Super Movies – Fantastic Four, Part 2

Continuing the recap of 2005’s big-budget feature adaptation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. When we left off last week, Victor Von Doom was mutating. His skin and bones were turning to metal, plus he had magnetic and electrical powers. My God, he’s turning into Metalord (coming soon to Run, Digger Run!, in case you forgot the trailer)!

Next thing you know, he’s in a parking garage, meeting with… You know, they never do clarify just who this douchebag is. He seems to be on the board of directors of Von Doom Industries, but he also keeps referring to “the bank” when he’s announcing things. Maybe he’s an investment banker, since Von Doom just had an IPO that sank like a stone after Reed’s fiasco in space.

You know what, who cares who he is since Von Doom just put a hole in him with lightning.

I’m supposed to think this now makes Doom a bad guy, but since I was getting kind of annoyed that the film still hadn’t told me just who this guy was, I’m kind of glad Doom killed him so I don’t have to care anymore.

Across town at the wacky, wacky FF household, Johnny is feeling cooped up and Ben is getting impatient for Reed to finish his “turn Ben back to normal” device. Also, Reed, Johnny and Sue have started wearing their blue space jumpsuits (the ones with the unstable molecules) because the space radiation made the suits able to adapt to each hero’s powers or something (Reed’s suit stretches, Sue’s turns invisible when she does, Johnny’s doesn’t burn).

So while Doom is stocking up on weapons like heat-seeking missiles to destroy the FF, Johnny heads out to an extreme dirt bike competition. And on the way there’s a minor incident where he melts the tires of a car that wants to race him at a red light.

And I only mention it because it seems awfully reminiscent of this panel, the Human Torch’s very first appearance in Fantastic Four #1 by Lee and Kirby. The film really seems to draw a lot of inspiration from that very first issue. There’s Ben Grimm slouching around in a trenchcoat and hat, Sue Storm turning invisible in the street, and another scene I’ll point out later. But unlike, say, Daredevil or Spider-Man, this film really seems to reach all the way back for its major story elements (at least as far as the heroes are concerned).

So Johnny heads out to the extreme motorcycle thing and does a jump that wows the crowd. Then for a follow-up, he tries to ignite and fly. He almost makes it, but ends up falling to the ground. But he makes up for it by ripping off his cycling uniform to reveal his blue space tights underneath, now emblazoned with a “4” symbol. As Johnny delivers an interview in which he gives everyone their hero names, Reed, Sue and Ben decide to go there and minimize the PR damage. Instead, they get into a huge public row.

Meanwhile, Doom is finalizing his plans for revenge. But first, let’s hang a really stupid gun on the mantle, shall we?

Yes, this is the famous Doctor Doom mask, and yes, Doom will end up wearing it later. But we’re seeing it now, because it is–wait for it–an award given to Doom from the people of Latveria for his humanitarian service. Now, does anyone, has anyone who has ever seen this movie ever (yes, I said “ever” twice–in fact, I ‘ll say it again, EVER) actually bought that explanation, or did they turn to the person next to them and say, “Welp, I guess they had to work it in somehow?”

And somewhere in there, Ben goes out by himself to his favorite bar, where he meets a blind sculptress named Alicia, and hey, she’s black!

I’m guessing they figured they had to have a black character in there somewhere, especially seeing as how director Tim Story is black, and she was the only character they could really manage it with. Kerry Washington does a pretty good job with what little they give her to work with. Ben seems to like her, at least.

Finally, Doom sets his plan into motion by convincing Ben that the only reason Reed hasn’t perfected his “turn Ben normal again” machine is that he wants to spend more time with Sue. Probably doesn’t help that Reed and Sue choose that same evening to take a break and rekindle their romance.

Ben and Reed get into a fight that ends up (once again) a lot like a panel from Fantastic Four #1.

Ben storms off and Reed decides to test his machine on himself to see if it will cure him of his stretchiness. It is not entirely successful.

And see, even though there’s very little that’s really super going on, and nothing really at stake in the story, I’m enjoying it. It is no Dark Knight, but it’s a nice change of pace from the normal superheroic template, helped along by appealing performances.

Unfortunately, there has to be a big heroic climax, so we’re getting into what is (for me) the least effective part of the movie. After Sue rushes Reed back to his room to care for him, Victor Von Doom (who has been spying on Reed via hidden cameras) decides to use the machine on Ben Grimm. He uses his own electrical powers to supply the machine with more power, not coincidentally bathing himself in even more cosmic radiation, sending his mutation out of control.

Suddenly, Ben is normal again, and Doom is half metal. With his heightened powers, he easily defeats Ben before kidnapping Reed and dragging him back to his office. Once there, he dons the Doom mask and cowl.

He supercools Reed to make him brittle and able to feel pain, and then fires a heat-seeking missile at the Baxter Building. The FF are doomed!

Or not. Johnny uses the opportunity to sink or fly and we finally get to see the Torch in all his glory.

While Johnny is trying to evade the missile, Sue goes to Doom’s office to free Reed. And Ben reverses the polarity on Reed’s machine to turn back into the Thing, setting up a final confrontation in the street that the Four win pretty handily using a combination of all their powers. Doom ends up a metallic statue, either dead or paralyzed. And finally, the group accepts its new status as a superhero team, not four people with a weird space disease.

The film  ends with a celebration party in which Ben and Alicia are together, Reed proposes to Sue and the Torch gives a final nod to those original Kirby issues by drawing the “4” signal in the sky just like he did in one of the earliest comics.

In the end, like I said earlier, there’s a lot I like about this film. I like the funny tone, and I like the performances and chemistry of the leads. Where the movie falls down for me is with the character of Doom. The Doctor Doom of the comics has always been majestic, larger than life, and Julian McMahon’s Doom is not that. Pushed around by his board of directors, jealous of Reed, pining for Sue–Doom in the movie is a small man who happens to luck into a big power. He makes a pretty decent nemesis for their first story, actually; he’s just not Doctor Doom.

Next week, the Fantastic Four return in Rise of the Silver Surfer.

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