The Fantastic Four is well known as Marvel’s first family. They were created way back in 1961 by comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The characters consist of Reed Richards, Susan Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm. Due to an outer space accident, the four were hit with blasts of cosmic radiation resulting in them all getting superpowers. Reed had the power to stretch his arms and became Mr. Fantastic, Sue became the Invisible Girl/Woman with the power not only to turn herself invisible but also to project force fields, Johnny became the Human Torch and could engulf himself in flames and fly, and Ben became the Thing ended up with a super strong rock body. Thus they banded together to stop crime wherever they could against various threats such as Dr. Doom and Galactus. They were a huge hit for Marvel and prevented Stan Lee from quitting the comic book industry. There have been multiple attempts to put these heroes on the big screen. On paper, the idea seems rather easy to pull off (in fact in today’s Marvel society it would be). But yet somehow in all four movies the idea has failed. So it’s best to take a look at the areas where each movie came up short.
The first Fantastic Four Movie came out in 1994. Although never released officially, there was a bootleg copy that got out and the power of the Internet made it stay. The movie was made on a rather small budget and it really shows. The writing for this movie is rather bizarrely bad whether it be the young Sue’s crush on the adult Reed, multiple plot points going unexplained, etc. When it comes to the direction it gets bad particularly during the fight sequences. The special effects did what they could with the low budget but they are still pretty bad. Despite its faults it proves to be the best Fantastic Four Movie. Although it is rather low in budget its campiness can sometimes be enjoyed in a so bad it’s good manner. In trying to stay true to the comics the movie did rather well. Although the Fantastic Four argue a couple of times in the movie, you see that they do care and protect one another. Although the design of The Thing looked downright goofy it the way they portray his character as a freak of nature unable to live a normal life unlike his friends (despite having powers) but eventually makes peace with this and realizes he has people who legitimately care for him was overall well done. And actors Michael Bailey Smith and Carl Ciarfalio did well in bringing him to life. The only problem with his story is his love interest in blind woman Alicia Masters. Despite the two barely meeting she professes her love for him halfway through the movie. The rest of the acting is mostly hit when it comes to the heroes but rather miss when it comes to most of the other characters and thankfully the movie is just short enough as to not wear out its campy charm.
In 2005 (and a sequel in 2007) an attempt was made to put the Fantastic Four on the big screen with a much bigger budget this time allowing bigger name actors and bigger sets. The movie sets itself up similar to the 1994 version but sets up the characters and relationships within minutes. Unfortunately it can get somewhat awkward in its attempts to catch up the audience by giving exposition to characters that already know the information and a lot of it doesn’t feel fleshed out. Another problem with the movie is that the Fantastic Four spend a lot of time trying to understand their powers but never much time crime fighting. The only two action scenes in the movie is the one by the bridge which was nothing more than them cleaning up their own trouble and the final battle against the villainous Victor Von Doom. Outside of that these heroes do not do much of anything. Doom’s story in this movie is outright ripped from Norman Osborn’s story in the 2002 Spider-Man from him being a rich man ultimately facing backlash from the board of directors and getting enraged and experiences physical and psychological changes and wrecking havoc upon New York. And unlike Dafoe in that movie Julian McMahon’s performance is not nearly as distinctive. In regards to the rest of the cast and characters Ben Grimm/The Thing is easily the greatest part of this movie. Michael Chiklis’ performance was outstanding and he makes the most of every second he is on screen. On top of that, his altered voice when Ben becomes the Thing was done purely through him. His character is mostly the heart of the film. Ben is shown to have a deep care for all of his friends but does struggle to deal with his transformation. The only thing that keeps him going is the prospect that Reed may be able to cure him. But the day he gets his wish Doom attacks and Ben comes to terms with the fact that he has to be a hero for his friends. The only real problem is that Ben’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters is given promise in Kerry Washington but is reduced to only a couple of scenes. In regards to the rest of the cast and characters they are not very good. In keeping to the comics Reed and Sue have had a relationship but Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba have almost no chemistry and their romance goes back in forth between them getting back together and them reminding each other why it ended and it wears out fast. In regards to Chris Evans as Johnny Storm well…thankfully we have Captain America because he is nothing short of annoying and comes off as a jerk with several bad quips. While Johnny was like this in the comics he was portrayed as a child whereas here he is a full-grown man. There is a considerable amount of arguing among the characters and while the original had their fair share of arguments, they still felt like a family. Here, most of their conversations is arguing. The effects, while good for the time haven’t aged well. Reed’s stretching for instance is rather cartoony. While bigger, the movie is still not Fantastic.
The second movie in 2007 introduced the Silver Surfer and there are some problems with the characters. For starters, his powers are never clearly defined and it allows the writers to just make powers up for him on the spot. On top of that the movie once again has Victor Von Doom and the writing for him is not only obvious with him wanting revenge but also nonsensical with the military completely trusting him over the heroes leading to Doom easily being able to betray them. We find out that the Silver Surfer is forced to serve Galactus to take down planets to save his own. Galactus is portrayed poorly here being nothing more than a cloud-entity with no characterization whatsoever. To the movie’s credit the four feel more like a family in this movie and the action allows the heroes to actually fight crime more often. Sadly once again outside of the effects for the Silver Surfer, they have not aged well. The Silver Surfer himself is rather unlikable seemingly having had the power to destroy Galactus and willing to (unlike in the comics where he was perfectly willing to carry out Galactus’ deeds seeing humans beneath him only to be convinced otherwise through Alicia) but made no attempt to do so. While it’s understandable to deviate from the comics at certain points, deviations have to have some rationale and this movie doesn’t have that. Though an improvement over the first, it is not so by much.
In 2015 we got the final Fantastic Four Movie aka Fant4stic and it was horrid mess. There were multiple conflicts behind the scenes between the director Josh Trank, the actors, and the studio executives. In its attempt to be more dark and realistic it feels lifeless. The actors have little to no chemistry among each other and despite establishing relationships among the characters there is NO feeling that these guys are family or friends. There was much controversy with Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm but that was not one of the movie’s many problems. Making Nick Fury black did not ruin the MCU and Jordan’s casting was not the problem here. The problem here was that it felt like the movie was so ashamed of the original movies and comics that it tried so hard to distance itself from any feel of those things and completely lost any resemblance to what made the characters so likable not even using the superhero names. Once again we had Dr. Doom as the villain and he is nothing more than a cynic transformed into a villain through vague means with an even more vague motivation. On top of that the entire movie is darkly lit which furthers the movie completely being void of life. Any attempt of showing the affects the powers have on the characters or them fighting crime is completely butchered through a one year time skip after these events with Reed escaping and the remaining three being studied by the government (did nothing of importance happen then?). The characters are nothing short of boring and the script gives them nothing to work with. In fact it is not until the climax (which is EXTREMELY rushed given how powerful they established Doom to be) that they actually work as a superhero team. Not only is there no build up but this is the only time the movie has a full-fledged action sequence. Whereas the last two movies failed they at least had a legitimate silly flavor to how bad they were. This just has no substance in its characters and story.
The Fantastic Four deserve better having saved Marvel. With the passing of Stan Lee as of 2018 it is quite saddening that the man will never get to see a good creation of his first family. And there have been no announcements for another reboot to this day which is a shame because it would fit well with Marvel’s bright and colorful style with deep characters and adult story telling. Should they reboot this, a strong method to showcase their origin story is to pull an opening credits origin in vein of one of Marvel’s other less successful projects, The Incredible Hulk. Unfortunately for now, it seems like the Fantastic Four, will never be fantastic or even that good in the world of cinema.