Fantastic Four In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four

I realise this isn’t Marvel animation, but I don’t much care.

Back in 1999, Kids! WB made a very controversial decision to cancel The New Batman/Superman Adventures and replace it with a teenage Batman who juggled crime fighting, school work and his social life – stop me if this sounds familiar.

Batman Beyond, as it’s now known, was one of Kids WB!’s biggest hits, and in my opinion, the opening season is the finest season we’ve ever had from Timm and his crew. Filled with fascinating characters, fantastic writing and downright stunning visuals, Batman Beyond is a show I miss like no other. Young Terry McGuiness proved to be more likeable than any other of Bruce’s sidekicks and Bruce Wayne’s adventures as Batman become oh so much more interesting now that you know that it all ends with him, sat in his house alone before Terry gave him a second chance to save his city when it most needed a hero. I could gush about Batman Beyond all day (and believe me, when I get ahold of the season two DVD in October, I will!) but this here is a Fantastic Four retrospective. So what does the FF have to do with the Tomorrow Knight? Well, there’s a brilliant homage to the group in Heroes, as a new superhero team comes to Gotham City.

The group, Magma, Freon and 2-D Man formed The Terrific Trio, and shared a more than a little resemblance to Marvel’s first family. A lot of people are divided on the episode (check out the steaming review of it on World’s Finest!) but I personally loved it – a great tribute to a great team with a sensational twist.

There’s even a brilliant homage to Spider-Man in there, which Bird Boy shockingly didn’t capture for his Batman Beyond website. Fret not though True Believers, Stu is here to provide you with pretty screengrabs from Batman Beyond.

If this be my destiny!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I say “they” never saw The Venture Brothers. In the episode Ice Station Impossible the crew are invited to Professor Richard Impossible’s lab for a look around. Impossible and his crew were bombarded with cosmic rays, altering their bodies in strange ways. Richard himself could stretch any part of his body! His wife Sally can turn her skin invisible, allowing her to show her organs to all!

Her brother Cody combusts when he comes into contact with oxygen, resulting in horrific pain each time! Impossible’s mentally disabled friend has been transformed into a man made of rocks – who suffers from unbearable pain every time he moves!

It’s a very twisted parody of Marvel’s famed four, but damn is it amusing. The personal highlight for me was when Dean and Hank get ready for a ‘ninja mission’ and Dean arrives dressed as a cowboy!

If that wasn’t enough homage’s for you, well, let’s just say the next one was a better Fantastic Four movie than the actual Fantastic Four movie!

Largely based upon Marvel’s comic, The Incredibles racked up the cash at the box office and proved to be Disney’s first real hit in a long, long time. The movie follows the adventures of Mr. Incredible and his superheroic family after they are forced to stop being superheroes and live life as ‘normal’ people.

Featuring some stunning 3D animation, a few great laughs and genuinely being a hell of a movie, one would think that the next year, when the real Fantastic Four movie came to movie theatres, we could expect something to top Disney’s homage, right?

Wrong.

With Marvel bringing nearly every big superhero they have to the big screen since X-Men in 2000, one would’ve thought their last big jewel, The Fantastic Four would truly be something special. Unfortunately, they decided to bring the movie to Fox, a studio famous for ruining movies by having them run far too short to fit more showings in. They then decided to bring Tim Story in to direct it. Between this and how rushed the whole damn thing was, I made it a point not to get too excited for the film, as it reeked of typical summer blockbuster fluff that you forget about the moment you leave the theatre.

Typically, Fox then released one of the coolest trailers for the film I’ve ever seen which left me optimistic. I didn’t know who any of the cast were besides Jessica Alba, who didn’t leave me too worried, because I’ll be blunt – when she’s on screen, if she wasn’t saying anything interesting, I’d simply look at her cleavage.

The problems with the movie are numerous – I personally believe it’s not as terrible as many make it out to be, but there’s a hell of a lot of room for improvement for the sequels. It’s not as bad as Batman and Robin, cringe worthy as Catwoman or crappy as Captain America, but it comes nowhere near the sensational heights of either of the Spider-Man movies nor the brilliance of Batman Begins. Instead, it slumbers alongside Superman Returns as a much which should’ve been much, much better.

The movie starts off well enough; aside from a terrible, terrible scene in which we learn that Victor Von Doom is evil because he is gasp! covered in shadows! After meeting Johnny and realising that Doom and Susan are now dating after she and Reed spilt up (which I personally thought was a great touch) we fly up into space, and the five are bombarded with cosmic rays and they receive their powers.

A decent enough, if not unspectacular start but the main problem afterwards, however, is that nothing else happens until the end of the film in which The Four effortlessly kick Doom’s ass. Instead of exploring the unknown and kicking ass, we see the four of them sitting at home, not doing much of anything. We get stupid sitcom style jokes instead of real character development. Thankfully, Chris Evans is on his A game here, with a pitch perfect Human Torch. The rest of the characters don’t fair as well – Ben comes close but is written terribly. He spends the entire movie moping how ugly he is and apparently doesn’t give a crap by the end of the film, telling Reed not to bother looking for that pesky cure of his. ‘The Idol Of Millions’ isn’t to be found here – despite a fine performance from Mike Chiklis, the character is nowhere near as entertaining as he is in the comics. Sue Storm is incredibly annoying as a woman who can’t seem to get past her own invisible bubble. Jessica Alba’s nice cleavage saved the day (is there anything boobs can’t do?) There’s nothing spectacular about Reed, but he’s not as bad as I expected him to be. I predicted Reed would be the Cyclops of the franchise – there but just barely, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I with Reed.

Here’s where the writers really should be ashamed of themselves – Dr. Doom. Easily Marvel’s worst big screen supervillain, hell, he’s pretty shocking even when compared to the mediocre villains found in DC’s movies, but this version of Doom is so bad it’s unforgivable. Julian McMahon doesn’t help matters as he comes across as very wooden in the role, and to be honest, the character lacks even the slightest motivation. For reasons unknown, this isn’t the comic book Dr Doom in the film; it’s an almost entirely original character who is basic cross between Norman Osborn and Electro, without being anywhere near as cool as either. The fact he is featured in a single fight in the film and gets his ass handed to him is the least of the problems with the character. It was beyond poor, which is absolutely shocking with a villain as Dr. Doom, arguably the greatest supervillain of all time.

Not to diss everyone involved in the movies production though - John Ottman's score was outstanding.

The movie did well at the box office, but had mixed results with the critics and fanboys alike. A sequel is due next year, with The Silver Surfer being added to the mix. I won’t get even the slightest bit excited until I hear that Galactus will be joining them as I find the Silver Surfer to be utterly dull unless The Devourer Of Worlds is involved.

After the movie came and went, it was announced that the Fantastic Four would be coming back to the small screen with their own animated series. Announced as an action comedy starring a family of superheroes and almost anime inspired designs, the early buzz is that the show is of a decent quality and should hopefully prove to be better than all that came before.

It seems to be a little too early to say at this stage in the game as the show premieres tomorrow but everything we've seen/heard so far says we should prepare for the fantastic.

Discuss this retrospective in The Marvel Animation Forum!