Because it is a superhero movie, it's PG-13. The main idea behind my analysis is that Fantastic Four might be the most family friendly of all the superhero films. I'm not talking about The Incredibles, which is an homage to the Fantastic Four. I'm talking about major original properties. Because there is a bad guy, there's some scary stuff. But it is all superhero violence. Probably the most gruesome thing in the movie is Dr. Doom blowing a hole through a guy. Johnny is often shirtless / obstructed naked. But it's pretty family friendly. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Tim Story
I know that there is an entire blogging business devoted to unpopular takes. They give bad movies second chances and talk about why they are wildly misunderstood. I get why people hate Fantastic Four, the 2005 version. (I completely understand why everyone hates the reboot. Geez, that stupid movie.) But I've never really hated on the 2005 version. It's an imperfect movie, sure. It's missing some really important elements that would be corrected by almost every other Marvel film. But it has a couple of things that go really right for it that people tend to ignore. I think we might have to discuss the reboot to talk about what is actually right about the 2005 version of Fantastic Four.
As a parent, I love Fantastic Four. I have a six-year-old, a four-year-old (who gets scared by everything), and a six-month-old (who poops a lot. This is extra information, but it does make the scenario way more real). My six-year-old daughter is really into comic books. She's currently obsessed with anything Spider-character related. For those people who currently read the comics, you know what I'm talking about. She love Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen / Ghost Spider, Miles Morales, Spider-Ham, Spiderling. The list keeps going. But the Spider-Man movies actually are kind of scary. The original trilogy was directed by horror master Sam Raimi, and it shows. Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty good for her, but it's also pretty meshed into the MCU and avoids a lot of the mythology stuff that she loves. So then I thought I better introduce her to new characters and the only Marvel related movie that I could think that was family friendly enough was Fantastic Four. Superhero movies are marketed to kids, but a lot of them are pretty intense. I want to break this down a bit. Think about all of those costumes, backpacks, lunch boxes, PJs, and toys. They're aimed for kids as young as kindergarten. But those movies aren't really for kindergarteners. Those movies are meant for the nostalgia hounds like me. Like the comics, they grew up with audiences. But the Fanastic Four was always focused on family. I'm not saying that there isn't dark content in some Fantastic Four comic books. There is, especially with what happened to the Ultimate versions of the characters. Again, I can't forget what the reboot tried doing with these characters and how inherently flawed that whole idea was. The Fantastic Four are a family first. They bicker. They get angry at each other. But the Fantastic Four is the story of family. Yeah, the Fantastic Four's roster has changed over the many decade since the comic premiered in the '60s. But fundamentally, it's Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing. It keeps coming back because family is central. With such a strong focus on family, the tone really doesn't have the opportunity to stray too much from what makes it work. The byproduct of all of this is that the protagonists, with the exception of one, really are their comic book counterparts. Okay, you might comment that they are a little bit hokey. Comic book characters shift and evolve. But they still have some fundamental traits that make them fundamentally the same. The 2005 Fantastic Four has a brainy and socially incompetent Reed Richards. Johnny Storm is a fun, prakny braggart. Ben Grimm is a mook who is tortured by his powers. It's the Invisible Woman who is wildly underserviced here. Her character structure is fine. She is frustrated by this guy who constantly undervalues her, despite the fact that he is in love with her. But Sue Storm needs to be stronger and that's the weakest of the characters in the group. A lot of it comes from miscasting. The other actors were picked for type. Jessica Alba was cast for celebrity status / hotness. That's such an odd decision. This is where someone like Kate Mara of the reboot would have actually been a better decision. (Kate Mara would have been too young in 2005, but you get the idea.) Jessica Alba is such a noticable flaw in the grand scheme of things because she can't ground the character. Sue Storm is not a character of extremes. I've seen Alba hold her own when she's given something intense to work with. Her character's power is literally a metaphor for being unseen. That takes nuance and finesse and I don't think Alba could do that.
Both Fantastic Four movies have a really big problem: they don't know how to handle their villains. It has the Fantastic Four right. Stick them in the Baxter Building. Have them go on big adventures. (Okay, the big adventures thing is also lacking, but that's because the movies don't get anything besides the four right.) Dr. Doom is wildly mismanaged here. He looks great, when he's finally all Doomed Up. But Doom is a very standard, light-switch villain. He's also really hard to get right. Doom is obsessive with the need to control and rule. Any oversight could not possibly be his own fault. The problem is that both Reed and Doom make the mistake that give them powers. Doom's evil comes from the fact that he will never admit his own mistake. It is a constant struggle to show that he was right all along. Doom, also, doesn't need powers. That's really difficult. He's scarred Iron Man. (I actually love that the comics have attached Doom to Iron Man once the Fantastic Four title was put on hiatus.) Not only is he scarred Iron Man, but he's also a magician. I can see the movie leaving that out, but how much better would it have been if Doom had only been scarred from the blast? He has no powers because he was behind the shield, but he's just left a disgusting husk. Those around him are New York's superhero team and the guy who funded it is left hideous? That's such a stronger choice. He builds a suit that allows him to have powers that dwarf the Fantastic Four's? It stresses his genius and his megalomania. It's really weird that the movie tried to tie Doom to Latveria in this one because Julian McMahon doesn't really do anything to imply that he's not American. They actually leave his pretty face exposed for most of the film. (The second film does this too!) I always have a problem when the main villain of the first movie is the archnemesis. The first film is so concerned with an origin story that it can devote the time it needs to for the villain. That's exactly what's going on here. It's a real shame.
With the film's bad guy being kind of a wash, that kind of leads to a weak plot. But Fantastic Four shouldn't be completely ignored because it makes the characters' journeys the central focus of the story. We don't care about Doom. It's a weird thing to say, but you can cut all that stuff because it isn't properly serviced. But what you can focus on that is actually really smart is the juxtaposition between Ben's journey and Johnny's journey. Reed and Sue are your B-plots. Story does a solid job of making Ben's journey the most important part of the story. Chiklis is a little guy, so it is always a little off-putting to have such a tiny guy play The Thing. But Chiklis plays the part pitch-perfectly. He's trying to be a good guy, but everything is frustrating to him. People don't view him as a hero. They see a rock monster down the street. There's this really cool moment that I've never thought about. His fiancee' ditches him and puts the ring on the ground so she doesn't have to interact with him. His giant rock hands won't let him pick it up. That's a genius moment. In the comics, I always had a harder time sympathizing with the Thing, despite the fact that this was always a central theme. I mean, I did. But that moment with the ring made me get it. Everything is a constant reminder that he's not like everybody else. He's sick of being the emotional support for everyone else because nobody else gets it, despite the fact that they think they do. This leads to a conflict with Reed, whom he blames for this entire experience. The comic book first issue has Ben fighting (physically) with Reed immediately after landing. I never bought that. The movie mirrors this sequence because the fight goes the same way. I appreciate that Story could just yank that image right out from the pages, but it does create another problem. The movie isn't that long. Ben's anger at Reed is really amped up, which makes Ben look like a bad guy at times. I would have loved that slow burn. I have to give points that Story handles it better than the comics, but it is still pretty rushed. Then there's Johnny, whose life has gotten way better because of his powers. That juxtaposition is awesome. The fact that these guys are forced family now is just a great dynamic. I can't stress enough that this is the movie that gets the protagonists right when few people do.
I acknowledge that this movie is a little bit on the dumb side. There are so many great superhero movies that a mediocre one seems pretty terrible. But I actually had a really good time rewatching Fantastic Four. It felt like the comics to me. My kids loved it. Why would I complain about that? I know that the second movie also bollocks up the villains, but they get the hard part right. That's probably what makes it so frustrating is that so much is good that, when it drops the ball hard, it is just staggering. Ah well, I'm not going to apologize for liking this one. Also, I've added some non-MCU Marvel movies to the list and that's pretty fun.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.