Earlier today, my wife, daughter, and I went and saw Fantastic Four (or FANT4STIC if you go with the title on the movie poster, literally.) I was surprised that it wasn’t as horrible as I’d been told. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 9% among critics and 21% among movie-goers, I expected something painfully bad, and it was just kind of okay.
Dude, I’ve seen way worse movies. But I’ll agree that this wasn’t a very good Fantastic Four movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good one.
Back in 1994, Roger Corman put together an FF movie that was never released. I should see it one day, even though I’ve heard that it’s awful. But it’s a Roger Corman movie… you know what you’re getting into when you see one of those.
The Corman version was somewhat faithful to the comics (based on what I’ve read.) The titular four was granted powers from cosmic ray exposure due to a spaceflight, and ended up taking on Doctor Doom, the Latverian monarch who in megalomaniacal fashion planned to destroy New York city with a mega-laser.
I did see the 2005 version, and the sequel in 2007.
Doctor Doom was the villain in both movies, and had his origin updated to more closely resemble Doc Doom from the Marvel reboot of its comics, the “Ultimate” version. The sequel featured the classic FF character the Silver Surfer, and almost but not quite featured Galactus.
There was a lot to like in both movies, but they didn’t quite work for me. Or for the studio, since there was no 3rd movie in the franchise.
This year, the latest incarnation of the FF came out, with a making-of story that was far more compelling than the actual movie. I’m kind of fascinated with all of the director Josh Trank vs. the Studio news that has come out over the months. The movie was pretty heavily panned, and I wasn’t sure I was going to see it, until my daughter asked to. Hey, it’s the end of summer, school was starting up again. Why not?
The movie has a lot of flaws, and I think it spends a lot of time being an origin story that isn’t that engaging. The actual origin of the FF in the comics probably took four pages (in a flashback, after introducing the foursome) and then got in with the business of the team checking out Monster Island and dealing with the Mole Man.
The movie was more of an X-Files backstory with super science gone awry intersecting with military exploitation. I almost expected Mulder and Scully to be investigating reports of a Rock Man and a Fire Monster that would implicate a covert shady government operation. (Hmmm, maybe I should pitch that for a 2025 Fantastic Four movie.)
Anyway, I didn’t mind the movie that much. The end was kind of a rote battle between the good guys and a bad guy that really had very little to do with the character work that had been in the beginning. Which was probably my main issue. All of the movies that I’ve seen (again, I can’t judge Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four unseen) are mishandlings of one of my favorite Marvel characters. Doctor Victor Von Doom.
(Look, mild spoilers for FANT4STIC will follow…)
Victor Von Doom in the current movie, like the Ultimate version from the comics, is a colleague of Reed Richards who gains powers alongside the others due to complications from an experimental interdimensional travel to “Planet Zer0.”
Von Doom gets left behind, but eventually returns fused into his “spacesuit” which gives him an approximate look of Doom from the comics. And his connection to the energy field of Planet Zer0 grants him… uh … head blowing up powers. And Ego the Living Planet powers while on Planet Zer0. Look, he gets to do magical stuff.
Doom, deciding for his own reasons that Earth should be destroyed, sets up a big world-gobbling portal to suck the Earth into
the Negative Zone Planet Zer0. Our heroes stop him. You can go see the movie for full details.
Victor is a pretty thin character in the movie, he’s presented as an arrogant genius, he has a creepy thing for Sue Storm (which he exhibits by just staring at her like he’s never seen a woman), and that’s pretty much about it. I don’t need a lot of reasons for anyone mutated by a planetary energy field to want to destroy the Earth, but I felt this Doom lacking.
Julian McMahon’s Victor Von Doom from the 2005 movie was a little bit better, being set up as a handsome Lex Luthor type of science-minded businessman, with a professional antagonism towards Reed Richards and in a relationship with Sue. The cosmic ray exposure that Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny undergo also changes Von Doom, turning his skin metallic and granting him electricity powers.
Okay. At least he dons an armored mask. But I’m not crazy about it. Especially Victor Von Doom being a rich, privileged businessman. Or being a mutant.
The problem for me is this: Doctor Doom from the original Fantastic Four comics was so much more interesting than a guy gone crazy from being mutated. Anyone wanting to pen a Fantastic Four movie should really try to make a Doctor Doom movie first. Because I’d go see that.
Let me paraphrase the Doctor Doom story:
Victor Von Doom was an ethnic minority and war orphan in Latveria, who used his unparalleled genius to lead a revolt against the oppressive ruling regime. Getting a scholarship in the US, he butted heads with young arrogant Reed Richards, and pushed himself too far, resulting in disfiguring tragedy.
He returned to Latveria, uncompromising in his demand to control nearly everything. He conquered the country with his scientific genius and provided the Latverian population with prosperity in return for absolute obedience.
It might sound like a cheesy origin story, but I think there’s a lot going on. Von Doom might not have been such a tyrant if he had not experienced so much loss in his life, or had to deal with the arrogance of people like Reed Richards, who was very very similar to Von Doom, except with a ton of privilege instead of starvation.
I think this leads to a more complicated character, but in general the recent movies try to boil the Reed/Doom conflict into a Sue Richards influenced love triangle.
I’m not opposed to Dr. Doom having an emotional connection with a young lady associated with Reed Richards. There’s one that’s well established in the comics. Valeria Richards, Sue and Reed’s second child is Doctor Doom’s goddaughter.
I don’t need to go into details, go find the relevant comics run and read up on it. (If you must know some details: it involved a siege of the Baxter Building, a super-pregnant Sue Richards nearly alone and trapped in the building, and Reed unable to get to her. And Doc Doom happening to appear, looking to get into usual mischief, and ending up delivering the child. LIKE A BOSS!)
Doom in the comics is a fairly unapproachable guy, except for Valeria Richards who is adorably bent on redeeming her godfather. I love that.
And I regret that in the current run of the movies, we won’t see that. Valeria is unlikely to have a close relationship with someone so far removed from human that, well, that they can’t have close relationships. Duh.
Back to the FANT4STIC movie, I would have been much more accepting of the plot, if the bad guy had been Annihilus.
And saved a legit Victor Von Doom for a later movie.
Images from Marvel Comics, and the 1994, 2005, and 2015 versions of the Fantastic Four.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved