When I was very young, my Mom bought my comics when she did the weekly grocery shopping. One day, mixed in with “The Flash”, “Superman”, “World’s Finest”, and “Action Comics”, was this weird thing called “Fantastic Four” # 35. She somehow bought it by mistake, and it changed my life. The Kirby art, the bickering between the heroes, the romance between Reed and Sue…I had never read anything like it in DC. A few months later, I was making my own weekly trips to the local drugstore, buying Spider-man, FF, and Sgt. Fury off the spinner rack for 12 cents each. Slowly, Supes and Batman faded away for me, they just could not compete with the Marvel stories.
Fast forward: we live in a post-Image Comics age. Fanboys raised on steroid freaks and chicks in thongs. Yet, somehow, these two FF movies are NOT cynical, they are NOT dark, the heroes are NOT blood-thirsty maniacs, they are ordinary people. The Urban Dictionary defines “cheesy” as: ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. Well, guess what? The old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four WAS ‘sentimental, maudlin, melodramatic, corny’. I liked FF1, I LOVE FF2. Why? Because the SPIRIT of the comics is right there, right up on screen.
I am going to be very specific when discussing “FF:RotSS”, so what follows will contain SPOILERS. All issue references concern the original run of the comic, which began in 1961.
The movie adapts the events of two famous story arcs from the period (1965-1968) considered to be the pinnacle of the collaboration between Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist). Those stories are in issues #48-50 (known as ‘the Galactus trilogy’), and #57-60 (Dr. Doom steals the Surfer’s power).
Tim Story and crew have made a much better movie this time out. The team members themselves are now very comfortable with their powers, and that translates on-screen into them having FUN. The FF always has featured bickering and corny jokes, and that is highlighted early on, without getting too over-the-top. The action really kicks in once we get to the wedding, and the Surfer appears.
All of the FF’s power effects are very, very well done, most notably Sue’s invisibility. The Surfer looks just outstanding, his visualization is believable in the way that Gollum from LOTR was: we forget quickly that this is a special effect, and engage with the character. His backstory is presented intact, and he slowly starts to reclaim his lost humanity. Sue is presented as the catalyst for his change of heart, in a way that Alicia was used in the comics.
A note about Chris Evans: he is the swaggering, exuberant heart of these ‘FF’ movies. Johnny has a definite character arc in this movie, and Evans has a good time showing us the more aware side of the Torch, along with the bravado and self-promotion that is the source of much humor. He never allows Johnny to be anything less than likable, and he gets some of the best scenes, including a very satisfying, Super-Skrull style trashing of Dr. Doom late in the movie.
Galactus…the original “Galactus trilogy” was a 3-issue meditation on the meaning of “Evil”, moral relativism, and the significance of Life itself. The events pivoted around a character called The Watcher, who is cosmically powerful, but sworn to non-interference. Stan Lee had spent 4 years slowly creating the “Marvel Universe” that the FF inhabited, and FF #48-50 was an expansion of various concepts he had already touched on previously. A feature film introducing THREE humanoid all-powerful cosmic beings (Watcher, Galactus, Silver Surfer), and prominently theorizing about the absolute value of life in the cosmos might be labeled “pretentious” by some, especially when the source material is a comic book. I would love to see that story myself, but I am critiquing “FF:RotSS” based on what it IS, not what it IS NOT. What we get is a streamlined story of global destruction that builds tension to a decent payoff. Galactus DOES appear at the very end, but his headpiece is engulfed in the film’s equivalent of “Kirby dots”, which were the artist’s trademark way of illustrating random, seething energy.
The movie quotes numerous scenes and images from the books of 1961-1967, too many to list completely here. Notable examples of this are:
> FF #60 p. 5: Doom uses the power cosmic to create a cyclone, just like in the film;
> FF #49 p. 10 pnl 1-2: visualization of a world destroyed by Galactus, similar to the movie’s opening shot;
> FF Annual #3 (1965) p. 23 pnl 4-6: Stan and Jack are barred from Reed/Sue’s wedding reception, and Stan is kept out in the movie;
> FF #59 p. 14 pnl 1: Doom deliberately causes freezing weather while flying overhead, in the movie the Surfer does the same thing unintentionally.
My one serious criticism of “FF:RotSS” is the total absence of Kirby’s signature crazy machinery. The FF comic book became stuffed full of elaborate gadgets and vehicles early on in the series, and the movie lags far behind. We get the Fantasti-car, but there is no Pogo Plane, Jet-cycle, etc.
I take issue with those who decry “FF:RotSS” for its PG rating. I read these very stories when I was 10 years old, and I just do not understand people complaining about a comic book being made into a family movie. The jokes are not adolescent gross-out humor like “Shrek”. The scene in the disco early on is typical, where the script has fun with the iconic image of Reed as a stuffed-shirt. This is done playfully, and is not a betrayal of the character. In fact, Reed declares a “Nerd Manifesto” later on that should warm the hearts of brainy, socially awkward teenage boys everywhere. The important thing, to me, is that THE MOVIE WORKS on its own terms, and remains terrifically entertaining from start to finish.
7 out of 10 stars