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The Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four, The (1994) Movie Poster
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  •  Germany / USA  •    •  90m  •    •  Directed by: Oley Sassone.  •  Starring: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab, Michael Bailey Smith, Ian Trigger, Joseph Culp, George Gaynes, Kat Green, Carl Ciarfalio, Chuck Butto, Annie Gagen, Howard Shangraw, David Keith Miller.  •  Music by: David Wurst, Eric Wurst.
       In this Marvel Comic adaption, four astronauts get bombarded with cosmic rays when an accident occurs. The four of them acquire special powers, and decide to form a superhero group called the Fantastic Four. They then fight their arch-enemy Dr. Doom.

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Review:

Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Image from: Fantastic Four, The (1994)
Today, movies based on comic book superheroes are all the rage. They are routinely some of the biggest blockbusters of the year and several recent superhero flicks are among the highest grossing films of all time. But this was not always so. For a while, comic book heroes were relegated to cheap serials and B pictures, along with made-for-TV movies.

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) was a "real" movie: an A picture with a Hollywood-sized budget and a cast of name actors. Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989) was another "real" movie based on a comic book superhero. Both films spawned successful franchises, bringing the fantasy world of DC Comics to life on the big screen. But in the early '90s, it seemed that comic book properties (outside of Batman, that is) were still largely considered niche fare, worthy only of low-budget productions aimed at children (the perceived comic book-reading community). Marvel Comics did not have the kind of success enjoyed by rival DC. While Superman and Batman had been brought to the screen courtesy of Warner Bros., Marvel's characters were licensed out to small-time studios. A planned Spider-Man film fell through in the late '80s and a low-budget Captain America film was released direct-to-video in 1990.

Which brings us to THE FANTASTIC FOUR (1994). If comic book movies were thought to be too goofy or weird for mainstream, big-budget productions, then I guess THE FANTASTIC FOUR is the perfect low-budget, cheesy superhero movie. The film remains true to the comics with regard to the colorful costumes and the characters. (Evidently there was little concern in these movies to "adapt" the source material for mainstream consumption.) The special effects aren't too fancy, but it's interesting to see how the filmmakers make do with what they've got in order to tell their story.

The movie tells the origin of Marvel Comics' First Family. An outer space mishap leaves four individuals with extraordinary abilities. Dr. Reed Richards ("Mr. Fantastic") can stretch his body like a rubber band. Sue Storm ("The Invisible Girl") can become invisible. Johnny Storm ("Human Torch") can conjure flames. Ben Grimm ("The Thing") has a rocklike exterior and super-strength. They must battle Dr. Doom, a hooded megalomaniac who wants to harness the secret to their powers.

Rebecca Staab is too cute as Sue Storm (and in that blue spandex... wowsers). Joseph Culp hams it up to a high degree as Dr. Doom. His face hidden behind a metal mask, Doom takes to wild gesticulations and his booming dialogue is amusingly over-the-top. Jay Underwood, looking like Armie Hammer's long-lost older brother, plays the fiery-tempered Johnny Storm, who mainly shoots fire out of his hand. He doesn't realize his full "Human Torch" potential until the climax, when the producers shell out for some early CGI. The animatronic Thing mask is rather impressive, despite some lip-sync limitations. Of all the superpowers portrayed in the film, Reed Richards's stretchy effects are the most awkward.

It's nice to see Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) portrayed as maybe a half-generation older than Sue and Johnny. Reed knew Sue when she was a kid and he was a college student. A decade later, Reed is a big-time scientist, complete with (somewhat ridiculous) gray temples and Sue and Johnny are grown-up enough to go with him on a space mission. Ben (Michael Bailey Smith), Reed's jock buddy from college, is the pilot.

In this story, Reed Richards and Doom were college eggheads together before the accident that led Doom down his sinister path. Reed blames himself for his friend's apparent death, while Doom seeks revenge by sabotaging Reed's later expedition. In the ten-year gap Doom has somehow become the iron-fisted ruler of some foreign domain, living in a mountaintop castle and everything.

A secondary villain, the Jeweler (Ian Trigger), leads an underground society of social outcasts. He has a poetic soul and serves as an interesting contrast to Doom.

I'm only casually familiar with "Fantastic Four" comic book continuity, but this 1994 movie hits some right notes. The romance between Reed and Sue, starting as a schoolgirl crush on a mentor figure. The love story between the monstrously disfigured Ben Grimm and the blind Alicia Masters. The blue and white costumes (sewn apparently out of thin air by Sue Storm on a lazy afternoon at the Baxter Building). There's even an appearance by the Fantasticar.

The film never mentions the heroes' well-known comic book nicknames, but in one particularly corny scene the team is given its "Fantastic Four" moniker. The movie also posits the theory that the cosmic rays that transformed them delved into their psyches and turned their personal weaknesses into their greatest strengths (shy violet Sue Storm has the ability to disappear, etc.). I don't know if this comes from the comic book origins, but the pseudoscientific explanation allows the film to move on to more important things.

As a low-budget superhero romp, THE FANTASTIC FOUR goes down easy. It's not the polished studio blockbuster that we've come to expect from comic book movies, but it's a faithful adaptation on a small scale. A quaint little movie with a lot of heart. Somewhat tragically, the film was never intended to be released, unbeknownst to the cast and crew. All their hard work for nothing. Luckily the movie has found its way out into the world and can be tracked down by those interested in giving it a shot.


Review by Jimmy L. from the Internet Movie Database.