Fantastic Four Not So Fantastic By Mike White. Hot on the heels of other Marvel Comics-based dreck like The Punisher (Mark Goldblatt, 1989) and Captain America (Albert Pyun, 1990), Oley Sassone’s The Fantastic Four wasn’t the summer blockbuster of 1994...

Hot on the heels of other Marvel Comics-based dreck like The Punisher (Mark Goldblatt, 1989) and Captain America (Albert Pyun, 1990), Oley Sassone’s The Fantastic Four wasn’t the summer blockbuster of 1994. Rather, it was relegated to obscurity and ready-made for bootleg video sellers at comic book conventions around the globe.

The story of Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White), scientist supreme and his extended family—best pal Ben Grimm (Michael Bailey Smith), girlfriend Susan Storm (Rebecca Staab), and her little brother Johnny Storm (Jay Underwood)—The Fantastic Four recounts their unfortunate encounter with cosmic rays. The quartet comes away with appearances that mimic the four elements: Johnny Storm fulfills fire as The Human Torch, Ben Grimm is an earthy embodiment as The Thing (portrayed in a bumpy suit by Carl Ciaralio), Sue is airily abstract as Invisible Girl, and Reed Richards unnervingly undulates as Mr. Fantastic (no ego there). These powers can also be seen, albeit tenuously, as outward extensions of their psyches: Reed reaches for the stars, Sue fades into the background, Ben stands rock steady, and Johnny seems to be en fuego.

Their constant menace, Doctor Doom (Joseph Culp), rules the vaguely Slavic country of Latveria after experiencing an unfortunate incident with a comet and bad science when he chummed with Reed Richards in college (this is while pursuing his doctorate in doomology). Added to the mix are some laborious goons and a makeup-laden baddie called The Jeweler (Ian Trigger) who acts like a mad magpie, obsessed with pretty things. The Jeweler also has a proclivity for pariahs. He kidnaps the blind sculptress Alicia Masters (Kat Green), and welcomes The Thing with open arms when the craggy sad sack goes a-skulking over his inability to "stop the rock" and change back to Ben Grimm.

Doctor Doom fights the Fractured Four with a seemingly ceaseless horde of green jumpsuited goons. He has plans to attack New York City with some kind of death ray. The details are a bit sketchy, as it seems that the good Doctor’s ingenuity is only outshone by the incredible power of his mask to muffle his speech. (No over-dubbing here, folks.) Just when things look their darkest, The Thing joins the fray and New York is saved by some really bad CGI effects.

With production values to make Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe look plush, The Fantastic Four falls victim to the so-called Film Threat curse. After a lovely cover spread in the ill-fated magazine, The Fantastic Four was kept from theaters (or, more accurately, dusty video store shelves and late-night cable screenings) when producer Roger Corman parlayed his claim to the story rights into a lucrative deal with Twentieth-Century Fox. Back in the mid ‘90s, the idea was for Fox to cash in on this family-friendliest of superhero groups with Chris "Home Alone" Columbus at the helm. Who could know that a major studio release of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s lovechild would take another decade?

Clobbering Time
Horrible production values, bad acting, and a lousy plot. That does a good job to sum up the unflinchingly cheesy 1994 version of The Fantastic Four, but it’s not too far off the mark from summing up the blockbuster 2005 film, Fantastic Four. Directed by Tim Story, FF05 shared several of the same problems that plagued FF94. Both were written by a pair of screenwriters with some bad track records—FF94 writer Craig J. Nevius gave us Stepmonster (1993) and would later pen Black Scorpion (1995), while FF05 scribe Michael Frost had hands in comic book-based atrocities The Hulk (2003) and The Punisher (2004). Both Fantastic Four films were stocked with B-list stars (the F/X Network must have shut down while the leads from "Nip/Tuck" (Julian McMahon) and "The Shield" (Michael Chiklis) were on set for FF05). And each films’ reach exceeded its grasp.

Like its predecessor, FF05 recounts the origin of the troupe and their nemesis. Cosmic rays are to blame for the Fantastic Four’s powers, as well as the transformation of Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) from "guy with a cool mask" to "guy with potentially badass powers." In fact, Victor Von Doom, Ph.D., could be seen as the most interesting character in FF05. He’s a leading business man whose biggest mistake stems from his misguided faith in his hapless college friend, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffiudd). Worse, Doom has the love of his life, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), taken from him as a direct consequence of the bumbling Reed’s cosmic mistake.

The film only shows signs of life when Doom is on screen. Apart from that, it flounders under the pathos of Ben Grimm’s (Michael Chiklis) accursed life, the bickering of Sue and Reed, and the showboating antics of Sue’s brother Johnny (Chris Evans). The majority of the film is wasted with conversation and fighting—not with some super-foe, but with each other. That makes for a rather dull film, especially for a superhero film. There’s little interaction between Doom and the Infighting Four, and when their final showdown does happen, it’s complete in approximately two minutes (the credits run three times longer).

The longest sequence in the film comes at the beginning of the second act, when we see the grim Grimm contemplating life on a bridge. Through a series of mishaps, mayhem ensues. The rest of the Flawed Four also just so happen to be on that same bridge at the same time, as does Grimm’s soon-to-be-former fiancée, Debbie (Laurie Holden, looking far from cute in this film). These head-scratching coincidences are as logic-immune as the problem of Richards and the Storms trying to get past a hastily executed police barrier. This becomes the first excuse to have Jessica Alba strip down to her underwear as she attempts to turn invisible (don’t worry, fanboys, it happens twice more). Thirty seconds, and no successful invisibility later, the impediment no longer applies. Huh?

At over twelve minutes, the bridge sequence tries to cram too many ideas into one simple set-up. This makes the rest of the film’s second act a vacuous wasteland of constant quibbling and painfully obvious product placement. In the meantime, our main character, Doctor Doom, plots his justifiable revenge against Richards while discovering that his thirst for power has manifested itself as an ability to control and generate electricity though his metallic body. After doing some housecleaning at his company, Doom plays upon the insecurities of Grimm to cause even more strife in the Feuding Four.

Like a corporate raider or white-collar criminal, this Doctor Doom likes to work behind the scenes. Despite his megalomania, he doesn’t cook up any master plan to enslave the world. Other than averting a suicide, the FF do nothing to curb crime or make the world a better place. Rather, they destroy property and argue like a dysfunctional family, making Fantastic Four look more like dinner at Cracker Barrel than an action movie.

In short: two films, same basic story, both bad. ‘Nuff said?

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