseudo Fantastic Four movie while the actual Fantastic Four movies fail is that the Incredibles makes the smart move to switch around some of the powers. They drop the guy who can burst into flames in favor of super speed which is much more non-lethal and doesn’t obscure anyone’s important facial features, and they drop the guy made of rocks which also has those same issues. Taken individually, and in the still image comics form, these powers work ok. There’s pathos that can be given over the long term with Ben Grimm not being able to live out a normal life. But truncated into a single movie, that’s an issue that has to take a backseat to dozens of other things that need to be accomplished in such a short time frame. Also, while the Trank version has the best looking version of stretching to date, it is still a very difficult concept for an audience to wrap their head around without being an additional logic step removed with an entirely animated character. Stretching is just not something that happens to real bodies using real physics. There’s also little use for a guy who can set himself on fire when it comes to being grounded in the real world. For a Fantastic Four movie to work, it needs that extra disconnect from reality. It could possibly work as a superhero movie satire or parody, but it’s hard to take these powers seriously at face value.
#3 – They Don’t Have Anyone To Fight
For some reason, every Fantastic Four movie boils down to the four of them teaming up together in one way or another to beat back a singularly powerful villain that none of them would be able to defeat by themselves. The Corman version avoids the fighting by necessity as they had a practically nonexistent special effects budget. During an early fight scene, it cuts away and when it cuts back the minions are lying on the floor and there’s a Thing shaped hole in the wall. Also, the finale boils down to a badly animated Torch racing to intercept the slowest laser beam ever. The first Tim Story movie ends with a fire tornado, the second has a giant space cloud, and this ends with basically a different type of space cloud. Dr. Doom may be a great villain in the comics, but the movies have failed him time and time again. Instead, they need something that will actually give them something to fight, something with minions. Maybe not an entire Skrull army, but at least a group of powered villains that will put up a fight, but ones that they can defeat individually. Or even something that has them working together like the great opening sequence in X-Men Days of Future Past.
#4 – They Aren’t Made on Their Own Terms
What I mean by this is that every one of these films have been made in order to keep the rights to these characters rather than making a film that has a story that can only be told with these characters. They are all products of a studio and executives that have what they think is a property that will make them money and they just need to figure out how to squeeze the money out of it. The first and last films are prime examples of this. I still don’t fully understand why property rights are designed that film rights are given so that as long as they are being utilized, they can be kept seemingly in perpetuity. But the first film is probably the most well known story of a movie that was made with the sole purpose to keep the rights to the characters for a few more years, even though it didn’t end up helping that studio any. But Fox decided that this property was still worth keeping and greenlit the most recent reboot. It was given to young director Josh Trank after his success with Chronicle, but when the executives didn’t like how test screenings went, they ordered very late reshoots and seemingly took the editing away from Trank to create a slap dash film that feels like much is missing.
#5 – Their Origin Just Doesn’t Work
This also calls back to mistake #2. Their origin is just as silly as their powers. Whether it’s a solar flare or energy from an alternate dimension, it doesn’t make much sense that these four, often five as two out of three versions give Doom his powers through the same event, people gain these extraordinary abilities that are wildly different from each other but still extremely powerful. Two of the three explain the powers via their personality – Sue is shy to the point of invisibility, Reed stretches himself too thin, Johnny is a hothead, etc. In the new film, there are touches of explantions for a couple of them, like Reed is stretching his arm to try and save Victor, and Ben has all the space rocks fly into his compartment, but the other two lack explanations. One of the things that I did like about the new film is that it jumps a year into the future so there is very little time on screen spent learning to use their abilities. I think more than any other property, the Fantastic Four just need to show up as an existing entity. Skip the origin entirely.
I think that a good Fantastic Four movie can be made, it’s just a shame that it has yet to be done after four attempts. I’m still a bit of a fan of the first Tim Story film, but it’s admittedly a guilty pleasure. I also liked large parts of the new film, but I think that studio meddling caused it to turn out badly. I doubt that it will ever be released, but I do think that Josh Trank’s version would be a much better film overall and I would love to see his original vision. If this is the end for this franchise, I doubt that Marvel will end up bringing it into their cinematic universe outside of a possible cameo in someone else’s film, and maybe that’s for the better. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.