Saturday, April 25, 2015


The Fantastic Four trailer didn't make me nearly as angry as the Superman trailer. It doesn't seem to have been put together by someone who actively dislikes The Fantastic Four, merely by someone who hasn't read it. And it is certainly nice to see some footage in which The Thing looks like a 3D rendering of an early Jack Kirby Thing, as opposed to, and there is really no nice way of saying this, a poo.

But still, how could anyone get to work on an F.F movie and miss the neon lights flash above every, single issue screeching "The Fantastic Four is a story about a family. The Fantastic Four is a story about a family." (They are sometimes actually referred to as Marvel's first family, aren't they?) 

Reed Richards is a Father Figure. He is middle aged. He is grey around the the temples and smokes a pipe. He is clever and stuffy. He loves Sue. He fought in the French Resistance. (We can probably drop that bit.)

Sue Storm is a Mother Figure. Or, if you prefer, she is a Big Sister figure. She is sensible and practical and the glue that holds the group together. She loves Reed. 

Johnny is the Kid Brother. He is young and reckless. Johnny and Sue are orphans. Sue had to be a mother to her kid brother when their Dad died. That's why she's inclined to be fuddy-duddy and stuffy. 

Ben is Big Brother. Ben and Johnny act like feuding siblings; Sue and Reed act like anxious parents. But Ben is actually Reed's contemporary. He was a fighter pilot in the War. Some people think that the name Benjamen Jakob Grimm suggests that he came from a minority ethnic background. Definitely he came from the poor bit of New York. The cigar, if nothing else, shows that he's the character who Jack Kirby identified with. (We can probably lose the cigar.) 

Superman is not about a god-like alien but about a geeky little guy from the sticks who is also a god like alien. The Fantastic Four is not about four people with amazing powers, it's specifically about an American family who acquire amazing powers. 

"Your my husband, Reed...The world won't come to an end if you take time out for dinner"
"I wish wish I could be sure of that, Sue darling."

"You flamin fig-head! When I'm thru with you there won't be enough left to light a fire-cracker!"
"Ben, don't! That fire proof vault door cost a small fortune!"

I don't want to open up the whole Kirby vs Lee fissure again, but surely, surely, surely the Fantastic Four are made of dialog much more than they are made of drawings and made of cool powers? And if you create four characters who wouldn't say those kinds of things to each other, then what you have created no longer has anything to do with the Fantastic Four? 

Obviously, in the process of making a movie, you have to change stuff. Well, no, actually, that isn't completely obvious to me at all. Of all the comic books out there, the Fantastic Four is the one that permits least messing around with. It is essentially itself: a slab of Kirby pictures illuminated by a wodge of Lee dialogue which is what it is and can't be anything else. Ultimate Spider-Man massively messed around with every aspect of Spider-Man's top heavy mythos, and ended up with something that felt more like Spider-Man than Spider-Man had for years. Ultimate Fantastic Four did the same thing to the F.F and ended up being a fairly good science fiction comic about some unrelated characters in vaguely similar uniforms. My preferred Fantastic Four movie would be one which stayed as close, visually and thematically, to the comic book as the Watchmen movie did to the Watchmen comic. Imagine taking F.F 48-51 and treating them more or less as your storyboard; putting the same kind of effort into Galactus' shorts as they did into Dr Manhattan's wassissname. If that can't happen, then at least set the thing specifically in the 1960s against the background of the Cold War, the Beatles, Atomic War, the Summer of Love, incredibly sexist attitudes, very short skirts. (Surely it matters that The Fantastic Four, the first ever super-hero celebrities, happened at the exact same time as that other Fab Four?) But if even that can't happen, then we know it is possible to wrench a character out of his original context without utterly dismantling him. Mr Cumberbatch has show that you can remove Sherlock Holmes from his world of gas lights and hansom cabs and steam trains and drop him into the world of mobile phones and computers and sex and still have him remain recognizably Sherlock Holmes. Because the character remains the same. Because his relationship to Watson (and Mrs Hudson, and Moriarty, and the police, and his clients) remains recognizably Holmsian.

Of course Reed Richards doesn't need to be a resistance leader. But he does have to be old and stuffy. Of course Ben doesn't have to be a World War II veteran. But he does need to be New York Jewish wisecracker.  

I can cope with the F.F exploring an alien dimension rather than being astronauts. Particularly if the Negative Zone is going to be a thing. If some of the villains are going to come from the Negative Zone and the Fantastic Four are going to be Negative Zone explorers then it makes sense for their powers to come from the Negative Zone rather than Outer Space. 

And the Human Torch effects look cool. 

And Doctor Doom looks like Doctor Doom, and not, say, a cloud of purple gas.

But, oh, for Jack's sake....

The Fantastic Four have been "re-imagined" as a group of kids, under the tutelage of an elderly scientist named Franklin Richards who actually has to say all-I-want-to-know-is-where-are-my-children at one point. Reed is bespectacled teen-aged nerd stumbling wide eyed into great big science thing and being shy around Sue and generally trying to be Peter Parker . 

There has been much speech about how it would be a good thing if there were more characters in movies who were not white dudes.

I agree that it would be a good thing if there more characters in movies who were not white dudes. If Johnny is going to be black and his dad is going to be a black then I am really not at all sure why his sister can't be black as well. Perhaps because Sue and Reed have to be an item and you are only allowed to have movies in which a black lady in love with a white man if that's the main thing the movie is about? (In which case, why not have a black Reed Richards as well? What possible reason is there for this Fantastic Four not to be an all-black team? Why am I even talking about this when it basically doesn't matter?) 

My question was going to be: wouldn't it also be a good thing if there were characters in movies who were older white men, older black men, older women -- if every character in every movie wasn't automatically about 17? Wouldn't it also be a good thing if the great -- the greatest -- American graphic novel about the 1950s nuclear family who get amazing powers to fight commies and aliens and planet eating space gods in purple shorts didn't have to be re-imagined as the story of Wise Old Franklin Richards and how he mentored four young outsiders, helping one to reach his full potential and one to learn to be a team player and one to overcome his callous upbringing and I to open up her heart and let other people in....

Apparently, Reed is not going to be able to stretch his body. No, Reed is going to be able to warp space around himself so his body appears to stretch. 

I can hardly bear to look.

The Ant-Man one, one the other hand, I rather like, and it's pretty obvious why. 

The Fantastic Four and Superman are like geek Holy Writ. They need to be treated with respect. Preferably reverence. Ant-Man isn't even my tenth favorite character. There have been bits and bobs of fun stuff done with him over the years, like when he accidentally created the evil robot Ultron, but that job's been given to Tony Stark for the movie franchise. 

Stan Lee eventually spotted that a character whose only power is to make himself small isn't all that interesting. He reasoned that if a character can use magic pixie dust to make himself very very small then surely he could use that same pixie dust to embiggen himself. Changing his name from Ant-Man to Gi-Ant Man was actually rather inspired. I bet a very small amount of money that they're saving that for the post cred of this movie. 

So, I don't specially care if this movie is faithful to the Myth of Ant-Man and am happy to let it stand on it's own six feet. At one level, it seems to be about as generic a superhero trailer as you could imagine, from the New York skyline in the opening shot, to the sliding doors opening on the big science room that looks and awful lot like the Fantastic Four's big science room to someone saying "Are you ready to become the hero you were meant to be?" Right at the end our hero indicates that he thinks Ant-Man is a bit of a lame name and you can just hear the director saying "No...More like Robert Downey Jnr!" in the background. There is some kind of argument between the guy who invented the shrinking suit and some other guy, and our hero, wearing a Red Suit (that looks a little bit like a very olden days Ant Man costume) seems to have a fight with a baddie wearing a Yellow Suit (that makes those of us who know about these things say "Aha! Yellow Jacket".) I fully expect the argument to be between Hank Pym's bosses, who want the shrinky powers to be used for military purposes and Hank Pym who wants it only to be used for the betterment of mankind, but that's not in the trailer. It's just the kind of thing that this kind of superhero movie tends to be about. 

But if you are going to make a superhero trailer, this is how you ought to do it. I don't want to be lectured about the philosophical ramifications of people with superpowers. I don't want to be introduced to each character one by one. I don't even specially want a recap of the origin. I want to know how much fun a movie about an incredible shrinking superhero is going to be. And in this case the answer seems to be "quite a lot of fun". In two minutes we see him running alongside giant ants; bungie jumping into some teeny tiny tube; running along the barrel of a gun; running around a children's toy train track and derailing Thomas the Tank Engine. 

It is very possible that the trailer has shown us all the movie's highlights. It is very possible that this is one of those films where they put a few highlights in specifically so they've got something for the trailer.

But right now, Ant-Man is the superhero movie I'm actively looking forward to. 

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