Fantastic Four

The filmgoer who heads to a theater where “Fantastic Four” is projected can only be disposed (at least if he is consenting) in one of two ways. At best, if he didn’t see the trailer, he’s hoping for a “Spiderman” or “X-men”, while secretly fearing a “Hulk” or “Daredevil” [Ed.note-Affleck was da bomb in Daredevil!] . In the worst case, i.e. if he did see the trailer (suggesting a film without texture nor relief), he counts on effective special effects, astonishing demonstrations of super-powers and harmless humor, the whole crafted without genius but with an honest know-how. After viewing the film, it turns out that the second provision was in fact a divination, because “Fantastic Four” isn’t and does not claim to be anything more (the great modesty of the feature prohibits any attack of an aesthetic or thematic nature) than this last description.

On the other hand, for the viewer the least bit critical, the first surprise (and maybe the only one) delivered by the movie comes from an astonishingly paradoxical interrogation: how does a succession of images, characters and dialogue this banal and naive not provoke boredom? Indeed, in spite of its obvious mediocrity, “Fantastic Four” isn’t a drag; in fact it can be entertaining. This singular phenomenon inspires a whole reflection on the intrinsic nature of comic books versus their transposition to cinema. Here is a short outline.

We often hear about the mythology of superheroes, i.e. the parameters defining the universe, the quest and the identity of a comic book character or another. However, when a studio considers the adaptation of the adventures of a superhero in particular, the guards of the temple, in other words the fans, are alert and watch for any hint of treason with maniacal scruple (honoring their passion, but not always their reason). When Raimi or Del Toro manage to satisfy such expectations, appropriating this mythology by giving it a cinematic frame, we forget too often that they’re not adapting a single isolated comic (twentysomething pages and a handful of panels and dialogue balloons) but the spirit of an entire series spanning a number of years. Consequentially, the mythology of Spiderman, for example, is not attributable only to creators Lee/Kirby but to the series’ entire history, fluctuating from good issue to bad issue and so on.

Thus, while it is undeniable that a series taken as a whole can be considered a great oeuvre and, through the ignited rhetoric of a fan or under a sharp analyst’s magnifying glass, reveal treasures of various mythological evocations, the fact remains that one shouldn’t observe comics from this viewpoint to understand the inner workings of the genre in itself. Moreover, when brilliant auteurs like Frank Miller or Alan Moore tackle superheroes, we’re given great graphic novels that honor the medium in general more than the comic book genre specifically. Likewise, when Singer and Nolan adapt the “X-Men” or “Batman” for the big screen, they’re making excellent films first, faithful comic book adaptations second.

Starting there, what is the primary element on which is erected any basic comic (or almost, Batman being the exception confirming the rule)? Super-powers and the adventures that result from them. While these aren’t enough to make a great comic book or a great film, they’re enough to make a simple comic or a simple comic book movie. Tim Story, the director of “Fantastic Four”, and his screenwriters (Michael France and Mark Frost) stuck with this axiom, not with brio, sure, but with effectiveness. Not delivering the extraordinary adaptation of a plentiful mythology (something the famous superhero family, created in 1961 by Lee/Kirby to save Marvel from bankruptcy, could have aspired to), but a mediocre film, representative of countless mediocre comic book issues, pullulating across America.

Review by Jean Carlo Lavoie (translation by K.)