On the Fantastic Four Teaser Trailer
Travis Hedge Coke
“Why tomorrow? Why not wait?”
Fantastic Four: Season One
“Well, thank me or spank me.”
Fantastic Four: 40th Wedding Anniversary Special
The upcoming Fantastic Four movie is probably going to be the best FF movie since The Ice Storm. At the very least, it won’t have Galactus-cloud, Sue getting her clothes off in public, repeatedly, for no sensible story reason, or that weird orientalist wedding ceremony that couldn’t even be flanked by a few Japanese guests.
Is it going to be greatest movie ever? Probably not. But, no FF movie so far, released or unreleased, have approached that. What this does have going for it is a good director, a very sound cast, a nice visual security, judging by what we see in the teaser, and a willingness to not get explicitly optimistic or pessimistic straight away. There’s a lot of glory and bigness in the teaser, but there’s warnings throughout, both verbally and visually communicated. The name “Cronenberg” has been tossed around already, and some “fans” got bent out of shape, but yeah, those early FF issues, and some of the best stories since, like Morrison and Lee’s 1234 or Warren and Grant’s The Ever-Lovin', Blue-Eyed End of the World, are heavily steeped in body horror. The earliest Kirby and Lee FF comics are practically infected with disdain and panic for physical abnormalities and bodily dysfunction. Ben can’t get a cab or stand in public without people screaming at him. Johnny’s accidentally setting fire to cars or the chair underneath him. Sue, whose invisibility would seem to be the most innocuous of all their powers, creeps people out. Fast-forward several decades and many, many comics, and Mark Waid establishes that Reed squeaks when he stretches, and that upsets people.
So, no, it’s not just “this new, stupid movie” treating the main characters as disfigured freaks who don’t like their situation. Within the first year of Fantastic Four comics, Ben had exploded constantly with rage and self-hatred, Johnny dropped out of his life, high school, heroing, everything, to stay in a homeless shelter, Sue was throwing herself in ten different directions to get out of her situation and her skin, and Reed was either locking himself away or loudly calling the others to him for a mission. There is anger and fear in the earliest FF comics. Those characters are traumatized and transfixed. And, they’re all cranky as hell.
But Fantastic Four is not one hundred percent horror, nor should this current movie version be. It shows no signs, so far, of being that, but evidence doesn’t really hinder fear and clearly some “fans” are afraid.
Fantastic Four is often profoundly silly. Silly is not dumb, however, and FF does not need to be dumb. To go back to Cronenberg, eXistenZ and Crash are silly movies, without ever being dumb movies. As horrible as a Kirby and Lee FF scene could be, as sad or traumatic, the next page could bring Popuppians like the Impossible Man, a pointy-headed green imp from space who likes to turn into objects to get attention. When Kirby and Lee made the FF “fight God,” the world-eating ancient giant Galactus is bare-legged with a big G on his belt buckle. FF shouldn’t be afraid to get goofball.
Goofy is, probably, how many of us find out optimism. It’s why Disney cartoons seem so bright and cheerful even if people are falling off cliffs or being kidnapped by deformed royals and their cursed servants. Mickey Mouse used to be a real jerk sometimes, but he’s silly, we roll with it. If Johnny Bravo was a real guy, he’d be seven feet of pure beef and you’d still want to kick his ass, but as a cartoon, you laugh, you want more. Deep-seated silliness lets us tolerate horror and makes it easier to be optimistic, especially in entertainment.
Silliness and horror, neither, need to be dumb. The last two Fantastic Four movies too often sank into dumb. I like them. They’re entertaining enough I’ll watch every so often, but they are very small movies for all their fx shots, and from plot mechanics to scene developments, they’re often very dumb. That orientalist wedding that ends the second FF movie; the hell is that? What in the plot, characters, or world put that together? Nothing that I can see.
Somehow, there are “fans” who think that the new FF movie looks further away from the comics, because the team might be younger (Johnny always has been, and in at least two comics continuities, they all are), Johnny’s black (and still a young guy working on cars, instead of the last movies’ model and daredevil), Doom seems like he might be petty (like he’s never in the comics) and his “real name” might not be Dr. Doom (it’s not anyway; he’s not a real Doctor, accredited by anywhere, is he?). How these “fans” deal with any adaptation, I don’t know, but it seems pretty selective anyway. No FF movie, cartoon, toy, or secondary continuity comic has one hundred percent, or even seventy-two percent adhered to the original Kirby and Lee comics. Johnny got replaced by a robot in one show and the Thing was a teenager who transformed with a ring and met the Flinstones or something. Sue’s an actress in one thing, she’s a businesswoman or a biologist in others. Actress or biologist seem a little further apart, to me, than black guy or white guy, in terms of character changes. Doom was a businessman in the last FF movies and in this one he’s a programmer, a change that distresses some people quite a bit, especially if they don’t know the difference between “hacker” and “programmer,” but it’s Doom! Yes, programming is going to be something Doom does, in any version. He makes frigging robots!
It wouldn’t be silly if he made robots but couldn’t program to save his life. It wouldn't be scary if Ben Grimm turns into a four-fingered pile of super-strong orange rock and it never bothers him. These are changes that, no matter how loud a few fair-weather “fans” whine, would make it dumb. Just dumb.