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DVD Review: Fantastic Four Extended Edition (2005)

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I reviewed the theatrical release of this film three years ago, giving it a surprisingly positive review. Since its release, its been derided as one of the string of bad superhero comic book adaptations that began with its release, and continued until this year’s release of Iron Man broke the trend. What drove me to give this movie 3.5 stars all those years ago, I can’t really say, but it does provide a good example of how you can never remove the externals involved in the moviegoing experience from one’s perception of the movie itself. I’m guessing a lot of it had to do with me being in a good mood when I saw it, or some other reason besides the film Tim Story and company presented.

When writing that review, I did state that there was a possibility that subsequent viewings could reveal that the movie wasn’t that good; in fact, the praise I gave it was muted at best. So it turns out that my review wasn’t completely wrong, since it took exactly one more viewing for me to see the truth that most everyone saw with their initial viewing: this is a bad movie.

Apparently, Hollywood ran out of convincing blue-eyed blondes, and had to enlist the multi-ethnic brunette Jessica Alba to fill in. To be fair, my second viewing wasn’t of the theatrical release, so it’s not a exact comparison. The Extended Edition adds 20 more minutes of footage to the film, pushing it to a 125 minute affair. While I don’t remember the theatrical cut enough to identify all the new scenes (and while it exists on the DVD, I have no desire to revisit it), I don’t think making this movie longer does it any favours. I suspect it’s like many DVDs that add in footage to coax more money out of consumers, in that it doesn’t really add or subtract much from the movie, but the mere fact that it takes up more time to watch gave me more time to realise how bad everything is (whereas the leaner edition might’ve blown by fast enough that its suckiness had less time to stick).

The biggest difference between the two versions is the added attention given to the relationship between Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington). But, given that those scenes are as poorly written as the rest of the movie, they were probably wise to leave them out of the theatrical cut even if they flesh out a key element of FF lore. The problem is that the movie is too lightweight and ridiculous to be taken seriously on any level. I get that Story and company were trying for a lighter, more family-friendly movie in comparison to the darker superhero movies that were coming out at the time. It’s a fine choice, as the Fantastic Four is a family story. But family friendly need not mean inconsequential.

The best example I can give of the sloppy writing in the film is the simple fact in the course of two hours, the team never exhibits any true acts of heroism. After the requisite origin story and in between soap opera bickering amongst the characters and silly diversions in the everyday uses of their powers, there are two big setpieces that feature the characters working as a team of superheroes. The first is the big scene at the Brooklyn bridge, which basically boils down to Marvel’s premier superhero team against… traffic (they graduate from this major threat in the sequel to take on a ferris wheel). Okay, it was their first time trotting out their powers, so one could forgive the fact that they’re just fighting a mundane obstacle… if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole thing is basically their fault.

All the crashes, mayhem, and millions of dollars in property damages happens because The Thing decides to hang out on the Brooklyn Bridge, and scares a guy into traffic. Vehicles start crashing, bridge supports start snapping, and firefighters are put into mortal danger due to the panic created by the hero, meaning that the Fantastic Four’s big heroic introduction is basically them cleaning up their own mess.

The final battle, which eventually spills out into the streets of New York, isn’t the result of the FF’s heroic decision to save the innocent, but rather is simply the passive result of them being attacked by their nemesis Dr Doom (Julian McMahon), who wouldn’t even exist were it not for Reed Richard’s (Ioan Gruffudd) miscalculation that created the Fantastic Four. Doom wasn’t attacking the city, or expanding his power, or even robbing a bank. He was going after our “heroes” in a personal vendetta that put innocent lives at stake. Worse, the FF weren’t fighting the bad guy to prevail over evil, they were fighting to save their own skin. Basically, the movie gives them two moments to be heroes, none of which would have even been necessary if these heroes never existed. That’s some crappy storytelling, and shows how little thought was given on how to move these characters from setpiece to setpiece.

Hey, we can be heroes. When properly motivated.But the film does manage to do a few things well, making it a bad movie, but not necessarily a terrible one. While it devotes too much time to the bickering between the Four, the relationships between them echo the series pretty well, particularly between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). In fact, Chiklis and Evans are easily the two best elements of the film, with Chiklis injecting some pathos as the monstrous Thing and Evans providing genuine fun as the hotheaded Human Torch. I also like the charisma of Julian McMahon as the antagonist of the film, even though it wasn’t a very good interpretation of Dr Doom (which is more the fault of the writers than it is McMahon’s). Finally, while the climactic battle was demonstrably flawed, it was still fun to see the team combine their powers in creative ways.

I’m guessing those factors were enough to combine with a nice summer matinée viewing with my wife three years ago to trick me into thinking Fantastic Four was a decent movie, but not enough to trick me into thinking the same with a late night solitary DVD viewing three years later. So consider this review my retraction, and yet another example of how reviews can only ever hope to capture a specific moment in time, and as with all opinions, are subject to change.

Directed by: Tim Story

Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington

Bonus DVD Review: Interestingly, while the film itself is a stunning mediocrity that probably insults fans of the comic more than it excites them, the Extended Edition DVD is still a worthy edition to the shelves of big Fantastic Four fans. As long as they don’t watch the first disc with both cuts of the film (theatrical and extended).

Instead, the value for fans comes from the special features disc. Again, you probably want to skip the featurettes on the movie, including a long and detailed feature titled Heroes are Born: The Making of Fantastic Four, since it’s a long and detailed look at a bad movie. However, there are two, one-hour long documentaries on the comics themselves that are well put together, and just the sort of thing fans of the comics should love. The first is titled The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, which provides an overview of the title from its inception in 1961 through to the then-current incarnations of The Fantastic Four, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Marvel Knights 4. The doc features interviews from FF luminaries such as Stan Lee, John Romita, George Pérez, Walt Simonson, and Joe Sinnott. The second documentary is titled Jack Kirby: Storyteller, which is a loving homage to the man most responsible for the success of the Fantastic Four. These docs are perfect for fans, meaning that even if you hate the movie for what it did to your favourite family of superheroes, the DVD is oddly a great way to celebrate them.

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