The Merits & Flaws Of Past Fantastic Four Films

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The Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ first superhero team, always had a hard time with its live-action adaptations. The new reboot isn’t an exception. Filmmakers can’t seem to be able to properly translate what worked for this team in the pages of comic books into movies. Still, putting aside what went wrong with the three previous movies, they did get many parts right. It’s just that they missed the mark, sometimes by a mile.

The Fantastic Four (1995)

Bernd Eichinger and his Neue Constantin studio bought the film rights to the Fantastic Four back in the ’80s, but couldn’t raise the funds for the movie. By the next decade in order to prevent losing the rights the studio with Roger Corman’s help produced The Fantastic Four a quick, cheap adaptation.

old ff castOh boy, this movie was a mess, it’s on the level of those Godawful monstrosities made by The Asylum. The acting was hysterically bad, particularly Joseph Culp as Doctor Doom. Talk about hamming up the scenes! Then there were the zero-grade special effects. It’s hard to believe that a million dollars was spent on this fiasco when you see that they used animatics during the one scene that the Human Torch (Jay Underwood) used his full powers. Want a guaranteed laugh? Check out the film’s final scene when Mr. Fantastic (Alex Hyde-White) waves goodbye with an obvious fake arm from the sunroof of his wedding limo!

Yet, as terrible as the film was, it had a certain charm. The production nailed down the team’s look right down to the costumes, even The Thing (Michael Bailey Smith) was impressive. This is amazing considering how far off the mark more professional productions were with their versions of The Thing and Dr. Doom. Never mind the acting, at least they looked like their comic book counterparts!

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Despite their inexperience, you could tell that the actors and production team were trying their best. They honestly believed this was going to be a big deal, but tragically for them it wasn’t. The cast and crew didn’t know that the film was never intended to be released and it wasn’t. Nor did they expect the film to get its infamous reputation as bootleg copies of the film circulated. Still, while it’s a terrible movie, it warrants a viewing for either fans who want to see a more faithful adaptation or drunks needing a good laugh.

Fantastic Four (2005)

When the superhero movie boom started early last decade, it wasn’t long before the FF got their shot at the limelight. 20th Century Fox released Fantastic Four in 2005, which turned out to be a modest hit, but received mixed reactions.

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Even though Fantastic Four was a more polished and professional film with a $100 million budget (compared to the reboot’s $122 million) it seemed routine and bland at times. doomWhat was worse was that Fantastic Four was hobbled with a poor villain, a vital component of any superhero film. Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon) was completely wrong from the casting to his backstory. In this version, he was your typical evil CEO who was part metallic and had electric-based powers. Those kind of changes wouldn’t have bothered people so much if the actor was a good fit. But, McMahon just didn’t have the gravitas that Doom requires because he’s a larger-than-life villain.

Ben Grimm/The Thing (Michael Chiklis) was also altered, but with different results. His look didn’t match the comic books’ version because he was human sized and lacked that famous protruding brow line. Also, his story was altered in that he was married, but his wife (briefly played by Laurie Holden of The Walking Dead) left him after she saw how he was disfigured by the accident that gave him his powers. But these changes weren’t too jarring and more importantly, Chiklis and the production captured Ben Grimm’s essence. Like in the comics he was downtrodden and full of self pity. He quarreled with his teammates, especially Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), who loved pulling pranks on him.

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The other highlight was Johnny himself. Evans channeled the nature of this young superhero brilliantly. He reveled in his powers, he was brash, brave and loved life, which is why he was a good foil for the moody Thing. Evans was so convincing as the happy-go-lucky Human Torch that when he was announced to play Captain America, some people doubted he could portray the more mature and grounded hero. He proved them wrong. Continue reading

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Marvel Comics’ Greatest Moments

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Marvel Comics turned 75 this year. As we celebrate Marvel’s 75th anniversary, it’s hard to imagine how long the comic book company has been around. Even though Marvel Comics first debuted in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 (featuring decidedly different superheroes like the Human Torch, Ka-Zar and Namor), the company truly came to its own in the 1960s when writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko introduced the world to new and dynamic superheroes.

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These masked marvels like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men quickly captured readers’ imaginations. Without exaggeration, Marvel Comics changed the comic book world and left a permanent mark in popular culture and its characters are still vibrant today. Incredibly enough, it can be said that they’re more popular today than when they were first introduced in the 1960s .

While Marvel superheroes have successfully transitioned into other media like films, toys, games and such, let’s not forget that the core of their appeal are with the comic books. Whether they’re just single stories in individual issues or epic mini-series and story arcs, the following are, based on my opinion, the best stories from Marvel’s 75-year history.

age of apAge Of Apocalypse: Spanning several different X-Men titles over several months, this massive storyline was about an altered reality where Professor X’s assassination in the past led to Apocalypse conquering North America, and Magneto leading the X-Men in a desperate attempt to stop him and correct history. Just seeing the alternate takes of our favorite mutants was a joy to read.

Avengers Disassembled: Boasting top avengers disassembledwriters and artists like Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Robert Kirkman, Steve Epting, Dave Finch and George Perez, this comic book crossover spawned from The Avengers #500-503 into other superhero titles and upended most of the Marvel Universe. The team is literally ripped apart from within by an insane Scarlet Witch. Many heroes are killed and the Avengers were catapulted into new popularity with this controversial story arc.

Born Again: Daredevil has never been lower or a more captivating read than in this classic story arc spanning Daredevil #227-231. That is due to the genius writing of Frank Miller and the art of Dave Mazzucchelli. Daredevil’s worst enemy discovers his secret identity and systematically destroys the blind superhero’s personal world plunging Daredevil into his own worst hell.

The Captain: This underrated Captain America tale by Mark Gruenwald, Tom Morgan and Kieron Dwyer spans Captain America #332-350 and has Steve Rogers abandoning his role as the iconic hero and going underground. Meanwhile, a super patriotic, though unstable, replacement is picked by the U.S. government to take over, but as we see, it’s not easy living up to a legend.

Civil War: Probably the last great mini-series produced by Marvel pits its most iconic heroes against each other. As Iron Man and Captain America took opposite sides against the U.S. government’s superhuman registration act, Marvel Comics was changed forever and the mini-series’ impact is still with us today.

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Deliverance: The famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc from Iron Man #120-128 bravely introduced the notion of a superhero being truly human and becoming an alcoholic. Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) alcoholism would resurface to even greater effect several issues later after his nemesis Obadiah Stane orchestrates a series of attacks. Stark soon became unable to continue being Iron Man and hit rock bottom culminating in Iron Man #182 when a now-homeless Stark battles not only the cold elements, but his own inner demons.

wolverine kittyDays of Future Past: The greatest X-Men story ever made reflected the height of the historic collaboration of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. In this exciting two-part tale from The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, robotic Sentinels have hunted mutants nearly to extinction in the near future, so one mutant is sent back in time to alter history.

The Death of Captain America: One immediate aftermath of the Civil War mini-series was Ed Brubaker’s gut-wrenching examination of the death of an American legend. Coldly assassinated before standing trial, Captain America’s death led to another hero taking up his mantle and a serpentine plot by Cap’s greatest enemies.

The Death of Gwen Stacy: The two-part gwen stacy deathstory from The Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 is considered by some as the end of the Silver Age of Comics. This emotional tale about Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, killing his girlfriend  was a gut punch not only for Spider-Man but his many followers who were stunned by the tragedy.

The Doctor Is In: John Byrne wrote and drew some outstanding comic books during his Marvel tenure. Before Deadpool came along, Byrne’s rendition of She-Hulk had her hysterically breaking the fourth wall. In The Sensational She-Hulk #5 story titled “The Doctor Is In” she had to not only contend with Doctor Bong, but with literally walking across comic book pages (ads included). Marvel Comics was rarely funnier than with this particular issue.

The Hulk Vs. The Thing: Marvel is known for how often its superheroes fight each other. This early story from Fantastic Four #25 & #26 is one of the best since its primarily a battle royale between two of Marvel’s strongest titans. The Stan Lee-Jack Kirby classic is at the same time a story about determination and fighting against the odds, in particular with the Thing.

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If This Be My Destiny…!: The story arc from The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 had Spider-Man run through exhausting trials to gather serum for his dying aunt. His quest culminated in issue #33 with a story titled “The Final Chapter!”.  In the issue, our hero is trapped under tons of steel and rubble and in danger of drowning with the serum just out of reach. Spider-Man has to find the fortitude to free himself and his effort was memorably inspiring.

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Top 10 Marvel Movie Villains

With Marvel’s superheroes blazing their way across movie screens, one factor for the films’ success is the supervillain(s) the heroes face. As any good storyteller will tell you, the vital ingredient for a gripping yarn is a formidable foe to put the story’s protagonist to the test.

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Being that the Marvel superheroes have such memorable enemies and that they translate well to the screen it’s one reason why the Marvel films have been successful. Naturally, with future Marvel films coming up, this list will change, but that’s part of the fun in making up these lists. So for now, these are the top ten villains to appear in Marvel movies…and the five worst.

Ivan Vanko10. Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (Mickey Rourke): Combining elements of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo for the big screen, Vanko is a cold, deadly and enraged Iron Man foe who was much more engaging than the original film’s Obadiah Stane or this one’s Justin Hammer.

9. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination in The Incredible Hulk (Tim Roth): Come on, the guy had the balls to go up against the Hulk man to man! That’s one tough SOB, and yes when he becomes The Abomination and fights the Hulk it looks like something out of  a video game. But it was a lot more fun than that turgid Ang Lee film.

8. Bullseye in Daredevil (Colin Farrell): One of the bright spots in that film, Bullseye had a maniacal sense of energy, ego and deadliness that upstaged Daredevil and gave him a personal motivation for trying to defeat the title hero.

7. The Red Skull/Johann Schmidt in red skull hugo weavingCaptain America: The First Avenger (Hugo Weaving): A bit one-dimensional but well-played by Weaving  as an uber Nazi whose ambitions elevate his evil to another level altogether.

green goblin spidey 16. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn in Spider-Man (Willem Dafoe): The outfit stunk otherwise the Goblin would’ve ranked higher. Dafoe, however, gives Osborn his all as a crazed CEO with fantastic gadgets and (aside from the outfit) largely works as a villain.

5. Col. William Stryker in X2 (Brian Cox): Despite not having any powers, Stryker is one terrifying person whose bigotry and fear of mutants is a driving force that threatens the lives of the film’s mutants whether they’re hero or villain.

4. The New Goblin/Harry Osbron in new goblinSpider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 (James Franco): A true tragic villain, Harry doesn’t become bad until the end of Spider-Man 2 where the agony of his father’s death and his own inadequacies unhinge him. His hatred for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, the means he goes about seeking vengeance and his final tragic redemption are the best things in the third Spider-Man film.

doctor octopus3. Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (Alfred Molina): The best of the science-driven-mad villains. Molina gives us a very dimensional Doc Ock who isn’t driven by world conquest or revenge but to achieve a scientific goal. Never mind that trying to create his version of fusion threatens the world. Calculating and arrogant even before his accident, Octavius paid the price for his arrogance and was a formidably tough foe for Spider-Man.

2. Loki in Thor (Tom Hiddleston): One loki in thorof the biggest surprises wth Thor is how subtle and crafty Loki came off. It would’ve been easy with a title as God of Mischief to have him be a Norse god version of The Joker and be cackling and chaotic. Instead, thanks largely to Hiddleston’s quiest expressions, Loki is seen sympathetically as the seemingly less-favored son who holds a secret grudge against his brother Thor. The film successfully shows why Loki detests his situation and why he turns on his family; it’s more layered than him finding out his true origin. Rather his envy and anger are due to his own insecurities, Thor’s arrogance and is his validation for taking over Asgard through crafty means.

old magneto1. Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand ( Ian MacKellen): As one of the deadliest and most powerful villains, Magneto is someone you can’t help empathize with considering his background; he’s a World War II concentration camp survivor. He developed a hatred for non-mutants who persecuted his own kind,  thus making him feel justified in his actions against society. Magneto was usually one step ahead of Professor X and willing to go the extra distance to achieve his goals whether it involved harming a young girl or firing a gun point blank at a cop with his magnetic powers. Despite his age, Magneto was someone to take seriously as a foe and was also the mirror image, in terms of idealogy, of Professor X’s dream of peaceful co-existance with humans. Sadly, many of humanity’s actions throughout the original trilogy only added fuel to his cause and made viewers wonder as to who was truly evil or misguided.

new magnetoSpecial shout outs in no particular order go to Mystique (Rebecca Romijin Stamos) in the X-Men films, Venom/Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) in Spider-Man 3, The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) in Daredevil, Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) in Blade II, and Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in X-Men: First Class.  Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto was good enough to make the top ten list but for most of the movie he is actually an anti-hero who only becomes truly villainous by the film’s end.

And now for the five worst. Before getting to the these turds let it be noted that all it takes to sink a film (sometimes singlehandedly) is a poor villain. When coming up with a screenplay attention must be paid to the villain’s motivation, execution and threat level. It’s a hard thing to pull off; when it works you have a great movie when it doesn’t you have a franchise killer. So here they are, the Marvel movie villain Hall of Shame inductees:

5. Howard Saint in The Punisher (John Travolta): You know as a villain you’re in trouble when the colorful assassins you send after the Punisher like the Russian are more interesting than you.

4. Toad in X-Men (Ray Park): Talk about hamming it up! That scene at the Statue of Liberty when Toad tries to mock Storm with his silly dancing earned him a good lightning strike that ensured that he didn’t return in the sequels.

3. Blackheart/Legion in Ghost Rider (Wes Bentley): Boring, boring, boring! Generic demonic foe that looks more like a goth reject than the son of Mephisto. His father was a more intriguing foe yet this film chose to focus instead on this bratty emo.

doctor doom 2005

2. Dr. Doom/Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four (Julian McMahon): This is miscasting at its worst. McMahon was terrific as the narcissistic plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck but lacked the gravitas to be Marvel’s most infamous and regal villain. Everyone expected an Eastern European despot but got your standard egotistical CEO and coming so soon after Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin performance it just drew unfavorable comparisons. In trying to tie his origin with the Fantastic Four and making him a mutated being, this film robs the character of his rich backstory and menace. In this film he’s just a poor Goblin/Magneto/Electro knock-off. He was more like his comic book counterpart, power-hungry and more Machiavellian in the sequel but that film’s awfulness wiped out any improvement made to Doom’s character.

1. Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Destroyer of worlds, nearly omnipotent, a force of nature personified by a giant being with that wonderfully whacky Kirby outfit, that is how fans conceive of Galactus. Do we get this on film? No! We get a cloud. A stormy cloud. Seriously how lazy is this? What’s equally laughable is the filmmakers’ attempt to explain why they went with a cloud, apparently they wanted to leave it up to whoever did a Silver Surfer film to have a free reign designing Galactus. All this did was help to scuttle that film and any followups to the Fantastic Four. The execution reeks of not being imaginative and/or having a limited f/x budget. It was the ultimate payoff that never happened and signified the film’s problems. There was too much going on in the movie to adequately explore the most famous Fantastic Four story, it would have been better to end it with a cliffhanger even if it never happened. It would have left less of a bad taste.

José Soto