ShitShow Showdown: The Fantastic Four (1994) vs. Fantastic Four (2015)

A bold choice for the 2015 reboot to rename the series ‘Fant- Four -Stic.’

Today two terrible, awful, loathsome, ridiculous, pathetic, shameful, lame and worthless movies go head to head for the title of worst Fantastic Four motion picture ever produced in the history of the universe. Of the three Fantastic Four origin story movies (including the 2005 version with Chris Evans), I’ve deemed these two the worst and therefore most worthy of an epic bad movie showdown! In one corner we have The Fantastic Four (1994); the Roger Corman produced cult classic that looks like it was slapped together in a week. In the other corner, Fantastic Four (2015); the big-budget Hollywood failure with more pacing issues than a Star Wars prequel.

For the record, note that I have never, nor will ever, read the Fantastic Four comics. I am only considering the films without a single lick of backstory knowledge or awareness. Everything I know about the Fantastic Four I have learned from watching these three movies alone.

downloadRound One: Origin Stories

What’s most interesting is how vastly different the origin stories are across all three films, each making a unique claim as to how the group got their powers. I don’t know how it happens in the comics, but for some reason the films offer three possible explanations. Are any of them grounded in the source material, or did each round of filmmakers just invent their own answer?  Who knows, I guess…. or cares, really.

In 1994, I think it’s safe to say sound scientific explanations were the lowest priority for filmmakers, especially in comic book movies for kids. It was a much less cynical time, I suppose. In the oldest cinematic incarnation of the story, scientist Reed Richards embarks on a mission to space to harness the power of Colossus, a galaxy storm that might make light-speed travel possible (or something). But the key ingredient in collecting Colossus’ midi-chlorians is a large diamond that was swapped out for a fake before Richards and his friends left earth. The experiment goes wrong and the team all crash land back on earth with their new-found powers.

If only Johnny and Sue’s mother had known.

This film desperately grasps for a heart-warming, psychological explanation for the team’s powers rather than a scientific one. Reed Richards, or Mr. Fantastic, is always straining to help everyone at once, s t r e t c h i n g himself too thin. So naturally, he gets the power to extend his body parts (insert penis joke here) to reflect this. Sue Storm was always shy and hid herself away, so the storm in space granted her the power of invisibility. Johnny Storm always had a fiery temper, thus granting him the ability to actually become fire as the Human Torch. And since Ben Grimm, The Thing, always relied too much on brute strength in life, he was transformed permanently into a rock creature. Somehow a space storm is cognitive enough to grant powers according to personality traits. It’s a very thin, strained explanation, but at least it attempts to ground the story in humanity. This, you’ll find, is the key difference between the two films.

The 2015 film does not feature a trip to space at all. Instead, Reed Richards accidentally develops an inter-dimensional transporter machine while trying to make a simple teleportation device. Then one night his friends drunkenly convince him to use the machine in their lab after hours. They visit the alternate dimension, a delicate ecosystem that crumbles following their intrusion. In their haste to escape, their powers appear to stem from what they were doing the moment the teleportation device returns them to their own dimension. At the time the device takes them back, Ben had rocks in his pod, Johnny was on fire, Reed was reaching to close a door…. and Sue was…. well, Sue never went with them to the other dimension. She was just standing nearby when the others re-entered. But she got powers anyway? Huh.

In both cases, the origin stories are absurd. All four of them experience the same science experiment gone wrong, but come out with completely different afflictions. At least the 1994 version doesn’t try to justify it or pretend it makes actual scientific sense. The older film just takes the concept and runs with it – knowing the younger target audience wouldn’t care either way. This film’s explanation gives us insight into the characters, opening them up to become more relatable. For those reasons, it’s the clear winner this round!

FF_2I’m not sure if he’s trying to hit him, or shake his hand.

1-ca-sign-language-10-728Round Two: Plot

The pacing is all off in Fantastic Four (2015), and the story really suffers for it. In the first half hour we jump around in time twice; first it’s a ‘7 years later’ title card, shortly followed by another ‘1 year later’ time jump. In the opening moments of the movie, a young, grade-school aged Reed invites Ben to his place to see the teleportation device he’s created – a device that successfully transports a model car to another universe, then brings it back covered in an unidentified alien dust. The kid isn’t even ten years old and his invention is already working! Cut to ten years later, when a high school aged Reed Richards is still perfecting this same teleporter. We’re expected to believe that he invented the thing at at like, age seven, but hasn’t made any progress in the last ten years?! What has he been doing this whole time? Because of this, the whole opening scene with him as a kid is completely irrelevant, and the movie would have been better off starting with adult Reed working on his invention. This stuttering around in time makes it hard to get to know the characters and doesn’t exactly ease us into this story.

FF_7Time-Jump: The Movie.

To make things worse, the next time jump occurs at an even more terrible time; immediately after the team acquires their powers. We simply cut to one year later, and each member has accepted their fates, having honed their skills to become proficient at using their abilities. Why?! This is an integral time when all our characters are most vulnerable. It’s a common trope of most origin story superhero movies that we’ve seen over and over, but it’s there for a reason. Seeing how each character adapts to their new abilities and comes to terms with their new lives is important in a story like this.

The 2015 film also has an incredibly confusing tone. This isn’t a light-hearted fun comic book movie; it’s taking The Dark Knight’s approach. It’s difficult, however, to consider the movie as dark and brooding given it’s fair share of childish moments, including an over-the-top racing sequence, a goofy ‘we need a name for our team’ scene, and cartoony coincidences (like when a well-paid and respected inter-dimensional researcher just happens to attend the random high school science fair Reed was showcasing his device at). It’s as if the film couldn’t decide between one or the other, serious or silly, so just went with both. (12)
No, really. The movie with this rubberman fight scene expects to be taken seriously.

Contrary to that, tone is pretty clearly defined and adhered to throughout 1994’s contribution to the Fantastic Four canon. It’s silly, and deep down, the creators all knew this. Not that they were making a bad film on purpose, they just didn’t take themselves as seriously as the more recent instalment. There are plenty of plot holes and movie mistakes to pick at here, but it’s easier to overlook them in a movie that’s a little more self-aware about the concept. And for the most part, all the characters have clear motivations and the plot moves forward in a fairly straightforward, logical way. There are villains and heroes, each vying for something specific.

Yet in the 2015 version, there aren’t really any villains, and the film lacks conflict. The Fantastic Four’s nemesis, Doctor Victor von Doom, doesn’t even appear as an antagonist until the final thirty minutes of the movie, only to be defeated a few minutes later. If the villains presence isn’t felt throughout the film, it’s a lot harder to care when he makes his big entrance. Again this adds to the pacing issue, when you have a bunch of bland characters working on a vague science experiment that audience members can’t relate to, and with no oppressive forces or obstacles blocking the way, it makes for dull, meandering, directionless cinema. Usually hipsters look to art-house theatres for that kind of experience, not summer Hollywood blockbusters.

FF_3Wait a minute…. Why don’t Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm have alliterative names? Isn’t that a rule in Marvel Comics?

1-ca-sign-language-15-728Round Three: Characters

Regarding relationships between characters, the details of who people are in relation to each other is either over-established or unexplained entirely, often in opposing ways between the two films. For example, the relationship between Reed and Ben isn’t properly defined in Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four. Ben briefly appears as a minor character who attends a class with Reed, making his life-or-limb rescue attempt later on seem unmotivated. That kind of connection had never established between the two of them. The 2015 Fantastic Four tries to correct this by over-establishing that Ben is Reed’s best friend. Actually, the fact that they’re friends is practically all that’s established for the first thirty minutes of that film’s runtime. This is the challenge in making a film with five main characters where some have complicated long-term relationships with each other. It’s hard to clarify who means what to whom, and why we should care. This is one situation where a television series may have been a better option.

It’s the opposite with the character of Victor von Doom – his role is extremely vague in the 2015 film. He helps Reed design the teleport machine in the lab, but beyond an allusion to some cryptic history with the research lab, it’s hard to tell what we’re supposed to think of this guy. Surprisingly, the ’94 version actually gets it right, with just enough Doom early on to establish his friendship with Reed as well as their working relationship.

the claw
Though I’m not sure what this claw thing between them is supposed to represent.

Another  vague character relationship is the brother-sister team, Johnny and Sue Storm. In the new version, they aren’t blood relatives; instead they both were adopted by Mr. Baxter, the guy who runs their lab. It seems like he adopts kids as a means of recruiting them to work for him, which sounds like borderline slavery to me. Because of the way the filmmakers executed this, I find myself with more questions than answers. If they were adopted, how old were they when they met their new family? How much growing up did they actually do together? What do they mean to each other? NONE of this clear in the film, and I’d bet the actors don’t have any of these answers either.

In the ’94 film, it’s very clear Johnny and Sue grew up together. We see them from a young age, where they have a playful, argumentative relationship. Most importantly, we can see that they care about each other. And that Reed cares about them, too – even if it get’s a little creepy by the end.

She marries her childhood babysitter.

How could a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster movie miss all the fundamental human elements that a nothing movie duct-taped together got (mostly) right? The characters in the older film are motivated and much more clearly defined. I’ve gotta say, surprisingly, that the 1994 version is really cleaning up!

FF_4Prediction: a movie with the words ‘Fantastic Four’ in the title will win next round.

1-ca-sign-language-19-728Round Four: Execution

This is what a fight scene looks like in the 1994 version.

By a long shot, the 2015 Fantastic Four’s production values far exceed the cinematic look of its 1994 predecessor. Obviously there’s no contest here, given the film’s higher budget and a more competent team of filmmakers who actually cared about making their film look good. In contrast to the newer movie, the 1994 version features thin sets resembling a kid’s TV show on some local UHF network. The Thing’s flimsy rubber ‘rock’ costume looks like a cheap Halloween outfit, with less-than-responsive facial features to allow the character to speak or emote.

This is the only category the 2015 movie wins in – but to be fair, a child could make a more Fantastic-looking movie than the ’94 film with the technology available now.

FF_5Too little, too late. Flame off!

Ironically enough, Fant-Four-Stick (2015) may win in the looks department, but at the end of the day, The Fantastic Four (1994) has it where it counts. It’s a movie with a lot more heart. It may be silly and over the top, but it has a lot more entertainment value. Honestly, I fell asleep watching the 2015 version. Twice. It took me three tries before I could sit through the entire thing because the movie is just so damn boring. So by a landslide, The Fantastic Four (1994) wins. They’re both bad, but this one is bad in all the right ways. It’s a fun watch, so if you haven’t already done so – get out there and see this fantastic monkey-turd of a movie.

Hey, come on, Reed. Don’t be such a sore loser.


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