“He is a man with a metal face”


I haven’t seen the new FF movie and I’m not going to–at least, not until it turns up on Netflix Instant or as a dvd on my library shelves–so I’m not going to comment on the film itself. There’s been some commentary on the film that’s more than fair game, though, because they’re making general statements about storytelling.

For example, this: The ‘Fantastic Four’ Reboot Proves There’s No Way to Make a Good ‘Fantastic Four’ Movie from Screencrush.

I’m going to state right up front that I think this premise is stupid. First, just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Second, if a film sucks, it’s not because you can’t make a good film with those characters. It’s the people who create the stories who have failed. You can make a great (or at least a solid) story from pretty much any character; it’s all in the execution.

There’s currently an ongoing discussion about a Christian inspirational romance set during a concentration camp during the Holocaust, with many people saying the book is deeply, deeply terrible. But does that mean there’s no way to tell a story about a relationship between a woman in a concentration camp and a high-ranking Nazi officer? Absolutely not. It could be done, but you’d probably not want the “Jewess” drawing so much of her faith from the New Testament.

Execution is important.

Let me quote briefly from that FF review:

He is a man with a metal face obscuring his mouth and rendering him incapable of facial expressions — particularly unfortunate given Toby Kebbell’s incredible acting range. But this is Doctor Doom’s costume, and reimagined or no, his face will always be covered with metal.

Would covering it with plastic have been better? Because Darth Vader was a perfectly excellent villain. Indeed, his mask has become iconic. Lord Humungous from The Road Warrior was as successful, but it would anyone really say he wasn’t an effective villain? I’m sure everyone will be shocked to hear that The Phantom of the Opera sucks, too.

Frankly, yes, the best and cheapest special effect a movie can have is an actor’s face, but masks have been an effective part of performance for centuries. Asserting otherwise is just ignorant.


Similarly, the powers of the Four are inherently silly — Reed Richards becomes Mr. Fantastic, with Stretch Armstrong-like abilities; Sue Storm becomes the Invisible Woman, able to render herself and other objects invisible and create force fields; Johnny Storm becomes the Human Torch, capable of flaming on and off at will and using his ability to fly very fast; Ben Grimm becomes the Thing, a hulking pile of rocks.

Each of the Fantastic Four films have been unable to avoid how utterly comical these powers are.

First of all, the FF’s powers are based on the four elements: stone, fire, air, water. Sue’s “invisible force fields” are basically barriers made from solid air, and Reed’s body is like a very thick fluid. Compared to most comic book characters, that’s almost thematically coherent.

Second of all, FF is no more absurd than a space viking with a magic hammer or a billionaire who dresses like Dracula and throws sharp pieces of metal at mentally ill people.

Still, there are people who do not respond well to fantasy elements in a story; it’s fairly common and I’m not sure why I should care about their opinions. Yes, a man made out of rocks is absurd. Dog fights in outer space are absurd. Killer ghosts are absurd. Kung fu fighting in a virtual reality world are absurd. All these elements can still be effective cinema.

The real problem here is that the author of the piece can’t think of a way to do it well, therefore she assumes it can’t be done.

Anyway, I’m not even sure why I’m weighing in on this: I’ve never really liked the Fantastic Four. They’re okay, but they’re not the sort of characters I like simply because of the characters. They need a great creative team behind them or the whole thing feels sort of dull and/or annoying.

And you didn’t ask for my advice, but: Set it in the 60’s, skip the origin story, make Dr. Doom a tyrant with his own country, and make them fight a giant monster/Doombot army at the end, to avoid the whole four-against-one thing in the final fight.