Before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), or phases, or any of the difficult to keep track of myriad of comic book characters flooding our collective existence, there were fun little one-off or sets of movies like Fantastic Four (2005). They made a sequel to it in 2007 called Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It is where Chris Evans got his start in Marvel films as Johnny Storm, known more familiarly as the Human Torch, prior to him picking up Captain America’s shield in 2011. Given everything that has happened since then, I suppose these movies are no longer canon. Or are they? With the insanity that is Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), with multiple webslingers adorning the big screen at the same time, anything is possible. If I had to guess as to why these characters did not get more of a run, it is because of the one called Thing (Michael Chiklis). As Ben Grimm, he looks like a normal, middle-aged man. His superhero persona as the Thing does not speak to the fact that he is turned into living rock, incredibly strong but not the kind of guy you bring home to mom. The filmmakers opted to put a rubber suit on the actor, which looked pretty cheesy. Still, I think it might be better than the train wreck that was the 2015 reboot. I never saw it, but I have heard the rumors.
The first member of Fantastic Four we are introduced to, before they obtain any of the powers that give them this title, is Dr. Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd). He is a brilliant scientist who has identified a phenomenon in space that he believes is responsible for triggering evolution on Earth. He wants to go there to study it, but he lacks the necessary funds to do so. Enter his friend Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon), a classmate of Reed’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and head of Von Doom industries. Striking a deal, Victor funds their mission to space in exchange for any profits that might come of their findings. He also goes along, since his space station will be hosting them. Coming, too, are Reed’s ex-wife and fellow scientist Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), her brother and astronaut Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), and Ben Grimm. When they arrive, Reed’s calculations prove slightly off, and they are all exposed to the radiation that comes with the phenomenon, particularly Ben. Victor believes he saved himself, but at the cost of leaving the others to fend for themselves outside the station. When they return to Earth, they begin exhibiting strange powers. Reed finds that his body can bend and stretch like rubber, and Susan can turn invisible and cast force fields. As for Ben and Johnny, I think you can guess what happens to them based on what is said in the first paragraph. Victor suffers, too, though his experience is more financial as his stockholders lose confidence in his company in the wake of the failed experiments. Meanwhile, Ben’s fiancé loses interest in him when she sees his appearance, causing him to run off into the city. While looking for him, the others find him trying to stop someone from jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, which causes a commotion given Ben’s appearance. In pitching in, the four begin to earn their eponymous name, though Ben is heartbroken. Vowing to fix it, Reed gets to work on recreating the space storm to which they were exposed, believing that it could potentially reverse their powers, or enhance them. Johnny, though, is having the time of his life having the ability to fly, among other things, and is less keen to give them up. Victor, who blames Reed for his company’s losses, begins to experiences his own abilities, mainly related to the ability to manipulate and produce electricity. On the surface, he is supporting Reed’s efforts. Yet, behind the scenes, he is goading Ben. Ben is the one most interested in getting back to normal, seeing it as already ruining his life in some ways. To stir the pot, Victor tells Ben that Reed is only doing this so that he can rekindle his relationship with Susan. When Ben protests, Reed tells his close friend that the machine he is developing to counteract the changes is not quite ready. Ben insists on trying it all the same. This is when Victor strikes, using his powers to fuel the machine and turn Ben back to his former self. Victor then knocks Ben unconscious and kidnaps Reed, torturing him. When Ben comes to, he finds his friend gone and regrets their quarrels. Meanwhile, Victor attempts to blow up Reed’s lab with a missile, but Johnny uses his powers to guide the projectile away. They then go to rescue Reed, with Ben using the machine to turn back into the Thing, and their battle ends up on the streets of New York. There, the four combine to use science (I do not know how else to describe this process) to freeze Victor, now going by Doctor Doom, in place. While he is shipped off to his home country, the fictional Latveria, Reed proposes to Susan. They have all accepted their new roles as superheroes, and that is basically where the film ends.
Fantastic Four is an easy enough movie to understand, particularly if you have seen any of the MCU films in the past decade plus. Good guys win, bad guys lose, punch, shoot, bang, boom, whatever. This leaves less for a Catholic reviewer to discuss, but it is there to be found. I find Ben to be the most interesting from a Faith perspective. By the end of the proceedings, like the others, he has come to accept his condition as a gift. Faith teaches us that everything that God gives us, even things that may not seem a benefit, are a gift. In the Bible, in 2 Corinthians 12:6-7, Paul talks about a thorn being in his side. It is not a physical one, but rather the temptations of the world that keep him from being too boastful of his mission to evangelize the gentiles, a task given him by Jesus. Elsewhere, Paul attributes the thorn to the trials and tribulations he endured while carrying out this mission, suffering beatings, shipwreck, and starvation, to name a few. Since Ben is made of rock and less susceptible to these kinds of privations, his issues are more personal. He loses his fiancé and must deal with disapproving stares if he walks around in public without covering himself in some manner. With this in mind, it is understandable why he would want to undergo a procedure to reverse his condition. It takes him seeing his friend being threatened for him to realize what an opportunity it is to have the abilities he developed. As such, the next time you are hungry, think of it as a chance to practice patience. There are graces that come from doing so, and they are the true superpowers.
I write this review of Fantastic Four knowing full well that there is currently another reboot of the classic Marvel team under development. Of course there is. One of these days, I might go back and review the original Spider-Man movies as well. You know, the ones that gave us Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield as our favorite wall crawlers. In the meantime, you can watch Fantastic Four. It is a bit cheesy, but that can also be refreshing with all the polish of recent Marvel offerings.