Flashback. July 15, 2005. Twentieth Century Fox (the American entertainment powerhouse, not its infamously foxy owner, Rupert Murdoch) releases 'Fantastic Four' (a touted adaptation of the legendary, eponymous comic series by Marvel Comics) in India to packed houses, after the film successfully hijacks the US box-office in its opening weekend.
By September 2005, it had reportedly, and shockingly, grossed over US $330 million world-wide. Shocking indeed; this 'motion picture' - read 'celluloid disaster' - had not drowned in the flood of venom spurting generously from the poison keyboards of critics, acerbic and not-so-acerbic, everywhere.
For the uninitiated, here's what happened in Fantastic Four
, the original. Scientist Dr. Reed Richards (Gruffudd), his best friend Ben Grimm (Chiklis), college rival Victor Von Doom (McMahon), ex-flame Sue Storm (Alba) and her hell-raising brother Johnny (Evans) were astronauts caught in the throes of a cosmic storm. Their DNAs, exposed to radiation, underwent alteration and they were endowed with superhuman strengths. Richard developed the elasticity of rubber, Storm could indulge in willful invisibility, Johnny could, literally, go up in flames, while Ben hardened into a lump of powerful, blue-eyed rock.
Now here's where our superheroes parted with tradition; they didn't go on mad sprees, saving the world. Instead, the lot (except Johnny) laughably tried to revert to normality - until better sense prevailed...
Fantastic Four was fantastically disappointing on four counts - it did not tell much of a story, it had shoddy special effects, its characters were appallingly etched, while its take on science as a sci-fi flick was, at best, funny.
In the sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, unfortunately history mostly repeats itself. The, er, 'story' goes like this: Marvel's "first family of superheroes" must "save the world" (that is, two cities in USA and one each in Britain, Japan, Germany, Egypt and China - I counted) from a cosmic, planet-sucking monster called Galactus, "the devourer of worlds".
Full marks, by the by, to the creators of the comic Fantastic Four for imagining such monstrosity. On the other hand, full marks retracted from the moviemakers for the spectacularly uninspired special effects - if you've seen Marvel Comics' Spiderman series come to life on the big screen, you know this semi-crude stuff just does not cut it.
Coming back to the point, Galactus swallows planets whole, sans burps, in order to self-preserve, it seems. This unholy vacuum cleaner is normally preceded by the intergalactic Silver Surfer (voiceover by Laurence Fishburne). Surfer looks like a new-and-improved Tin-Man, a la
The Wizard of Oz, except with a cool, silver surfing board attached, and prepares the planet for the inevitable annihilation. How precisely? Beats me; I suspect maybe, just maybe, and I could be wrong here, that the scriptwriters did not think this through.
When Earth is next on Galactus's 'To-Eat' list, the Silver Surfer cruises in. Unluckily for him, he's in the vicinity of the Phuntastic Phour - nice of him to fly by the attempted wedding of Reed and Sue, eh? (By the by, creator Stan Lee does a cameo here as a gate-crasher...) They latch onto him, literally and otherwise.
Begin mayhem. Adding fuel to the fire is the foursome's "mortal enemy" Victor, who has escaped from the jaws of death and come back with a bang, and a hidden agenda. No free tickets for guessing how this turns out, and in who's favor.
If there is any serious evolution in terms of plot between the original and the sequel, it is not visible to this writer's naked eye. Combing through it with a magnifying glass, I found but one: Reed and Sue are on the threshold of matrimony.
The main players, as semi-human beings, do not display any maturity, and continue doing what they do best - crack half-baked jokes, stretch, disappear, burn, heave, and, in the case of Victor (McMahon wastes his talent here), zap and plot.
At times, the character of Sue does come close to mortal reality (once to mortal peril, too); we see her inner turmoil as she mulls over her celebrity status, her relationship and the precious lack of a normal life. But it is very much a blink-and-miss. You remember that this is not Sue Storm but Jessica Alba, nominated for a 'Razzie' (look it up) for Worst Actress for playing Sue with such imperfection in the original Fantastic Four.
Obviously, her look (often reminiscent of Elle Woods, the character played by Reese Witherspoon in the Legally Blonde series, though with much less pink, more black) - the blondest of blonde hair, the blue eyeliner-lined baby-blue eyes (sorry; much too much blue there), Botox-plumped lips and criminally slim body - leads to the quick reinstatement of our previously suspended disbelief here: Barbie doll? Yes. Astronaut-cum-World-Saviour? No. No way.
And speaking of astronauts - in this case, resident firestarter Johnny boy - should he not be shown displaying an awareness of the basics of science, as an astronaut? For that matter, are the makers of this multi-million dollar series - the directors, the editors - not well-versed with elementary science? Judging by the scene where Johnny douses a small fire at a bar with a glass of alcohol, we're concluding that the answer is a resounding 'No'. Hmph.
In case it's unclear yet, no, Fantastic Four is NOT Fantastic Fare.