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Eric: On the Fantastic Four...

So, we went out last night, and I saw Fantastic Four. When I heard the movie was supposed to suck and suck hard, I actually got more enthusiastic about seeing it. I admit it, I love watching train wrecks, especially when they're comic book related train wrecks on the big screen. I'm holding out hope that I can score a copy of the original Corman film, too.

Well, having seen it -- and not putting much in the way of spoilers on it -- I can say definitively... it wasn't a train wreck.

Was it a great movie? No. Not even close. It's not in Spider-Man's league. Or either X-Men movie. I had a friend insist it was on a level with the original Tim Burton Batman movie to me, but I heartily disagree. The story was full of holes, but it was pretty to watch, the explosions were good, there was some good use of powers, and I actually thought the actors playing Our Four were pretty good, for the most part. Okay, Jessica Alba's role was paper thin, but that was more writing than Alba, really. She was introduced as a "Director of Genetic Research," and then proceeded to have absolutely no scientific dialogue.

Oh, the science in this movie: if you've so much as had Eighth Grade science, will hurt you. I mean, it's horrible, horrible science. My favorite (not really a spoiler) was the assertation that if fire exceeded 4,000 degrees Kelvin, it would go Supernova intense and set the Earth's atmosphere on fire and destroy all life on Earth. For those of you who don't know, 4000 degrees Kelvin is about 6740 degrees Fahrenheit. For the record, the Earth's core is (probably) significantly hotter than this, which means we apparently have a Supernova at the center of the planet. Who knew?

But you just kind of ignore that. The banter was good, Chiklis as Ben Grimm and the Thing was great (he looked so much like the original Kirby drawings of the Thing it's scary), Reed and Johnny were excellent, Sue was acceptable, Doom was... entirely unlike Doom, but meh. And it was a fun popcorn flick.

And without a doubt, Stan Lee's cameo was the role he was born to play.

So... why the unmitigated hatred? Why did Ebert one-star it? Why the monumental bad press for this film?

Simply put, the bar has been put very, very high. People expect more from Superhero films than they used to. Let's look at the three most significant superhero films of the past year: Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, and The Incredibles. All three were heavy on story -- story that hung together incredibly well, that drove the plot (and the special effects) far more than the special effects drove the story. In each one, there was something more than punching and explosions and banter. We felt for Peter Parker. We were sucked into Bruce Wayne's story. Compared to those, Fantastic Four had the consistency and texture of tissue paper. One sneeze, and there was nothing left of it.

Doubly hard on Fantastic Four was The Incredibles, because the Parr family was clearly a pastiche on the Fantastic Four themselves, and the story and style was so many leaps and bounds above anything Fantastic Four tried that it's almost embarrassing to put them next to each other. And even if we completely step away from the questions of story -- the power uses of The Incredibles vastly exceeded anything Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue tried in this film. Violet -- full of self-doubt and fear -- could so kick Sue Storm's ass it's not even funny. And Elasti-girl set the bar for stretching powers so high that poor Reed Richards shouldn't have bothered showing up to work.

(Yes, I know the Incredibles was animated -- but for all intents and purposes, so were all the super-power sequences of Fantastic Four.)

So... here's a movie that's not bad. A good popcorn flick. A high budget B movie. With explosions and Jessica Alba in her underwear (you knew that was coming, right?) and tiny tiny shreds of story that act to (barely) hold the set pieces together. And it's coming on the heels of a year when superhero movies have become story heavy, with innovation on all sides.

That's what's driven critical response, more than anything else. It wasn't bad -- it was just nowhere near as good as Batman Begins. It wasn't poorly done -- it just wasn't done nearly as well as The Incredibles. For better or for worse, Superhero Movies have gotten good -- and an okay superhero movie has significant trouble competing.

(And all the people who compare it unfavorably to Catwoman need to watch Catwoman again. Because that movie? Sucked.)

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 14, 2005 10:51 AM


Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 14, 2005 11:33 AM

"For better or for worse, Superhero Movies have gotten good"

::cries tears of joy (metaphorically)::

Now if we can just continue the trend of actually making movie musicals, I can up and die happy.

(see? Not all my comments are 18 pages long!)

Comment from: Merus posted at July 14, 2005 11:48 AM

You don't fool me, siwangmu. I can see the comment tags.

So, Eric: Better or worse than Batman and Robin?

Comment from: One Timer posted at July 14, 2005 1:05 PM

Interesting that you acknowledge "The Incredibles" being animated giving it some edge. Why do comic book to film adaptions always have to be live action? I for one, would love to see some comics turn into animated movies. I think results would probably stick closer to the original artistic vision as well.

Comment from: Daven posted at July 14, 2005 1:16 PM

One Timer:

They did something similar to what you are talking about. They put it on Saturday morning Cartoons. Can you say "Spider Man and Friends?"

How about "Justice League of America"?

Maybe "He-Man, the Movie"?

Cartoons are incredibly hard to make, one half hour episode taking a crew of people numbering in the thousands about 2 months to make (IIRC) and that's if the animation is pretty simplistic. Like Tiny Toons.

Now do that for a feature film and it's horrendous, four or five years in the making. Yes, the Incredibles was awesome. Yes, X-Men and Spiderman were awesome. I don't think that taking Alpha Flight and making it an animated feature for the screen would be the best idea, if only because making it a live action film would be so much better and shorter and (let's face it) less expensive.

But that's my opinion. Just ask me I have an opinion on everything.

Comment from: Greg Dean posted at July 14, 2005 1:32 PM


Your estimates there are a little off, on the high side. They may have been slightly closer 50 years ago, but nowadays, most of the grunt work is done on the computer. Shows like Kim Possible, Teen Titans, and the like take far less time to put together than they uesd to.

Straight CGI work takes time, yes... but not as long as you'd think. Animated features will always have a longer creation process than a live-action feature, but when you get into the complex special effects of some of these movies, the gap narrows.

Comment from: WaveLine posted at July 14, 2005 1:39 PM

I suppose I enjoyed the Fantastic Four the same way I enjoy Nyquil. It just made me all numb inside. I would have been angry at how inane certain moments of the movie were, but I couldn't wake myself out of the drooling coma I fell into.

I then saw Batman Begins for the fifth time and I felt as if I could save tiny kittens from burning buildings.

Now let us all shed a tear over the announcement that Michael Bay will direct the live-action Transformers movie...

Comment from: One Timer posted at July 14, 2005 2:26 PM

Daven: Can I say "Spiderman and Friends"? Indeed, but can you say "Rocket Robinhood"? While not based on comic book (to my knowledge), it showcases a clever way to get around those man hour issues you mentioned.

But really the point I was trying to get at wasn't feasablity so much as end user enjoyment. I enjoy the comicbook storylines, but even more so I enjoy the medium, what can be done with the artwork that just wouldn't translate if you took a bunch of real life still pictures (which has been tried). For that reason I'd love to see their interpertation into a medium that shares many of the same characteristics.

Anyways, speaking of advances in animation it will be interesting to see the outcome of Neil Gaiman's upcoming movie Grendal. He's metioned it a number of times on is blog, which I've been far to lazy to bother linking.

Comment from: One Timer posted at July 14, 2005 2:35 PM

According to Wikipedia, the Rocket Robin Hood may have been more of a Canadian reference than I realized. The show shared animators with that of original Spider-Man cartoon series, so if you're familiar with that series, you'll understand.

Comment from: theusual posted at July 14, 2005 2:49 PM

(And all the people who compare it unfavorably to Catwoman need to watch Catwoman again. Because that movie? Sucked.)

Would you really wish that fate on anyone? Seeing Catwoman AGAIN? Yeesh.

I personally rank FF a bit below the first X-Men movie. It tried to do a lot of the same things to set up a franchise, just not nearly as well as X-Men did it. But it is well above the utter crap of Catwoman, Batman & Robin, Elektra, and other such movies.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at July 14, 2005 2:50 PM

So, Eric: Better or worse than Batman and Robin?

He already said it wasn't a train wreck!

WaveLine -- Well Michael Bay did direct The Rock.

I haven't seen War of the Worlds or Fantastic Four, I guess I should watch both this weekend then.

Comment from: Merus posted at July 14, 2005 3:07 PM

The Island's supposed to be reasonable as well. I'm kinda curious to find out exactly how Bay will approach doing Transformers.

Honestly, I don't think Batman & Robin was that much of a train wreck. It obviously doesn't hold a candle to the X-Men or Spiderman movies, or The Incredibles and Batman Begins, but it wasn't so much horrid as decidedly average. Batman & Robin would be better than, Catwoman, say.

But then, I hated Batman Forever, so I may be somewhat blind to B&R's failings because at least it wasn't Batman Forever.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 14, 2005 3:14 PM

In re: Canadian cartoons: For what it's worth, I recall Rocket Robin Hood from visiting my grandmother in Milwaukee in the 60s. Not at all well, but I remember I watched it. (Explains much, perhaps.) And I'm pretty sure that it's what my wife's thinking of when she (erroneously, according to my Arthurian contacts) asserts that there was a King Arthur in space cartoon when we were kids that was really, really bad - and she grew up in Louisville, Kentucky.

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 14, 2005 3:57 PM

As far as time goes for CGI animation, the Pixar films have each averaged about 4 years from conception to release. To be fair, 1 1/2 - 2 years of that time is spent in the story department, which is part of why those movies are so damn good.

There was a rather interesting article in Entertainment Weekly a short while ago, a long section of which consisted almost entirely of the makers of F4 whining about how The Incredibles was such a rip-off and stole all their thunder. It struck a sour note with me, and will probably color my viewing of F4 more than just having seen The Incredibles. They came off as petulant and childish, promoting their own movie by bashing another.

On a totally unrelated topic, today seems like an unusually good day for comics, as QC, OotS (well, yesterday's, but it wasn't up when I checked then), and S*P all got loud laughs from me. I generally find the majority of my trawl quite funny, but it's not often that I'll get a good laugh.

Comment from: Stan posted at July 14, 2005 4:11 PM

My impression is that animation costs more than a low budget/non-action movie but considerably less than a blockbuster, in part because a hundred faceless animators cost less than one A-list star.

Animation does make sense for comic stories. I've also thought that it made perfect sense for SF and fantasy in general. SF generally has to go the 20th century Dr. Who route and beg the audience to overlook the lousy effects or have a huge cgi budget. Animation gives a third choice, where truly strange aliens are no more expensive than normal people.

Comment from: mckenzee posted at July 14, 2005 4:13 PM

When do the Marvel cross-over movies start?

I want to see Spider-man's audition in FF3, Hulk vs. Wolverine or Avengers Assemble!

Comment from: Kate Sith posted at July 14, 2005 4:29 PM

Now all we have to really worry about are the live-action anime adaptations. Like Battle Angel Alita or Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Live Eva could be awesome. Or it could make the secret government mutant clone Baby Jesus #4 cry.

Either way, I am so seeing it. When it comes out. Years from now.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 14, 2005 4:54 PM

If anyone is trying to use "The Rock" to argue in favor of Michael Bay, they've already lost the debate.

So, are we saying that FF is comparable to, say, the live-action TV version of The Flash? Which means to say, bearable, but not something I personally would want to pay for?

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at July 14, 2005 5:04 PM

Mckenzee: Marvel farmed a lot of its properties out to different studios, making crossover movies a legal hell.

Comment from: Charles Duffy posted at July 14, 2005 5:04 PM

Live-action comic book conversions can so be done well.

Two words: Sin City.

Comment from: One Timer posted at July 14, 2005 5:16 PM

Sin City is an excellant call.

Comment from: One Timer posted at July 14, 2005 5:19 PM

On a complete tangent > I wonder what the development time for an OotS feature length movie would be?

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at July 14, 2005 5:27 PM

32 -- Not really in favour of Michael Bay, just against the lack of all hope for the movie. It's not like he's Uwe Boll or anything!

Aerin: Those, and today's Dinosaur Comic were hilarious.

Comment from: Cass posted at July 14, 2005 5:50 PM

Yeah ... I didn't see Fantastic Four just yet, nor Batman Begins, so I can't really form an opinion on them. Spiderman 1, 2, and the Incredibles, however, are awesome, and will continue to set a precedence for the rest of the superhero movies here on out. Personally, I think that's a great thing.

What makes a superhero stand out isn't just their powers, though that's definately a huge part of their uniqueness, as well as what makes them superheroes. The powers and explosions is what makes the comic/movie fun, but the quality of the story is what makes you continue buying comics, or fork over eight bucks for a movie. I loved the Incredibles because it was a half-spoof done incredibly (*cough* no pun intended) well. There was an equal placement of explosions and drama. But then again, I'm a weird girl - I have to have my heavy dose of action as well as great dialogue to make a movie great. :)

Comment from: Matt Blackwell posted at July 14, 2005 6:15 PM

One_Timer: I think South Park: The Movie took about 6 months to film. An Order of the Stick film would probably take about the same length of time.

Comment from: Brendan posted at July 14, 2005 6:44 PM

One problem with adapting a comic book to an animated film is a sense of "we've already seen it." I mean, part of the fun of seeing a comic book movie is seeing how these drawn or painted characters and events would look in the world in which we live. "The Incredibles" was a good movie in its own right (though I have to question marketing a right-wing satire as a children's film, but let's face it, that's the only way anyone these days will pick it up), but if there had been a comic book before it, it wouldn't have done nearly as well. It's just not as much of a leap.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 14, 2005 8:13 PM

You know, Alexis, you could probably tell me you're the Antichrist, and I'd probably respond, "well, at least you're not Uwe Boll." In video gaming circles, his name is about to become the focal point of the second Godwin's Law, I swear it.

I seriously hate Michael Bay. It started forming while I watched "The Rock," but I was willing to hold off because that featured Nicholas Cage, and it's been proven that I can't enjoy anything with Nicholas Cage in it. But after "Armageddon," forget it, I hated him with a passion. I'm not exactly that hard to please with a movie - I own "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter" on DVD. Bay might be better than Boll, just like thieves weren't punished as badly as traitors in Dante's Inferno. Doesn't say anything good about the "better" half of each comparison, though.

Comment from: MasonK posted at July 14, 2005 8:47 PM

At least it was better than the Corman version.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 15, 2005 12:05 AM

Eh, The Rock was decent. Ed Harris turned in a good performance (too bad it was kind of wasted). Plus the exploding cable car was comedy gold.

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 15, 2005 5:03 PM

At the rate of these live-action anime movies are going, I'm expecting a live-action version of Ranma to be in production any moment now. It can't be any worse than a live-action Eva or Transformers movie, can it?

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 15, 2005 11:33 PM

Miyaa, sorry to do this, but you *did* ask for it...

One imagining of a live-action Eva movie.

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 16, 2005 12:38 AM

Yeah, I've seen that website before. That's when I decided I should stop writing anime fanfiction.

Comment from: ranlab posted at July 17, 2005 2:34 AM

Alot of people poo-poo the Fantastic Four movie with something along the lines "It's not a Spiderman, It's not a Batman , it's not an X-men, It's not an Incredibles..." Heres why it isn't nor cannot be:

Nobody killed their parents in front of them when they were little... Their lovable uncles weren't killed by a team of burglars after they failed to stop them as they passed by them after winning a 4 on 4 Survivor Series Match with their newfound powers... They aren't protecting a world that hates and fears them, I was always under the impression that they were one of the most respected and media friendly Superteam in the Marvel Comicsverse.

And while the Parr family cribbed the majority of their powers from the Fantastic Four... They aren't the same kind of deal... The Fantastic Four draws its roots from a monthly comic book started by Stan Lee for kids. They just went on adventures and crap and were free too... no lawyers... no relocation.

However, while also for kids, the Incredibles' set up, how the heroes in that Universe were compromised and the creation and reasons of the villain... are more like Watchmen and Marshall Law and Kingdom Come in that it's more like purposeful, thought-out superhero theory discussion, almost an essay.

Batman has roots in there with Frank Miller's work among others'... as does X-men with God Loves, Man Kills and alot of the mutant plight... as does Spiderman with his contant stuggle between Peter Parker and Spiderman.

I don't recall or am unaware of any cerebral works where FF is concerned(Doom may be a different kettle of fish, but I digress) that try to explain where they fit in the pseudo reality of Superhero theory.

Also, it occured to me that The Fantastic Four don't have this duality of hero and secret idenity that all the afformentioned heroes have... They're 'out' for all intents and purposes and the populous likes them... Different Dynamics, diffefent mood, different feel..

As such, I thought you couldn't ask for more in Fantastic Four movie...

Maybe a better casting of Reed and Sue... But that's it.

While Doom was mishandled... I think the darned-if-you-darned-if-you-don't attitude of current internet fandom would lambaste Doom either way, because you have many these critics demanding some unmeasurable dose of 'reality' in their comic book movies and Doom is quite larger than real life... To their credit I thought they were setting up this interpretation of Doom right... and the sequel(unlikely now... but then again... 3 Blade movies) would be Doom's movie and a magnificent fitting tribute to his terrible glory.

Sorry I went on for so long.

P.S. I thought Spiderman 2 wasn't so hot. Nothing but love for Batman Begins, the X-series and Incredibles though.

Comment from: Alun Clewe posted at July 18, 2005 6:15 PM

For those of you who don't know, 4000 degrees Kelvin is about 6740 degrees Fahrenheit. For the record, the Earth's core is (probably) significantly hotter than this, which means we apparently have a Supernova at the center of the planet. Who knew?

Eh...it's more a "maybe" than a "probably". Well, current estimates of the temperature of the Earth's core run anywhere between 3000 and 7000 Kelvins, so yeah, it's very possible that the core is hotter than 4000 Kelvins. But the sun is a better example; it's definitely hotter than 4000 Kelvins. The surface of the sun is at about 5800 Kelvins, and its core runs at about fifteen million Kelvins (about twenty-seven million degrees Fahrenheit)! And yet the sun certainly hasn't gone anywhere near "supernova intense"--and never will, actually; it's not large enough. To go supernova, a star has to start out about eight times as massive as the sun. But that's beside the point. Incidentally, "supernova intense" is not a small thing; a single supernova can be more intense than the rest of the galaxy it's in put together! That takes a lot of energy, and a mere 4000 Kelvins just won't cut it.

(Unimportant nitpick: "degrees Kelvin" is not considered proper terminology (it was at one point, but has since been deprecated). The standard units are just "Kelvins", with no "degrees".)

though I have to question marketing a right-wing satire as a children's film

"Right-wing satire"? Hm, maybe I'm missing something obvious, but The Incredibles certainly never struck me as a "right-wing satire"; what exactly is it about the movie that makes you call it one?

Comment from: Alun Clewe posted at July 18, 2005 6:17 PM

Whoops...meant to delete the first sentence of my previous comment, but forgot to do so before posting. Ignore the "it's more a maybe than a probably" part; I agree the Earth's core is probably hotter than 4000 Kelvins--I'm just saying the sun is a better example because it's definitely much hotter than 4000 Kelvins.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 18, 2005 7:04 PM

I can't address the "right-wing satire" thing in any detail, but I have seen some call it right-wing because the message was that there are certain individuals who are very special and shouldn't have to pretend they are not; the villain makes a big scary speech about how he's going to release technology that allows everyone access to fantastic powers, and then when everyone's special, ::insert menacing music and close-up:: no-one will be. As I understand it, the traditional liberal way to view things is that everybody can be special if you learn to appreciate different kinds of achievement and such, and the traditional conservative view tends more toward handicapper-general-style fear of the repression of exceptional individuals for the sake of general self-esteem (i.e. you can't be good at this or someone will feel bad because they aren't). I think it could also be argued that the notion of the common people responding dismissively and with disdain to the exceptional individuals(the idea that normal people resent those who are gifted), and certainly the trope of overly litigious victim-mentality wackos trying to drag the well-meaning but unfortunately high-profile heroes down are both somewhat conservative.

Also, I could be totally off! And I don't really view it as that right-wing, because I'm super-liberal and it didn't really bother me, although I did kind of find it funny that the big villain threat speech fell a little flat, because, like a liberal, I was going "Everyone will be special... and that would be... bad?" But some people read that as being a threat that the playing field could be even. When the guy says "and then No one will be," some saw that as meaning that the heroes are therefore fighting for their right to be better than other people. It's easier if you try and ignore those potential implications and focus on the defending-city-from-grave-physical-threat motivation, though.

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