The new Fantastic Four movie was just released and it is fantastically awful. Aside from that review from our very own highlanderly-named Collin MacGregor (like you need anyone else’s opinion), Metacritic rates it at 27, which is significantly worse than even the previous two flops it rebooted.
Fantastic Four has consistently been one of Marvel’s most enduring and endearing properties, with sales competitive against not just Marvel comics, but all major comic franchises. So why is it that–even in this golden age of comic book movies–we still can’t get a decent Fantastic Four movie.
Disclaimer: I have not seen the most recent movie myself and my knowledge of Fantastic Four canon is far from complete, so if there are any glaring errors here, please feel free to add corrections or additions/theories in the comments.
Let’s talk first about the “first” two movies. “First” in quotes there because the early 90s saw a deliberately awful movie that was thrown together at the last minute in order to keep the rights.
The first real tries at a Fantastic Four movie occurred in the mid-2000s, when superhero movies were still really finding their footing. Sam Raimi’s Spider-man was really the only decent superhero movie to have come out in the last decade. Batman Begins was released the same year. But around that time, we were also getting aimless and failed stabs at beloved comic heroes like Ang Lee’s Hulk, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, and Punisher starring Tom Jane. By and large, the comic hero movies of the early-mid 2000s get a pass because–much like my sexual experiences at the time–they were novice, sticky, mostly-forgettable fumblings that would eventually lead to expert and wildly satisfying juggernauts we know today (ladies). Basically, if it came out between 2000 and 2008 and wasn’t Batman or Spider-man, you have to think really hard to remember if you saw it and what the plot was.
So the original two attempts we can chalk up to victims of being basically in the comic book movie puberty era. But what about the newest one?
First of all, anyone familiar with Fantastic Four should’ve been able to tell from the first trailer that this movie (technically titled Fant-4-stic, which you may recognize makes no fucking sense) was going to hit wide of the mark. “Why” you ask, hypothetical reader? Because 90% of Fantastic Four comics are just balls-to-the-wall goofy. They spew more cheesy one-liners than a Wisconsin-based Peter Parker and break the fourth wall almost as often and clumsily as Deadpool and the Kool-Aid Man combined. In the middle of Civil War–an event so serious that it mostly reads like a treatise on the limitations of government power (because that’s what it is)–Ben Grimm (The Thing) goes to Paris to escape the politics and meets up with thinly-veiled DC analogues/parodies called Les Heros de Paris (The Heroes of Paris).
Just to put this in context, Civil War sees the death of more than one major character, shows Captain America beating the absolute piss out of the Punisher for murdering thugs who are trying to help him in cold blood, turns Tony Stark into robo-Hitler, and develops lovable, quirky Speedball…
Who, by the way, because he can only access his power through pain, has the inside of that armor filled with 612 spikes to represent each person killed in the event that kicks off the whole Civil War timeline. Oh, and 60 of those spikes are extra long to remind him of that 60 of those deaths were children.
And through all this the Fantastic Four’s Thing is gallivanting around Paris with French Batman. So… you know.. FF likes to keep things kinda light.
In contrast, this was one of the posters for F-4-nt-ass-Tick:
I can almost hear Archer asking for his slightly-darker-black turtleneck. The Dark Knight poster has more color and it has “dark” in the title!
So yeah… this particular movie was doomed from the beginning. Marvel has plenty of gritty franchises that are marquis names–Wolverine, Punisher, Moon Knight, etc.–Fantastic Four is not one of them.
Another big problem with these movies has been the villains. Comic book Dr. Doom is one of the greatest villains in comic history. He’s terrifying, he’s magical, he’s a genius, he runs his own damn country, he has an army of robots, and he’s genuinely relatable when you dig into his motivations. Also he can totally beat up Darth Vader. The first movies turned him into a dime store Magneto. According to Collin, the newest movie give him even less depth.
Then there’s Galactus. Galactus–according to comic legend–is basically God. Capitol G, Old Testament angry God. The movie turned him into a cosmic fart cloud that plays second fiddle to the Silver Surfer.
So we’ve examined why the existing movies don’t work, so why can’t Marvel push out a good one? Why did this newest one come out?
Well, it’s only been eight years since the last one, so it’s doubtful this was another licensing issue. When it was first announced, it seemed like this would tie in with Civil War, since Reid Richards does play a integral part in that event. However, Civil War Fantastics are older and established. Reid and Sue have children who are probably at least like 4 and 9 years old. The new movie shows the whole team as something close to teenagers, and it doesn’t seem to be set in the past. So that’s most likely not a reason. I guess the answer to why this came out is… *shrug*
Also, real quick, this is another goddam origin story. Anyone who follows me on here knows how I feel about origin stories. The Fantastic Four case is a little different than the reason I linked there though. They actually have a few origin stories, but all of them can boil down to the writers yelling “SCIENCE” and waving their hands wildly. The Fantastic Four origin story has less to do with their characters than Batman’s favorite flavor of ice cream.
Again, I still can’t figure out why Marvel can’t seem to get this one right. If you’d asked me a couple years ago, I would have said that it’s just too hard to capture that goofiness. However, Guardians of the Galaxy was a smash hit and that wasn’t even a property that casual fans were aware of. Ant Man was a really fun movie. The upcoming Deadpool looks like it’s going to be pretty good too.
Unfortunately, I cannot answer the question I posed in the title. I am legitimately asking, because I’m stumped. Someone please help me answer this.