Anyone unfamiliar with the disastrous legend that is Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four should do themselves a favour and look up the history behind this insane production via the documentary Doomed. Not only will it give you an insight into the extraordinary story behind the making of a cheapjack superhero movie that was never intended for release but it’ll save me the time of relating it here because my cosmic derived superpower is lazy.
Generally all round smarty pants Reed Richards and sneering eurotrash Victor Von Doom perform science-y stuff involving a passing comet while at university which causes an explosion that renders Victor horribly scarred. Years later Richards attempts a variation of the same experiment by sending himself and his extended family of childhood friend Ben Grimm, sweetheart Sue Storm and her rash, over emotional younger brother Johnny into space. In a move that surprises exactly no one, cosmic ray bombard the quartet after their equipment is tampered with by the subterranean sewer dweller The Jeweller (most likely a super low budget attempt at adapting The Mole Man from the comics in a subplot that literally goes nowhere) in an attempt to woo blind sculptress Alicia Masters. Crashing back to earth the group find that they have obtained the ability to harness the power of atrocious special effects – no, wait, sorry… I meant the power of stretchy, flamey, rocky and see-throughy, and use these powers to save Alicia and thwart Doom who has become a full fledged, armor wearing, bargin basement Bond villain wannabe.
Firstly, let’s give the devil it’s due. Based on purely how much the script adheres to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original masterpiece, Roger Corman’s F4 is almost slavishly accurate to a fault – say what you will about the Tim Story movies but at least Sue and Johnny have the expertise to be in orbit unlike this version which has them invited to attempt a highly dangerous space mission purely for the LOLs. And despite the many variations of the “I vant to suck your blood!” style line readings of his Latverian accent and the fact that most of his lines are unintelligibly screamed through an unmoving mask, this curiously remains the most spot on version of Doctor Doom that appears on film to date.
The performances start turned all the way up to eleven and then keep going from there (Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm’s hysterical rendition of virtually every line he has make him one of the worst offenders) and the attempt to realise the group’s varied powers are jaw dropping in their ineptitude (The Thing alarmingly looks like a stone gorilla that has some kind of palsy).
But to simply say that The Fantastic Four is terrible merely down to some iffy performances or some excruciating special effects is missing the point despite how true it my be – a special seat in Hell surely is devoted to whomever thought sticking a fake hand an sleeve on a pole and poking it across the room would accurately portray Mr Fantastic’s stretching powers – there is a level of filmmaking here so bad that if it was ever officially released it surely would be ridiculed on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 in record time.
For example, an early scene that covers both Reed and Victor’s college years despite both actors plainly looking 35 is given a somewhat creepy twist when Sue and Johnny are portrayed as actual children; despite Doom having an entire nation under his rule he only seems to have all of three people working fir him at any given time and all the various plot threads don’t so much as converge but collide into one another like someone has spiked the drinks of the drivers of a destruction derby.
The real problem with The Fantastic Four is that even in the post Tim Burton’s Batman world (made only 6 years earlier) it insists on battering it’s audience stupid with it’s wretchedly campy tone. Yes, as Josh Trank’s 2015 version proved, Marvel’s First Family doesn’t really fit a gritty tone but that doesn’t mean the overly theatrical, amateur dramatic horseshit on show here is any better.
And yet Fantastic Four frequently lurches into so-bad-it’s-good territory, sparking unintentional hilarity at every turn. “KILL HIM!” hollers Doom to his minions only to scream “LET HIM GO!” literally four seconds later when his would-be victim instantly escapes is one such guffaw eliciting clanger as is The Human Torch’s climactic flaming-on effect looking like a partially finished animatic.
Simultaneously a true landmark in entertaining awfulness and a cautionary tale in machiavellian back-stabbing that would make Doom himself balk at the boldness, do yourself a favour and look it up on YouTube if only to appreciate how good comic book movie devotees have it in this day and age.