This Week in Geek (7-13/03/21)


At home: 15+ years of mishandling the Fantastic Four in movies has really destroyed their cred with with general audiences, and it really starts with the 2005 movie. Is it that bad? Well, yes and no. It did manage to spawn a sequel after all. I would say its greatest sin how it decides to do Doctor Doom. Here we have the Marvel Universe's best villain and still they decide to toy around with the concept. He eventually LOOKS like Doom, but he's no Doom. Before he has powers, he's Lex Luthor, and after he does, he's merely a physical threat. It lacks the necessary grandeur (the Marco Polo scene is a low point). Otherwise, the cast isn't bad, but more than an hour in, characters are still trying to figure out what their powers are and we're a long way away from the superhero plot. Mostly, the FF fight among themselves. Normally, I don't like them doubling up on villains, but if Doom is going to take his time showing up, why not throw Mole Man into the mix? As is, the team gets applause mostly for solving problems they themselves caused (the bit on the bridge where they make Sue undress so she can... what exactly?). Still early days for superhero movies, and though it's bright and colorful, you can still feel the film makers' malaise about the source material. 40+ years of comics can't have been wrong, guys.

I'll tell you why Galactus is a big cloud in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It's for the same reason its Doctor Doom is the most boring ever. This is a movie franchise that, like a lot of pre-MCU superhero fare, is ashamed of its comic book sources. So there's a dull effort to make it work within a kind of "logic" the presumptive audience will understand. That's why there's a media circus, why the Torch is trying to get sponsors, why Doom can't just have built an armor and communed with the devil, etc. At the same time, they don't seem to mind all the bad hair pieces. And for all that, it's a better film that the original. The wedding stuff is slightly impaired by Ioan Gruffudd being a terribly off-model Reed Richards (Jessica Alba is an odd choice for Sue, but at least I like her), but Johnny's coming of age is a good bit (if undermined by the contrived power-switch subplot). There's far less faffing about and the action set pieces are generally good. It won't win any awards - I keep qualifying my compliments, as you can see - but it's reasonable. What I think fans resent about these failed films (and I can say the same about the X-Men's two tried at the Dark Phoenix Saga) is that they hurt those classic stories' chances of making it intact to the big screen. The MCU treatment could definitely do them justice (like, how is the whole bit with the Ultimate Nullifier not more interesting than having the Silver Surfer somehow have the power to kill Galactus all along?!), but by then audiences might say "this again?!".

You can't make me believe they went back to the comics when conceiving of 2015's Fantastic Four (mockingly called Fant4stic). It's clearly an adaptation of the failed movies - a Doctor Doom with powers and a boner for Sue, lots of faffing about with the origin, etc. - and like a game of Chinese whispers, we're getting further and further away from what the FF ARE and SHOULD BE. Basically, they've looked at the previous films and thought the problem was that they were too silly and unrealistic, but one of the problems in FF 1 and 2 was that they were ashamed of their comic book origins and tried to "logic it up". This one's even worse. What if the FF were teenage X-Men and Doom was emo Kylo Ren, in a world of murky grunge, dull REALISTIC aesthetics and almost no superheroics (though lots of people saying "shit"). They hang around at the school for gifted youngsters. Then some of them get turned into military weapons. I swear, if Doom is the villain (as opposed to, say, the scriptwriter), he shows up with his undefined powers at 1h18 to initiate ye olde sky laser, and it's all over 11 minutes later! The foursome are a team for a lot less than that, and never get to wear the uniform at any point. That'd be fine if only they had personalities, but no, the movie forgets to give them that too. Now, I was all in with the trip to another dimension as the spark for their powers - the original was a space race story that needs be updated - but that's where you bring in the Negative Zone and Annihilus and lots of asteroids and Kirby tech. But you have to be unashamed of the source material to do that. When you are, you give us a dead lump like this.


Roger Corman's unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four - sorry, THE Fantastic Four - is cheap and looks like a failed television pilot of its era, but cheapness does not necessarily mean bad. I mean, this version of Doctor Doom is much closer to the comics' than any of the later films' attempts (Shakespeare references and all). But there's very little behind the mask, and that's really my biggest criticism of what might otherwise have been a somewhat charming cheese-fest. The characterization is simplistic in the extreme, which perhaps goes with some of the wooden acting, but this kind of material is why some movie studios keep insisting on ignoring the comics as silly and for kids. It definitely wants to be of a stripe with Batman '66, dutch angles and all, and at its best comes off as one of those live action Ninja Turtle movies. At its WORST, well, there's the baffling inclusion of the Jeweler, an original villain who might as well have been Mole Man, who seems to be the leader of the Morlocks or something. He's like something out of a Leprechaun movie. And while I enjoy little fake-outs as to how to show powers on a budget, the full-CG Human Torch scene over-reaches in the worst way. Ultimately, this is silly and pitched at younger kids, except kids today would have higher standards.

A very early talkie signed William Wyler, Hell's Heroes is an adaptation of Three Godfathers, in which three bank robbers in the Old West get lost in the desert after a disastrous escape and come upon a dying woman and her baby. Will they be able to bring the child back to civilization, and will they even want to? What's truly amazing by today's standards is that, no cheating, they really have an infant in these desert locations. I have no idea what's happening behind the camera, but can't imagine it being done so realistically today. And it has to be said that this is a Christmas story, which gives the narrative Biblical undertones without doing any kind of one-for-one transposition. The three bandits are the three wisemen, but if they'd had to take Jesus off Mary's hands, which isn't really how this goes. But birth as a redemptory event, potentially able to save men's souls, is at the heart of this. The town is called New Jerusalem for good measure. There's enough weight here that you won't  notice the brisk 67-minute runtime.

Park Chan-wook's (Sympathy for) Lady Vengeance is a real freight train, expecting you to follow the story through its initial breakneck pace, going and back and forth in time to set the pieces into motion. A young woman gets out of prison, and had become the guardian angel to many inmates during her time, but she was really recruiting help to help her enact her bloody revenge on the man who put her there. That's a very broad stroke, because - while I won't say the film is hard to follow, only that it requires your attention - it's a lot more complicated than that, and that's what makes it so delightfully unpredictable. One of director Park's tricks is to tease out information only as needed, and I feel like he's still revealing secrets during the last few minutes. And you certainly don't know where it's going or how it all fits together until the end. Tonally too, because the film is very funny and has a sense of fun, but then has these horrible acts at the center of it, the last piece of the "sympathy" being built for the title character, which may be hard for some viewers to watch. A gorgeous-looking film, too, though not sure that needs be said when we're discussing Park Chan-wook.

The first of Park Chan-wook's "vengeance trilogy", Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance doesn't really have just ONE Mr. Vengeance. A lot of people are owed blood and a number of them get it. And yes, they're all sympathetic. A deaf man is desperate to get his ailing sister a kidney, trusts the wrong people and sends the situation into a downward spiral of tragic and bloody errors - some of them foreshadowing the subject matter of the later Lady Vengeance - taking other people down with him. And he didn't mean for any of it to happen. By the time he sets his course on revenge, that revenge is twinned with another's, and it's call going to come to a very bleak end indeed. Director Park has a dark sense of humor, yes, but he's also quite dark as a dramatist, and I don't know what's more shocking, that he goes the places he does, or that he somehow manages to make it feel beautiful and poetic. As with his other films, every shot - EVERY shot - generates interest. There's no bad frame in a Park Chan-wook movie.


Bollywood writ in animation, Bombay Rose expands on an earlier Gitanjali Rao short (TrueLoveStory), though it may lose focus doing so. At the center of the story is a forbidden love between two young people, Kamala and Salim, but we also follow Kamala's little sister Tara to a former Bollywood star's house, an old woman reliving past glories in her mind. Tara also befriends a small deaf-mute street urchin. There's a rose-cam giving us a flower's POV. And then there's the expansion of the story into the city's history itself, with cool transformations of art style as we go into Kamala or Salim's fantasies, based on traditional Indian art, or the old woman's black and white "Golden Age". And the occasional cheesy Bollywood moment too. It's a melancholy film, burning with a slow but bright and colorful flame, and more a portrait of the bustling city of Bombay as it is today, through various characters who dream of better days - past or future - but have been denied them. There's tragedy there, and in a way, I kind of resent the cheesy button at the end, but without it, Bombay Rose would have been too much of a downer.

Right on the heels of The Macra Terror comes The Faceless Ones, entirely animated even though two episodes do exist in library (one is admittedly damaged). It's not the most exciting story - it may even be Troughton's dullest - but it does have Ben and Polly's departure and big UNIT-era vibes. Anyway, who doesn't want ALL of missing Doctor Who to get this treatment? As with the previous release, you can watch the animated version in full color OR in black and white. The B&W can be watched with the extant episodes or not, and has a full screen ratio that tends to cut people's faces in the middle, so while it's closer to the original show, it's the inferior way to see it. If you're listening to the commentary track, then use the original episodes since that's what the cast and crew are reacting to. The DVD package also includes a step-by-step making of the animated version, the full serial reconstruction, full-color stock footage used in the serial, the small clips we have of the story's four missing episodes, and an amazingly slim collection of stills from the production.

Improv: I've done a lot of long-form improv in my life - it's kind of my thing - but we'd never done it in a proper theater with only professional actors, and a small government grant allowed us to put on three different shows to prove that improv was more than instantaneous sketch comedy, it's really just a form of theater. I serve only as "artistic director", which means I plan the minimalist set design and premise, present the audience with choices that "prove" the actors had nothing prepared, and help the actors coordinate actions (coach them, you might say) back stage. This trio of plays had an extra difficulty: It all had to be done with social distancing, which was my starting point in terms of subject matter. After a few COVID delays, the first one we got to present was Coeurs, which means Hearts, but in French is also a pun for Chorus. One source idea was the Medieval romance of Heloise and Abelard, lovers separated and often shown in adjoining cells, separated by a wall. Pyramus and Thisbe, as immortalized by the Rude Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream was another. So we have actors trapped in white squares of light, separated physically, and behind them, in colored squares, the two other actors could be other necessary characters, inner monologue, or indeed, a chorus, especially needed to make the play pivot at the mid-point and wrap up at the end. They acquitted themselves very well, creating a work that spoke to both the innocent love of youth. and the bitterness that comes from love denied and how it gets so much more complicated with age. Good reactions from the public (which is weird in and of itself in this day and age where we so often perform in conference call), who would later call it by turns funny and touching. The lighting technician afterwards asked if we'd been working from an outline and, no absolutely not, which is the best compliment of all. In fact, the actors had just spent the previous hour saying "WHY DID I AGREE TO DO THIS?!". Well, one down, two to go. Stay tuned for Cages next.


Allen W. Wright said...

I remember saying that the 2005 FF film wasn't so much the Fantastic Four as it was "the pretty good two". Or perhaps I should say, the really good one (Chris Evans) and the good one (Michael Chiklis). I was a fan of the Hornblower movies on A&E, but I still can't see Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards. I don't buy him as the world's smartest person -- or second smartest if you believe Doom.

I couldn't even get through five minutes of the most recent one.

It's bizarre because I think the classic FF formula would translate to films pretty well. Although I wonder how they'll fit into the MCU. If they do a 60s FF and pull forward, then it treads on both Captains America and Marvel. If they introduce the FF as new characters, then they are hardly "the first family".

Siskoid said...

They can't be the First Family, that ship has sailed.

If you keep it a space race story, then you might have them leave in a rocket ship in 1961, get lost in a wormhole or pull some relativistic speeds and come back now, changed but alive. Meanwhile, Dr. Doom has been getting older and more bitter in his castle in Latveria. Reed coming back as a successful hero with a bank account that's only accrued interest over the last 60 years activates him.

What is clear MUSTN'T happen is tying Doom into the FF's origin. All these bad films felt it was required and it's probably their biggest problem on a conceptual level. I would even let Doom rest for the first film. The FF have some of the best villains in the MU and almost none of them have been developed.

They also can't be "young hot kids", that divests Mr. Fantastic of his character and makes everyone contemporary to Johnny and so divests him of his.

(Can you tell I'm working on the next Who's Editing? I'm really in that headspace.)

misterharry said...

My guess is that the FF will link into the multiverse concept from the next Spidey and Doc Strange films (and maybe Ant-Man & the Wasp Quantumania). So the FF will be from an alternative timeline and somehow cross over into ours - they've been active in their world for a while, but are new to ours. This would also work for integrating the X-Men films into the MCU. Or maybe I'm completely off-base on this.

Siskoid said...

I feel like they had an opportunity to lay the groundwork for that in WandaVision and stepped away from it, so who knows.

Andrew said...

Remember how one of the criticisms of Batman vs. Superman was how their take on Lex Luthor was basically Heath Ledger's Joker. 2005's Doctor Doom is basically Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin. That said, I give the duology a lot more leeway than that probably deserves, just because Michael Chiklis absolutely nails it at both Ben and the Thing, and was able to do it under several dozen layers of foam rubber.

As for Fant4stic? During production, Kate Mara gave an interview where she revealed Trank didn't want the cast reading the comics for inspiration.

misterharry said...

However they do it this time around, I just hope they finally get it right for the Fantastic 4. It was always my favourite comic growing up, and I still have a huge love for the team. As well as Doctor Doom and Galactus, there are loads of iconic villains from the early years I'd love to see on the big screen - Mole Man, the Mad Thinker, Red Ghost and his Suoer-Apes, Puppet Master. And maybe it could be a way into the MCU for Namor - though comparisons with Aquaman will be inevitable.

Green Luthor said...

Having Doom be in the background for the first movie, but not the actual villain, would probably be the best way to go (like how they "introduced" Thanos in the stinger for Avengers). Using Mole Man as the initial baddie is probably how I'd do it; lots of kaiju could make for some nifty action sequences, and also make the Four a bit different than the other MCU entries. (Also, Rick Hoffman definitely has the right look for Mole Man, no insult to him intended.) (I like Hoffman, even after he was in Suits. Actually, he was probably the best part of the show.)

For Doom, my first choice probably would have been Mads Mikkelson, but they kind of already wasted him in Doctor Strange, so... I'm not sure who I'd like for that. (But it's gotta be someone impressive, since if they DON'T make him the Big Bad for the rest of the MCU's life, they're doing it wrong; Doom is Marvel's BEST villain, and deserves a better film appearance than he's gotten so far.)

As Ioun Gruffund, I thought he was fine as Reed, in appearance and personality. Were it still 2005, I'd have no problem with him reprising the role, but I don't expect that to happen now. (I'd also have no complaints with bringing back anyone else from those films, although Evans is probably too old for Johnny now, plus that whole "Captain America" thing.)

The Corman move is an odd creature; allegedly, it was thrown together quickly and cheaply just so the rights wouldn't revert back to Marvel, and it's not hard to believe. It feels like, if an attempt was made to actually make a movie intended for release, it could have been decent enough. Maybe not Richard Donner Superman, but not... y'know, The Fantastic Four. (They brought in Roger Corman because he was known for doing movies quickly and cheaply. Amusingly, I believe he's said that the $2 million budget he was given was the highest he'd ever had!)

Not sure how they'll integrate the FF into the MCU. We really don't need another "hero out of time" story, and using the multiverse to introduce characters is going to turn the whole thing into a potentially unsalvageable mess. ("Hey, look, it's the Earth-2 Iron Man! And Captain America! And Thanos! And everyone else we shouldn't have killed off! Not back from the dead, just their exact counterparts from another universe! Plus all the other characters we didn't have the rights to use before! They've all decided to leave their home universe and hang out in this one for... reasons?")

Tony Laplume said...

Doctor Doom is inherently a cheesy villain inexplicably sacred to Marvel fans. That’s the problem. He’s got his own country, but he’s obsessed with Reed Richards and/or the whole team, has ill-defined powers that nonetheless make anything at all possible...And Galactus is a giant humanoid who literally eats worlds.

The thing that makes the Fantastic Four interesting isn’t its villains but the dysfunctional family aspects, which all three existing theatrical movies centered around. The real problem is that they all center around one member (Reed) and make sideshows of everyone else. And Reed’s power is inherently ridiculous. It literally can’t look awesome, especially given to a character who otherwise is supposed to be a brilliant scientist.

Basically the problem is that what works in the comics can’t work on film, so this major property does everything it can to pull it off, and can’t. Because as it turns out, even Fantastic Four fans don’t seem to be overly interested in the family elements.

And anyway, I like the movies. I like Trank’s focus on Reed. I love Evans as the Torch, and that whatever else is happening there it’s well worth getting to spend that time with him, as no other superhero in film is that fun without being Deadpool. And Doom is Doom. At least Toby Kebbell has something interesting to do.

Siskoid said...

Well, the family stuff is necessary, it's what sets them apart from other teams, but I think the movies wallowed in that element and then woke up at the end with a GASP, we need to do some superhero stuff now! Each cold restart has at least an hour of them just getting powers then fooling around with them, like it's one of those Kurt Russell Disney movies from the 70s. Yes, we know you can turn invisible, let's get this party moving. And slipping Doom INTO the family just exacerbates the problem.

If it's gonna be an adventure film, there needs to be adventure. It can't just be a super-powered sitcom. And FF adventures go BIG. There are worlds under the Earth, and in other dimensions, and across space and time. THAT'S an FF adventure. The movies have trouble getting them out of their own bellybuttons.

To your point about Doom, he's a great villain in the comics, but you seem to be describing the movie version. Doom's powers are not ill-defined EXCEPT in the movies. He's just a super-scientist who built an armor and who dabbles in both science and magic. His feet are in both worlds. He's an obsessive type. He scarred his face by trying to reach his mother's soul in hell, then transferred his obsession onto the man he blames for making the experiment fail. He's half Hammer Horror and half Iron Man. And they force him to be Magneto in the movies with Reed as Prof X and look at that, magnetic powers (whut?).

The FF need to stop faffing about with power gags and get real challenges that makes their family dynamic come out IN A CRISIS, where they can actually be a TEAM and not just individuals who, 15 minutes from the end, go hey, let's all use our powers together. They should already have learned that lesson. So yeah, Mole Man's kaiju! Annihilus' bug army in the Negative Zone. Reed being on trial by the cosmic community for not killing Galactus when he had a chance.

I mean, what's the next Endgame? Doom as the new Loki and we're heading for Secret Wars, the Beyonder, Galactus, Doom steals all the big B's power, all that crazy jazz. We need the FF and their villains to be bigger than life!

Tony Laplume said...

But that’s the problem: “dabbling in science and magic,” because that gives him a reputation of being capable of anything, so that he can easily be presented as a “cosmic threat.” I actually enjoyed Hickman’s Secret Wars, and how Reed finally goes for the gusto and elevates himself to a position where he can tackle Doom on that scale, taking both off the board. When Bendis had Doom as a kind of Iron Man guy, that brought him back to manageable levels. If Doom is Marvel’s Lex Luthor, as presented he’s always the Lex in the armor, and as such is lamentably one-dimensional. Which, I get it, is half my fault, since I’m admittedly a DC guy. Marvel tends to lean into simpler directions, the superhero archetypes, and they get away with it because the heroes tend to have relatable attributes. But the villains almost never do.

Siskoid said...

Dabbling in magic shouldn't turn him into the Sorcerer Supreme, nor even him give him access to spells. He's more like Hitler trying to find and weaponize magical artifacts. The MCU has already kind of made magic into a super-science, so who knows where they will take it.

I think the whole bit where the heroes must fight Dr. Doom in a physical contest is all wrong. He should be setting things into motion and the heroes have to resolve it. He goes "bah" and returns to Castle Doom to brood.


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