August 03, 2004

The Fifth Wheel

I love movies. I love comics. But, oddly enough, movies based on comics are supremely cool, while comics based on movies are, well, not.

Well, a new project that I've been keeping my eye on for a bit is 20th Century Fox's adaptation of the grandaddy of all Marvel comics. Before X-Men and before Spider-Man, there was The Fantastic Four.

Now, for those of you who don't know the story, here's my take on it, through my modern eyes: NASA won't let rediculously smart scientist Reed Richards fly his new rocket ship because he hasn't properly tested the radiation shielding. So, since The Man is holding him down, Richards just decides to fly the thing himself. Since he can't get astronauts to do it, he just hijacks the ship and gets his Air Force buddy Ben Grimm to fly it, and he convinces his girlfriend and her kid brother to help fill out the crew.

Yes, it's completely insane, and their space flight fails miserably - lucky for them they all get exposed to these weird cosmic rays that give them superpowers. Their not exactly superhero crime fighters in the traditional sense like Spider-Man or Batman. They're really explorers. Well, actually, Reed Richards is an explorer, and the rest of the team are there to project him on these crazy scientific excursions.

It's pretty crazy stuff - antimatter universes, advanced human offshoots that live on the moon, shapeshifting alien lizard people, a cosmic entity that eats entire planets, etc., etc.

So, they've hired Tim Story, who directed Barbershop, to direct this.

Yeah, that's what I said, too. But they make it sound like this new movie he's doing called "Taxi" with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifa made the head honchos at Fox think he's their guy. They say the action is pretty crackin' in that yet to be released flick. And I'm sure the fact that he's a fan of the comic who's just a bit cheaper than Steven Spielberg didn't hurt either.

Anyway, the director made me a little nervous, but the casting has been relatively solid with.....

Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") as "The Thing" Ben Grimm

Jessica Alba ("Dark Angel") as "The Invisible Woman" Sue Storm

Some guy I've never heard of named Chris Evans as "The Human Torch" Johnny Storm

and Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower from the A&E series) as nutty professor Reed Richards, better known as "Mr. Fantastic".

But the real juice, the role that makes or breaks this movie, is the antagonist. See, while the Fantastic Four are primarily explorers, they do have true, bloodthirsty enemies, and the king of the crop is Dr. Doom.

Proof positive that madness is relative, while Reed Richards was trying to get his girlfriend into the space program, Victor Von Doom was building a machine to break his sorceress mother's soul out of Hell. Needless to say, it failed and literally blew up in his face, leaving the former eurotrash pretty boy looking like a giant scab that he hides behind an iron mask. And, since Reed Richards was the classmate of Doom's who tried to warn him that his crazy machine wouldn't work, Doom believes that Richards sabotaged the machine. What's worse, now that Richards is a celebrity superhero with a hot, butt-kicking, invisible babe on his arm, Doom is now obsessed with proving that he's smarter and superior to Richards by, of course, killing him and his extended family. So, in addition to being a super science genius and a part-time practicioner of black magic, Doom also happens to be the monarch of a tiny little European country, which gives him diplomatic immunity for any craziness he tries against the Fantastic Four. He's just the architype for all comic book supervillains.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fox has just announced that they've cast Julian MacMahon,

who plays the wickedly self-absorbed Christian Troy on FX's "Nip/Tuck" to play Dr. Doom.

Aces! Now I'm excited.

There will be more as this develops. But, in the meantime, amuse yourselves with three of the best Fantastic Four/Dr. Doom face-offs I've read in years.

The first, called simply "1 2 3 4" by Grant Morrison & Jae Lee, has Doctor Doom splitting the team by giving two of them the things Reed Richards never could: he gives The Thing back his humanity, and he gives Sue Storm-Richards the passion of an illicit affair with Namor, the hardbodied Prince of Atlantis.

The second, "Unthinkable", by Mark Waid and Mark Wieringo, has Dr. Doom rejecting science and embracing magic, something Reed Richards can't comprehend. And Doom begins his assault on the Four by sending Reed and Sue Richards young son Franklin to Hell. Literally. And that's just the beginning.

The last, "Authoritative Action", also by Waid and Howard Porter, has Reed Richards leading the other members of the group to reluctantly invade and conquer Dr. Doom's home country of Latveria in the aftermath of "Unthinkable". Richards then sets himself up as the new Emperor.

Check 'em out.