Julien Neaves, Editor
A decade before Marvel’s first family endured first of the Jessica Alba cheesefests and two decades before the Josh Trank train wreck there was the 1994 The Fantastic Four. Never seen it? That’s not surprising. The film was created with the sole purpose of holding on to the rights of the characters and was never officially released (though reportedly no one told the poor actors that at the time). It was executive produced by low budget master Roger Corman and when you watch it you can tell everywhere the money didn’t go.
The film has a reputation of being extremely bad, though in recent years has become something of a cult classic. But exactly how bad is it? And is this stunt of a movie that was never meant to be seen by the public the worst superhero movie ever? With a super stretchy SPOILER ALERT let’s answer that question in four punches:
Punch #1 Not So Fantastic Four
A good place to start would be with the Fantastic Four themselves. Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic, Sue Storm/Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing are played by Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, and Michael Bailey Smith respectively. Don’t recognise any names? Yeah, we’re not exactly dealing with A-listers here. But they do resemble their comic book counterparts so that’s something.
The characterisation is pretty close as well. Hyde-White’s Reed has the scientific curiosity though he is a bit too upbeat and lacks that Mr Fantastic insularity and tunnel vision. Staab is decent as Sue and she has a good if somewhat simplistic chemistry with Reed. Underwood has the hotshot aspect of Johnny’s personality though this version lacks the rivalry with the Thing. And finally Smith delivers on ol’ blue eyes’ sense of self-loathing and love of clobbering (he says “it’s clobberin’ time” three times, so you know he loves it). None of the performances are anything to write home about but you can tell they were all making an effort. And I don’t think anyone could make this high school theatre-level writing work. The Thing hollering, “What have you done?” was definitely Razzie-worthy. The costumes look like they were pulled from the comics but do not work onscreen at all. The film is self-aware though as Johnny tells Sue she looks like “a dork.” They all look like dorks.
But what about their fantastic superpowers? We’ll get to that in a bit. Oh, and look out for George Gaynes of Punky Brewster and Police Academy fame as a lecturer early in the film.
Punch #2 Welcome to your Doom!
You can’t have a superhero film without villains, and The Fantastic Four has a minor one and a major one. The minor one is obscure comic book baddie The Jeweler, who looks like a steampunk leprechaun and leads a crew of outcasts. As in the comics he kidnaps blind artist and Thing love interest Alicia Masters.
The only reason this odd-looking guy seems to be in this movie is to pad the runtime. He’s not menacing in the least, he adds little to the main plot, and he talks like a bad Shakespeare actor. There is one scene where he evades the easiest laser grid security system ever that did make me laugh. During the Jeweler scenes there is this extremely jaunty-sounding music which I presume was meant to be comedic but is incongruous to the action onscreen.
But enough about Mr Leprechaun. Let’s talk about the big bad, Victor Von Doom aka Dr Doom. This Doom is played by Joseph Culp (son of actor Robert Culp) and as in the 2015 version he and Reed are scientists working together. When an experiment on a passing comet goes wrong Doom gets electrocuted by some extremely fake-looking electricity effects and let’s out a super long and super funny shout of OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. That was probably my favourite so-bad-it’s-good scene in the entire movie.
After the accident he returns a decade later as his armour-wearing self and he is pretty comic book accurate, for better and worse. The costume looks very cosplay-ish and he is your typical over-the-top, maniacally laughing, cartoonish bad guy. His semi-robotic voice sounds garbled at times and I had no idea what he was saying at times. But he felt more like Doom than whatever the heck that was in the Fan4stic and I didn’t hate it. His Dave Grohl-looking goon with his awful European/Latverian accent was funny though.
Punch #3 Laughable Visual Effects
Remember when I mentioned this was a low budget film? This is most evident in the special effects, brought to us by “Mr Film and Billups Communication”. Mr Fantastic’s stretching is done with some extremely hokey practical effects. Sue’s invisibility is rarely shown but it looks dated even for 1994. The Thing costume is very rubbery-looking but I don’t think they could have done much better in the early 90s.
And Johnny Storm? Wow. Just wow. The fire effects look as believable as a three dollar bill. And when he goes full Torch at the end it looks like the bastard love child of an 80s cartoon and an early MTV video. It is ugly and kinda hard to watch. But even with the piss poor special effects the film has its share of campy action and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mildly entertained.
Punch #4 Surprisingly Comic Book Accurate
The film has many odd and cringe-worthy moments. Mrs Storm saying “Look at you. The Fantastic Four.” (Yes Pitch Meeting Guy. That’s the name of the movie!). Ben lifting up Alicia bodily right after he meets her. The very obvious stock footage for the rocket launch. Johnny freaking out at his burning hand like it was the fires of hell itself. The creepy outcasts harassing the kidnapped Alicia. The Thing randomly changing back to human and then randomly changing back to his rock form. Alicia touching the Thing’s face and him responding with a light orgasm. The cheesy-looking ship flying effects. Doom randomly pulling out metal claws. Reed marrying Sue in his uniform and then waving goodbye from the car with a stretchy hand that looks like one of those tube men (which was created by Trinidadian artist Peter Minshall, FYI). There is a lot of so-bad-it’s-good moments to laugh at here.
But the plot of Doom creating a super laser to destroy New York City unless they surrender to him is very comic book. And that is what the film feels like—a cheesy comic book story brought to life. And I was surprised that I kind of liked it. Sure, it was silly and crappy looking but it was kinda fun and mostly keeps a decent pace. And I would watch this again before the dreadful Fan4stic, the super-boring Steel, or the inane Catwoman. For a movie that was never meant to be seen The Fantastic Four is not the worst superhero movie ever, and can be enjoyed both as a so-bad-it’s-good unintentional comedy and a campy comic book romp.
If you haven’t seen it you can check out the film for yourself by clicking this link here. And do come back and tell me what you thought of it in the comments. And you can check out some more superhero movie content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.