Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reconsidering Fantastic Four (2005)

I remember often thinking that the 2005 Fantastic Four movie was overcriticized. It was by no means ground-breaking--but it was entertaining enough as a lightweight, colorful crowd-pleaser.

The problem seemed to be that taking that approach with a superhero film was unfashionable at that time. In that relatively early phase in the comic book superhero movie boom, the more grounded look and feel, and more thematically involved approach of Bryan Singer's original X-Men, or Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (which preceded Fantastic Four to the theater by mere weeks), was, despite the colossal success of Sam Raimi's Spiderman, proving influential.1 (Indeed, it seems to have been important in selling the concept in those days.)

The Fantastic Four did not easily lend themselves to "grounded." The team's members (a guy with a stretchy rubber body, another who has turned into a rock-creature, stil another who turns into a creature of fire, etc.) and their interpersonal dynamic (as with Johnny Storm's obnoxious sibling-like relationship with the Thing), are singly and collectively flamboyant even by Marvel standards. And the Tim Story-directed, Mark Frost and Michael France-scripted version did not try to pretend otherwise. They created a movie that was relatively faithful to the original not just in its incidents, but its look and feel--and the opinion-makers objected to exactly that. (Arguably, this sensibility had its effect on the sequel, not least its depiction of Galactus.)

Of course, things have changed in the past decade. As the studios have relied more heavily on heaping helpings of the kind of spectacle that gets viewers to fork over the 3-D and IMAX fees, a flashier look and bigger action have become more prevalent--which are at odds with that more grounded approach. (Just compare Singer's far more flamboyantly science fiction-al version of Days of Future Past with his first X-Men film.) Meanwhile, after Nolan, after the new takes on Superman (which Singer helmed in 2006, and Nolan produced in 2013), after a great deal else, the darker, heavier approach has become banal--and excited something of a backlash, one expression of which was how Ant-Man became something of a surprise hit last summer ($500 million global), and praised precisely for offering something lighter.

Ironically, just as a faithful version of the Fantastic Four became an easier sell, the 2015 film version went in the opposite direction--going more grounded, ambitious, darker, and getting hammered for it by the critics, and at the box office.

1. Some of us thought the movies went a little too grounded--not least in the handling of the Dark Phoenix saga, which was not what the purists hoped, and which may just be getting a remake because of it.

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