“Fantastic Four” is a strange comic book movie, one that’s very shy on the actual superheroics. This could have been one of the film’s great strengths, but ultimately served to cripple it in the long run. But how much of it comes from the source material?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
If there’s any direct comic book parallel to the story in “Fantastic Four,” it’s in the comic book series “Ultimate Fantastic Four,” a 2003 comic book series that rebooted Marvel’s First Family in a 21st century context.
While “Ultimate Fantastic Four” was probably pitched as a radical reinvention, it really just ended up making the characters younger (they’re adults in the mainstream “Fantastic Four” comics that kicked off in the ’60s) and updated their origin a bit (from “spaceship bombarded with cosmic rays” to “interdimensional teleportation accident”).
This worked out just fine, though, since — barring maybe the final few installments of its impressive 60-issue run — “Ultimate Fantastic Four” remained very accessible to readers who didn’t follow other superhero comics.
Unfortunately, while the new movie takes a lot of cues from the “Ultimate” origins, much of the comics’ spirit (read: fun) was left out. But how about the look?
An ageing scientist who believes his generation has made a mess of the world, Dr. Franklin heads up the think tank that he recruits Reed into. The biological father of Johnny Storm, and the adopted father of Susan, he shepards the teleportation project, and convinces Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Victor von Doom to work together to get it done.
There's one big, obvious difference -- his race, which also makes him the biological father of only one of the Storm siblings -- but his role is more or less the same. He's a mentor to the team, acting as a shield between them and overzealous government liaisons.
Miles Teller plays Reed Richards, the young genius largely responsible for the accident which creates the Fantastic Four.
In the film, we meet Richards when he's in grade school and causes a blackout with his homemade miniature teleportation device. As he matures, he's quiet, dedicated, and -- following the accident -- wracked with shame and guilt.
Post-transformation, Reed gains the ability to stretch like rubber, although the film is extremely conservative about showing this power off. His costume is the crudest of the bunch, with wiring and spring-like materials designed to stretch with him.
Many of the earliest scenes involving Reed in 'Fantastic Four' are lifted directly from the 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' comics: His childhood teleportation machine, being scouted at a high school science fair, and his guilt over his friends' transformation.
However, the similarities stop there. This Reed, while guilty, does not veer into depression, nor does his zeal for probing the unknown ever subside. His powers too, are used with much less reservation, stretching into various shapes and to ridiculous lengths.
And while his costume is tailored to support his powers, the comic book Fantastic Four sport a much more uniform look.
Kate Mara's Sue Storm is a lot like Miles Teller's Reed Richards: Quietly brilliant, albeit a little socially awkward. A genius in her own right, she is unfortunately sidelined by the film -- first when she's left out of the group that participates in the teleportation experiment, only getting her powers because she was in the lab when things go haywire, and second because the movie literally gives her nothing else to do. There are interesting things hinted at, like her strained relationship with her adoptive brother Johnny, but they don't go anywhere.
The movie version of her powers are pretty faithful to the comics, though -- she can turn invisible and project invisible force fields, which would have been cool to see if they were used more.
What makes Kate Mara's Sue Storm such a disappointment is that she's much more assertive in 'Ultimate Fantastic Four.' 'Ultimate' Sue is more confident, and a much more natural leader than Reed. She's supposed to be brilliant as well, but this frequently falls to the wayside in a number of stories -- particularly as her relationship with Reed Richards develops.
Oh, that's another thing too -- Did you know Sue and Reed eventually get together? You probably wouldn't from the movie.
Despite being played by an actor with a profile that's growing as rapidly as Michael B. Jordan's, Johnny Storm doesn't have a whole lot to do in the film. Before the transformation, he's a reckless hothead (get it?), bitter at his father Dr. Franklin Storm for favouring his adopted sister Susan since she has also pursued science.
Johnny is brilliant, too, but he has little interest in using his genius for science until pressured by his dad. Introduced as a gearhead who can 'build anything,' he plays a vital role in the experiment gone awry.
After the accident that turns him into the Human Torch, he becomes the only character who believes their new abilities should be put to some sort of use. Of course, why wouldn't he? His powers are very cool.
In 'Ultimate Fantastic Four,' Johnny Storm isn't very useful. He's more or less just there, only involved because his sister Susan is also a genius involved with the fateful teleportation experiment. He is impulsive, brash, and vain, and once he gains his powers he mostly just uses them to impress women and be famous.
He's also different from the movie version in that he's Susan's biological sister, and therefore white. Changing this isn't really a big deal -- they're still siblings who care about each other -- and it also adds an interesting dimension to a character that didn't really have much to begin with.
No matter what version of the Fantastic Four's story is told, The Thing is almost always the heart of the team. A lot of this stems from the tragic nature of his character -- he's just a regular kid from a rough and tumble background that gets sucked into all this weird science stuff because he happens to be best friends with Reed -- and he gets the rawest deal of all.
Changed into an orange rock monster, Grimm becomes The Thing, and probably the saddest part of the 'Fantastic Four' film: A weapon for the government, hollowly going on missions as the U.S. military's very own walking tank.
While tragedy is baked into Ben Grimm's character, what's also important is what he does with it, and that's really the primary difference between these two incarnations of the character. In the comics, The Thing 'cries himself to sleep every night' because of what's happened to him, but he doesn't let it show -- remaining good-natured and noble throughout the Four's adventures, the blue collar guy that brings the team down to Earth.
Doom makes no sense in this movie.
Victor Von Doom is the fifth wheel to the movie's core quartet, a reclusive and arrogant scientist who goads Reed into rounding up Johnny and Ben for their botched teleportation experiment. However, he appears to die when it all goes wrong, and then returns -- his exploration suit fused to his skin, with barely explained, unstoppable powers at his disposal.
Zero of said powers are explained. 'Fantastic Four' kind of falls apart when Doom gets involved.
First of all: Yes, those are goat legs. No, they're never really explained.
That said, this Doctor Doom is a certain madcap kind of wonderful. Like a lot of the characters in 'Ultimate Fantastic Four,' he starts out with an origin that's pretty close to what you see in the movie (although his birth name is Victor Van Damme) -- a fellow young genius who helps with the teleportation incident and is similarly transformed (and lost).
But in the comics, Doom is much weirder, using his genius to amass a cult following in Europe (some through mad science, some through genuine devotion) that grows to become its own Utopian Balkan nation, Latveria.
He also has a clearly-defined grudge against Reed Richards, and is hell-bent on ruining him.
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