Well, friends, after this weekend there’s no denying that we’re three bad Fantastic Four movies in now. Well, three first-entries and one sequel. But to be honest, I couldn’t watch Rise of the Silver Surfer again, even for this article. I actually went to the store to buy it, saw that it was $3.75 and still opted against it (I’ll only taint my film collection so much). After rewatching the unreleased 1994 rights-holding gamble, Tim Story’s 2005 film, and then going to see the new film directed (?) by Josh Trank, it’s time to analyze the characterization of the FF and Dr. Doom to determine which one is the best of the bad.
Alex Hyde-White (1994) – White has the classic look down and the fatherly figure role figured out pretty well, but he’s utterly unconvincing as a genius. Once everyone has powers, Reed is pretty much clueless in terms of understanding why, until Sue mentions her shyness and Reed decides that the powers are a manifestation of their psyches. And speaking of Sue, Reed loses major points in this film for the creep factor. At the beginning of the film, Reed is college age and Sue is around 13. Cut to 10 years later and the two announce their love and subsequently get married at the film’s end, despite not having contact for a decade. Stan Lee’s original comic had this problem too, and it’s no less creepy in 1994 than it was in 1961. As for the display of powers, his ability to only stretch one stiff-looking arm or leg at a time to trip bad guys is about as exciting as you’d expect.
Ioan Gruffudd (2005) – Gruffudd’s also got the look down, but he completely lacks any semblance of leadership capabilities. The guy’s a wet dishrag, devoid of personality or any noteworthy skill set. If White was unconvincing as a genius, Gruffudd is even less so. To make matters worse the film decides that because Reed is a genius, he must also be terrible at interacting with women. The movie goes through lengths to make Reed look stupid, all for the clichéd joke of the smart guy who isn’t that smart. Reed’s stretching abilities do fair better in this film, but the special effects haven’t aged well and there’s a number of scenes where the fakery becomes pretty distracting. Also, his big moment in the final battle is angling his body so that water from the fire hydrant can hit Dr. Doom. Riveting stuff.
Miles Teller (2015) – The latest reboot draws inspiration from Ultimate Fantastic Four so Teller’s Reed lacks the classic look but nails the specific design. Teller is also absolutely believable as a genius. All in all he seems like a genuinely nice guy, with massive amounts of talent, and the ability to lead a team…for the first 20 minutes at least. Once he decides to test out a teleportation device on a drunken whim, and then abandon his friends for no good reason, all of those previously mentioned superlatives fall away. While Reed started with a personality, those attributes got lost on the cutting room floor. The stretching effects look fine when Reed isn’t moving, but once the action starts, he looks like a stop-motion puppet.
Winner: Gruffudd is out because he’s simply too boring. So that leaves us with “I’m going to marry this kid I once knew” Reed and “I’m going to drunkenly destroy my friends’ lives” Reed. I can’t reward such blatant irresponsibility so Alex Hyde White’s Creeper Reed wins, but I don’t like it.
Rebecca Staab (1994) – Staab is pretty much a non-entity in this film so it’s impossible to say whether she was good or bad. Unfortunately the film pushes her to the side, and out of all the characters in the film she has the least resemblance to something that could pass as a character arc. Her romance with Reed simply happens because of the history of the comics the film is based on, and she and Johnny might as well not be siblings considering how little interaction they have and how little regard they show for each other’s well-being. At the very least Sue isn’t relegated to being a damsel in distress. She gets in on the action, even if that said action is disappearing just in time for two henchmen to take out each other (she pulls this trick twice.)
Jessica Alba (2005) – Someone thought Jessica Alba would make a convincing scientist, or more likely they thought she’d simply look good in blue spandex. It’s unfortunate really, because the script doesn’t care about writing lines for Alba to even attempt to make a good Sue Storm. I can’t fault the actress completely because she didn’t actually get a chance to try. Instead the movie uses her for a naked invisible gag not once, not twice, but three times. And if there was any doubt that the film just wanted her as a body, she’s placed in the most petty of love triangles between Reed and Victor, two of the most uncharismatic men on the planet. Where Alba’s Sue does deserve credit is in her display of powers, which still hold up really well ten years later. Though if we’re going to be honest, filmmakers pretty much mastered invisibility in the 30s.
Kate Mara (2015)– Mara’s Sue is definitely intelligent, but because it would be too much to have a woman who’s smart and fun to be around, she’s made cold and unresponsive. To make matters worse, she doesn’t actually get to be a part of the team when they get their powers, instead she gets to run communications from the base. She also is responsible for making the team’s costume’s even though her background is in pattern recognition (a science expertise meant only to make her more detached and uninteresting). No one really talks to her in the film partly because no one cares and partly because she shuts out the world by listening to techno-house music or something. Her power display is about the same as the 2005 version, but her force field bubble is used to transport the non-flying members of the FF. So she’s basically a cardboard Glinda.
Winner: Each iteration of the Fantastic Four managed to completely muck up the most powerful member of the team. No one wins and female heroes deserve so much better.
The Human Torch
Jay Underwood (1994) – Underwood, bless him, really does try to act. He tries so hard to pull-off Johnny Storm that it’s almost admirable. Unfortunately, Underwood confuses hot-head with moron, and Johnny becomes the most unintentionally comical aspect of the movie. Sure, Johnny has a rep for acting before he thinks, but Underwood takes it so far that it’s hard to believe Johnny got out of middle-school, let alone is able to go into space. The dude’s got no chill, and every action, facial expression, and line of dialogue of feels the product of a bad stage performance. When Johnny does fully flame-on in the film’s finale, the animated Human Torch isn’t all that bad given the budget the film he had to work with. Bad performance and all, Underwood at least helps make the film more watchable, even if it is only for the laughs.
Chris Evans (2005) – Hands down, Chris Evans is the best part of this movie. He’s charismatic, energetic, and manages to make even the least funny lines memorable. He brings out the best in the rest of the cast, and it’s a shame his performance wasn’t part of a better movie. He completely gets Johnny’s desire to be a celebrity, and his irresponsibility, without making the character seem stupid. Even the X-treme sports aspect of his character hasn’t aged too badly, all because of Evans’ commitment to the role. And the special effects for his powers still look really good.
Michael B. Jordan (2015) – The new Fantastic Four managed to turn one of our most charismatic young actors into a non-event. Like Teller’s Reed, there are strong shades of what could have been in the first twenty minutes of his appearance. Jordan got the hot-head thing down while managing to be good guy. But the film tries to convince audience members that Johnny is an extremely gifted engineer fit to work on a teleportation device despite the fact the car he built lands him in the hospital. Once Johnny gets his powers he becomes dead weight, just another body on the screen, with really fake looking fire effects.
Winner: Chris Evans takes it by a mile. Thank god he still gets to play a superhero.
Michael Bailey Smith (1994) – Smith actually makes a solid turn as Ben Grimm and shows the most acting ability. This could be credited to the fact that The Thing has the best arc in the film, given his monstrous transformation and all. But Smith completely sells that change and the outsider nature of the character, with the exception of a few ill-timed jokes. There’s a warmth to Smith’s pre-transformation Ben that makes him more sympathetic when he abandons the rest of the team in the third act. The Thing’s prosthetic suit (physical acting done by Carl Ciarfalio) looks good, and it’s clear where most of the budget went. Out of all the characters in this film, The Thing made it out with the least amount of damage done to his credibility.
Michael Chiklis (2005) – Chiklis manages to get Ben’s gruff Brooklyn demeanor down, but he’s not able to sell the emotional toil of his condition. Chiklis’ acting seems stuck on grumpy or slightly amused, and he never formed the emotional connection to the character that he audience needed. Unfortunately the film uses The Thing for the butt of most of its unfunny jokes, so the character just becomes something to poke with a stick instead of a personality to actually engage with on any significant level. I do think the prosthetic effects are admirable, despite the fact that The Thing looks too small and too smooth. I get the idea behind wanting to get the performer in a suit, and with an actor with more range, it actually might have worked out.
Jamie Bell (2015) – Bell portrays Grimm as the strong, sensitive type from an abusive home. It’s actually a good direction to go with the character, but once he turns into the Thing he becomes lost in a jumble of character ideas. The formally non-violent character is willingly used as an army grunt and kills around 40 people only to shrug it off. And he shifts between being angry to being comical in the film’s final minutes. There’s barely any time spent on Ben’s reaction to his transformation, so it’s an emotionally void performance. And The Thing may be out of the prosthetics, but those CGI effects….yeesh.
Winner: Chiklis actually gave some decent competition but Michael Bailey Smith still turned out the best performance and managed to have the best design.
Joseph Culp (1994) – Culp was never able to decide which of his lines to speak normally and which ones to scream, so most of what comes out of his mouth is laughable. But he does make quite the imposing figure and looks very accurate to the comics. Even better, he’s a dictator, with similarly dressed henchmen, and at least gives off the possibility of mystical powers. Despite the poor line delivery, Culp feels pretty close to Doom and his plan to steal and harness the Fantastic Four’s powers is actually pretty decent. While there wasn’t enough time spent exploring the relationship between him and Reed, the basis for their rivalry is established and Victor gets an origin of his own. Also, he has blades that come out of his gloves, and for a $1 million dollar movie, that’s hella sweet.
Julian McMahon (2005) – I covered a lot of this in my Dr. Doom piece last week, but McMahon’s Doom is lazy on every level. He’s not even a threatening business man, let alone a supervillain. Every line of dialogue comes off like it’s from a disgruntled insurance agent. His only threatening act is a scene against a board-member which is a scene stolen from Spider-Man, which was itself stolen from Batman. He also suffers from jealous boyfriend syndrome and most of his malice against the Fantastic Four is because Sue chose Reed over him. Treating a woman like an object is villainous, but it’s also not very interesting. And while he looks good from the waist-up, Doom’s decision to wear business slacks as part of his costume is undoubtedly his most dastardly deed.
Toby Kebbell (2015) – Doom hates people and thinks that Earth should be destroyed. Why? I don’t know, and neither does the movie. Despite his hatred from humanity and his last minute plot to destroy Earth, he clearly appreciated humans enough to listen to their music, play their video games, and eat their Chinese food. There’s literally no reason for Doom to be a bad guy other than the fact the film needed a villain. This version of Victor also suffers from jealous boyfriend syndrome, even though he maybe speaks to Sue twice (seriously, people just all around exclude Sue in this movie. Invisible Woman, am I right?). So Kebbell doesn’t get any chance at character development, and other than a solid speech about Neil Armstrong and dreamers, he doesn’t say or do anything worthwhile. And his costume? Well you can see for yourself.
Winner: Culp may have botched his line delivery but he’s head and shoulders above the rest of these imitators.
Final Verdict: Winning 3 out of 5 rounds The Fantastic Four (1994) takes the crown as the best bad Fantastic Four movie. I really do hate that this is the state of things. Doom is displeased and so am I.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox