It’s been a couple of weeks since I had to sit through the monstrosity that was Josh Trank’s FANTASTIC FOUR. Although some ComicsVerse writers have defended the film against the backlash from fans and critics alike, I won’t be doing that. Sorry. In fact, Fox’s original, unreleased 1994 FANTASTIC FOUR film has found its way to the interwebs again which proved to be surprisingly more watchable and actually more entertaining than Fox’s most recent outing with the Founding Family of Marvel.

SPOILER WARNING GOING FORWARD

Watching the 2015 FANTASTIC FOUR was rough for me. I did not have high hopes going in. I expected something maybe a little too gritty and boring, but what I got was altogether worse. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hoping for it to be horrible. I wanted it to be good so bad. The cast was a collection of great rising actors. It had the kid from WHIPLASH, the reporter from HOUSE OF CARDS, and Wallace from THE WIRE in it. I loved Trank’s previous film CHRONICLE. I was excited! The change of Johnny Storm’s race didn’t bother me like it did to a vocal section of the comics fandom. I was looking forward to it! But after reading reports of a rocky production and lack of footage at any convention with less than a year left until release, I began to worry. August 7, 2015 came so I sat down in a crowded theater on opening day, and buckled up for what was to be an interesting night. Much to my chagrin, the reports were right. To say I enjoyed my popcorn more than the movie is an understatement.
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The movie fails for me on a couple of levels: it is soulless, lacks any action, and the plot is as invisible as Sue Storm. Surprisingly, the unreleased Roger Corman adaptation of the FANTASTIC FOUR actually succeeds on all of these aspects.

FANT4STIC (what I’ll now call Trank’s FANTASTIC FOUR to differentiate the two) is a zombie of a movie. Every character acts in the most blasé way imaginable. In this movie we’re supposed to believe that these characters have certain, deeper relationships with each other other than just being partners in an overwrought government science project. The problem is none of this actually works. Reed and Ben are shown as being friends since childhood, but outside of that their interactions with each other consist of phone calls and picture messages. Ben barely gets any screen time as the pre-transformation Thing, so we never really get to grasp who he is as a character. Once he transforms, he becomes an angry, self-loathing rock monster. Actual rocks have more personality than this version of Ben Grimm. The Mr. Fantastic/The Thing dynamic is one the most treasured friendships in comic book history, and this does nothing to show that.

The 1994 FANTASTIC FOUR actually gets the viewer invested in these two as friends. Ben is the guy that’s always stood up for the nerdy Reed Richards, and this movie actually spends some time with that in an extensive flashback to their college years. Not only that, but the FANTASTIC 1994 also manages to build up the friendship between Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards in college before Victor’s tragic deformation. Even after his transformation, Ben Grimm is still a loving character and cements himself as the heart of the team.
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In FANT4STIC, Reed and Sue have one cute scene that only slightly alludes to a potential romance down the line, which is quickly snuffed out by more scenes of pointless sciencing. Although the FANTASTIC 1994 takes the creepy but comic book accurate route of pre-teen Sue Storm instantly falling in love with college Reed Richards in a  flashback, there’s at least some sense that these two are meant for each other. Sue grounds Reed. She humanizes him. In FANT4STIC, she’s even more hollow than Reed Richards which leads to zero chemistry between the two.

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The biggest mistake that FANT4STIC makes is the complete lack of any kind of dynamic between Johnny and Sue. The movie alludes to Sue possibly being the “favorite child” even though she’s the adopted one, but does nothing to actually drive that home. Instead we’re given one scene where Sue says she’s happy to see Johnny while they’re in a science lab. Not once did I ever get the feeling that these two were siblings, or even that they ever grew up together. A simple shot of a picture frame with Johnny and Sue in it as kids could’ve helped immensely, but instead we’re left to put the pieces of these relationships together ourselves. FANTASTIC 1994 actually shows Johnny and Sue growing up as kids. When the team’s spaceship crashes, Johnny instantly worries about Sue. We can tell they care about each other and the movies makes an effort to actually show that, which actually makes me care about the characters and what happens to them in the film.

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While FANT4STIC is a lifeless movie you’d figure it would at least have some good action sequences in it. Its a superhero movie after all right? Wrong. Instead we are treated to one of the strangest origin scenes in comic movie history, and a movie who’s best action scenes are shown on out-of-focus television screens in the background. When our team finally gets to an unnamed dimension, or reality (they aren’t very clear on that) something happens which causes the terrain to attack them, all while giving them powers. Or something like that. Nothing is really explained. What we do get is a Cronenberg-level body horror scene of a battered Reed Richards piled under rubble as he shrieks and realizes that his leg now looks like Stretch Armstrong. It’s honestly kind of gross. With that over you’d hope to get a fun montage of the heroes discovering their super powers in funny ways, reminiscent of the Raimi SPIDER-MAN films. Well if you were, then you’d be wrong again. They instead JUMP FORWARD A WHOLE YEAR. This really annoyed me. One of the best parts of origin movies is the learning period and this movie completely skips over that whole thing and instead just plants our “heroes” into another unnamed science bunker.

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FANTASTIC 1994 actually takes the origin story and has fun with it. Johnny discovers his powers after sneezing fire. Reed, Johnny, and Ben can’t find the now invisible Sue even though she thinks thinks she’s completely visible. We even get a fun montage of the team showing off they’re powers to a scientist who is perplexed by what they can do. It’s funny and full of heart, which is something FANT4STIC lacks completely. The climactic action sequence is also a dud which boils down to Reed long-range-punching Dr. Doom in the face and Doom dispatching the entire team by just using dirt. The team then preaches something about teamwork and all decide to hit Doom at once. All of this is set across the background of a boring, barren wasteland and ultimately feels empty and, well, anticlimactic. In FANTASIC 1994 we actually get a couple of fight scenes where the team actually use their powers together. Like an actual team. The Human Torch gets to fire up a brick wall and the Thing uses that as a chance to burst through like a rock-lined Kool-Aid Man. It’s actual teamwork. They also get to fight Doombots. I’m a sucker for Doombots.

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The plot of FANT4STIC is also barely there. We learn that there’s some other kind of dimension that humanity needs to travel to, but when the team gets there something horrible happens and BOOM…superpowers. Now the government needs to use them as weapons and Victor Von Doom wants to destroy the world because…well I’m not sure. About two-thirds of this movie is set in the original science bunker, before the team even get any kind of super abilities. This time could have been used to build up relationships between characters, but isn’t. We get to see a CG chimpanzee straight out of the uncanny valley travel in an interdimentional machine instead. Because that matters right?

Johnny Storm expertly mimics my expression while watching FANTASTIC FOUR

After the gross origin scene, we get sent to another boring science bunker, but at least this time its controlled by the military! Jump forward a year, Johnny can already fly, Sue does force manipulation stuff, the Thing is sulking, and Reed is growing a patchy beard in some South American village. We then get introduced to the, as until then thought dead Victor, as he enters back into our world and is now fused with matter from the other dimension. He then proceeds to kill people by making their heads graphically explode. Hey, remember the happy and fun FANTASTIC FOUR that you loved in the comics and the previous films? Well too bad. This isn’t that at all. It’s a plotless attempt to try and gritty-fy™ one of the most wholesome comic book properties.

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FANTASTIC 1994 on the other hand, actually has some stakes involved. Dr. Doom wants to destroy the world because Reed left him alone to die in a science experiment gone-bad in college. Yes, it’s a hokey plot. Yes, it’s super comic-booky and simple, but at least there is a plot and a motive for our main villain. It even has a B-plot dealing with the romance between The Thing and Alicia Masters. It has story. Unfortunately that’s not something I can’t say for FANT4STIC.

In the end, FANTASTIC FOUR 2015 is a perfect example of what to do wrong when it comes to a movie, even with a huge blockbuster budget. While 21 years earlier, a cheesy but fun version of the FANTASTIC FOUR proved that the First Family could work on film, even with the most barebones budget. If you have to watch a Fantastic Four movie, do yourself a favor and at least watch the 1994 one. Let’s forget 2015 ever actually happened.

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