A lot of people think of Chris Evans as Captain America. After all, that is his most well-known movie role, and he’s very good in the role. That said, I’ve got several friends who never quite saw Evans as Captain America. Why? Because he played the Human Torch in two mid-2000’s Fantastic Four movies. This was back when he was more known for comedies than action movies, and even though this version of the Human Torch is mostly comedic relief, it movie began his transition into more of an action movie star.
After the craziness surrounding Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, Bernd Eichinger shopped around the rights for a bigger budget movie based on Marvel’s First Family. Marvel Comics bought the negatives to the 1994 unreleased film, so that 20th Century Fox could go ahead with the bid budget version, along with purchasing the rights to the X-Men, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and several other Marvel franchises. They also hoped for a Silver Surfer spinoff in the last 90’s, but that never even began to get off the ground.
Eichinger still remained involved in Fox’s Fantastic Four films. In 1995, Fox hired Chris Columbus (Home Alone 1&2, Harry Potter 1&2) to write and direct a Fantastic Four movie. Although a script was completed, Columbus stepped back to the producer’s role, and eventually left completely. Peter Segal signed on to direct in 1997, only to be replaced by the end of the year by Sam Weisman. With the writing taking longer than expected, the studio paid Marvel for a rights extension, with a 2001 release date planned. Raja Goshnell signed on to direct, but decided to direct Scooby Doo instead. Peyton Reed then joined on. He also later left the project, saying in a 2015 interview,
“I developed it for the better part of a year with three different sets of writers. But it became clear after a while that Fox had a very different movie in mind and they were also chasing a release date … so we ended up parting company.”
At one point during the troubled development, Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man in the MCU) was considered for the role of Dr. Doom. Eventually, Tim Story signed on to direct the film in 2004, after Fox was impressed with his early cut of Taxi, while also learning that Story was a fan of the comics. Simon Kinberg, known for writing a good chunk of the X-Men movies, did some uncredited work with fixing up the script for Fantastic Four. After the release of Pixar’s The Incredibles, Fox ordered Eichinger to make significant script changes and add more special effects.
Fantastic Four released in July of 2005, and ended up a moderate success. It earned $333 million on a budget somewhere between $87 million and $100 million (the numbers aren’t entirely clear). It received middling reviews, with a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 4.6/10. Roger Ebert gave the film 1 out of 4 stars, complaining about a lacking plot, too much exposition, and underwhelming characters. He compared it to better superhero movies, including Batman Begins (which released earlier that year), and Spider-Man 2 from the year before. The Washington Post’s review was more positive, praising the movie’s character focus, and called it a “funky, fun film version of the famous Marvel superheroes.” He was however critical of the movie’s last 20 minutes.
Since the 2015 Fantastic Four film, the movie’s reception has been warmer, but we’ll get to that.
The movie received a handful of nominations, including Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards (lost to Revenge of the Sith). At the MTV Movie Awards, Jessica Alba was nominated for Best Hero (losing to Christian Bale from Batman Begins), and Best Onscreen Team for the full Fantastic Four, but lost to The Wedding Crashers. Alba also received a Razzie nomination for worst actress for this and Into the Blue, but “lost” to Jenny McCarthy from Dirty Love.
I saw this movie around the time that its sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, started getting advertised. Back then, I thought it was alright, but didn’t think of it much for a while. I saw it again around the time I started getting into comics, and watched a whole bunch of superhero movies, good and bad. I also first saw the Roger Corman movie around that time. Again, I thought it was alright. I finally watched this movie a third time this past week in preparation for this review, and … my thoughts haven’t changed all that much.
2005’s Fantastic Four has some good points. For one, Evans is actually quite good as the Human Torch. He captures the optimistic hothead aspect quite well, and he throws in some good comedic timing. He is the best part of this movie. Michael Chiklis is also pretty good as The Thing. He’s convincing with his depressed performance, both with his vocal performance and his body language. The mixed sense of relief and regret when he reverts back to his original human form near the movie’s climax offers the movie’s best dramatic moment.
Ioan Gruffudd is alright as Mr. Fantastic. He’s good at playing the part of someone who is distracted by his work, and not all that socially aware. At the same time, he doesn’t sell the role of a scientific genius all that well. He generally looks more confused than he does deep in thought. Alba isn’t bad as Invisible Woman, but her performance feels a bit too stereotypical of a female superhero. I’d sooner blame that on the writing than her performance, but she does seem to be a bit miscast here. This movie pretty much started her reputation of being a bad movie magnet, and after a string of terrible movies, she kind of disappeared after a while. She has made a bit of a comeback lately though, not to mention she also founded the very successful The Honest Company, focusing mainly on baby products.
Julian McMahon is severely miscast as Doctor Doom. While he looks like a decent Doom, he doesn’t have anywhere near the charisma required for who is arguably Marvel’s most iconic villain. The climactic scene where he’s facing off against the Fantastic Four, and he says “this is going to be fun”, makes him sound like he’s about to ride a theme park ride. He doesn’t sound the least bit intimidating at any point in this movie.
2005’s Fantastic Four is held back by a variety of problems that add up after a while. The movie is exposition heavy, focusing more on the family trying to figure out what is happening to them than debating on how to use their powers. At the same time, a lot of the exposition feels rushed, especially with the movie’s opening. They rush to explain what’s happening with a cosmic energy cloud so much that we skip what feels like a number of important scenes. It’s also hilarious how they’re on this advanced space station, with all sorts of top notch scanning equipment, yet they only learn with minutes to spare that this cosmic energy cloud is much closer than they realized. You’d think they’d keep a constant watch on this cloud so they can make sure they’re ready.
Dr. Doom’s story is also heavily modified, to the point where it angers a lot of fans. I’m not one of them, but it does weaken the movie for me. Instead of being a scientific genius, who has also dabbled in magic, Doom is also on the space station, and all of his abilities come to him just like the Fantastic Four. Instead of being the ruler of Latveria, he’s merely from there, at least according to this movie.
This movie does have some good points. The scene where the Fantastic Four rescue people on a bridge, while also revealing their powers to the public, works fairly well. The Human Torch going against the family’s wishes of searching for a cure, so he can enjoy his powers in the spotlight, works well for his character. As much as the climax feels too short, and is also kind of lame, I like how the Fantastic Four utilize a combination of their powers and Reed’s scientific knowledge to defeat Doom.
To sum this movie up, it’s a mixed bag with good intentions. You can tell that the cast and crew care about these characters, and they wanted to make something special. I’m not sure whether its problems come from years of development cobbled together into a mess, 20th Century Fox’s interference, or the movie being too ambitious for their own good, but the result is mediocre. It’s a charming movie that’s optimistic overall, and there are moments of brilliant writing, but it’s held back by too much exposition, several miscasts for major characters, and a feeling that this movie just drags on. The end result is a movie that’s best experienced in highlight clips instead of watching the whole thing.
Next up is Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which is an overall improvement over the first movie, even if it suffers the same problems while bringing in some new ones. Then we’ll look at the 2015 movie that I won’t even give the dignity of calling Fantastic Four. I hope to wrap this month up by looking at Spider-Man: No Way Home.