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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

FFINO? - Fantastic Four in name only?

For a hugely expensive Hollywood blockbuster, Fantastic Four (the reboot of the franchise) has failed terribly at the box office with an American opening weekend pulling in "only" $26.2 million. That's a huge sum of money, of course, but only about half what would be needed for a movie of this kind to be modestly successful. It is dwarfed by the record, currently held by Jurassic World, of over $208 million. In short, this looks like a disaster for the franchise and the producers.

I haven't yet seen the movie, so I don't know whether it's as bad as the word on the streets about it. Everything I hear, though, and everything I see in the marketing, gives me a bad feeling. There's a sense that we could call this movie FFINO - "Fantastic Four in name only". I'm averse to seeing it (though I'll probably drag myself along as something of a completist about these things), because I have no faith that the spirit of the original source material will be honoured, or that it will capture anything of what made Fantastic Four great - and so popular - back in the 1960s. I get a sense that no one involved really "gets" the source material, or has faith in it.

Perhaps I'm wrong. When I see it, maybe I'll change my mind.

But there's an issue here as to whether a set of ideas (and especially the character relationships) that worked so well in the 1960s can be translated to the 2010s. Perhaps too much of what is at the heart of Fantastic Four depended on the culture of its time. In particular, the signature villain of the series, Doctor Doom, may not translate naturally to the contemporary cinema screen. Although Doom became the model for other great characters - notably Magneto and Darth Vader - perhaps Doom himself is too over-the-top (evil dictator of a central European country, wears sinister-looking medieval armour, talks in a grandiloquent way, etc.), while the layers of complexity added to him in the diegesis of the comics are just, well, too complex for a movie.

Perhaps the lovable quirks of the Fantastic Four themselves - Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl (later Invisible Woman), the Human Torch, and the Thing - are too tied to 1960s culture, so movie makers choose to alter the characters drastically in an attempt to make them relevant. But all that said, the creators involved with the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been able to capture much of the original look and feel of The Avengers and related characters, and it has worked handsomely. I can't believe that it would be that difficult to create a viable version of the Fantastic Four and their supporting cast, while sticking fairly closely to the source material.

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