03 August 2005

Fantastic Four vs Sky High

Hey guys, it's Donnie... The first real article I wrote on this site expressed my fears that Marvel's Fantastic Four was going to suck balls. Moreover, at the time I had just seen the trailer for Disney's Sky High and was downright mystified, because it seemed that Disney had nailed down what Marvel was trying to do with Fantastic Four, but the Mouse House seemed to do it way better.

Well, both movies have hit theaters, I've seen them both, and my decision is final:

I was totally right.

Here's the main problem I have with Fantastic Four: It has all the weight of postage stamp. Now, don't misinterpret me here. When I say weight, I don't mean seriousness, I mean significance. I loved Batman Begins, in large part because of the almost oppresively dark and serious tone that it set from frame one. However, that tone was clearly appropriate for that character, that city, that world. Batman exists in a world of dark oppression, where he litterally has all the weight of Gotham City bearing down upon his shoulders and his nemeses are psychotically violent monsters, demonically twisted creatures with no regrets and no sense of morality.

The Fantastic Four exist in a totally different universe from Batman. They have actual superpowers for Christ's sake, and not only superpowers, but powers that, taken out of context, are almost a little silly, or fantastic if you will. You've got a human rock, a stretchy guy, a flying man on fire and an invisible woman. These heroes should exist in a lighter world. Their story should be a little more fun, a little more of an adventure yarn. This movie should be fun, should be funny, should make you want to have superpowers of your very own. I think this is what Marvel was going for and I think it was the right choice. Fantastic Four is the anti-Batman Begins, and the people who have responded positively to it were looking to have outright fun at a comic book movie, as opposed to X-Men, Batman, Constantine, etc. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that.

And this movie certainly has its moments. Unfortunately that's all they are. Moments. And for every single thing that's great about it, there's something else that absolutely and completely sucks. The Thing is awesome. He looks real, Chiklis is fantastic, and his scenes with his wife shortly after his transformation are top notch. However, his plotline later in the movie is a waste of a perfectly good character motivation that could have been extended into the next film. The Human Torch is great. He's a brash, in your face little shit, but when the time comes he's all business. He's the only one who really enjoys his powers, and I think he's the thing audiences reacted to most. Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Woman are totally forgetable. Both rely heavily on special effects that flat out do not work, and as Reed and Sue, they were both totally bland. However, it really isn't the actors' fault. Gruffudd and Alba are clearly straining to squeeze some juice out the scenes, but the writing is so piss poor they really just have no where to go. This brings us to Dr. Doom, easily the worst part of the film. And again, this is not even remotely the fault of Julian McMahon, an actor that I actually have quite a bit of respect for. I love his work on Nip/Tuck. Unfortunately he's literally given NOTHING to work with here. The character of Dr. Doom has been so warped in this film it just makes you sad. You can clearly see the work of about 15 different writers, so he just comes out muddled and shallow. Is he upset about "losing" Sue, or because his company's going under? Vanity over his scarring? Who knows? Certainly not the audience. He reminded me less of a power-crazed would-be dictator and more of a spoiled little bitch throwing a tantrum. In the end, he just sort of turns evil because the movie's almost over and the Four haven't had a villian to face yet.

In fact, the Four spend most of the movie doing not much at all, expect falling into lame cliches to make light of their powers. (Let's make Sue turn invisible on a crowded bridge and then accidentally phase back so we can have Jessica Alba wearing nothing but underwear. It'll be funny see...) The plot has holes the size of Wisconsin, there's never a clear conflict, much of the effects are terrible, and the direction is mediocre at best. And yet you've got some great actors toiling away here, really trying to make it all work. You've still got four of the best characters ever written, and you're really trying to make it all alot of fun. Thus, as an audience member, this movie just came off as really frustrating. The movie kept walking the line between being really good and just outright sucking, and I just sat there waiting for it to go one way or the other and it never really did. I think it was the desire to make it all "fun" that killed it in the end however. Spider-man pulled it off: a genuinely fun super-hero movie with fully realized characters and a compelling story. Fantastic Four got all hung up on the first part and forget about the last part.

Meanwhile, we've got Sky High. I know, it's Disney, it's a kids' movie, it's clearly marketed to 15 year olds, so on and so on. But you know what? This thing kicks some serious ass. I'm not even kidding. Billy Dagwood and I saw this together and we had so much fun it was ridiculous. And I was in a BAD mood when I sat down in that theater. By the end...oh man I wanted superpowers SO BAD!! Okay, so the basic plot centers around the son of the world's greatest superheroes as he prepares to start attending Sky High, a school for potential young superheros. The only problem is that he doesn't actually have any powers of his own. Okay, so far, so boring. I know, it's standard kid crap. But this is so much more. The writers took a fairly bland premise and gave it such texture and creativity and layering and just outright fun that you forget how lame it sounded to start with.

A lot of it is in the execution. Director Mike Mitchell is working with a great pallatte of bright primary colors here and rather than paint a garish mishmash of visual nausea, (as was my fear) the colors are used in such a way to accentuate the characters and sets, so that everything literally POPS off the screen. Most kids' movies attempt to appeal to adults by slipping in jokes and references that fly straight over the kids heads and make the parents chuckle. Here, Disney has forgone that tired formula and instead pulled off a true rarity: a movie with characters, jokes and plotlines that are so well crafted that they simply appeal to both age groups simultaneously. The ironies are the best. The kid with superspeed is pudgy as all hell. The kid who turns into a puddle is constantly getting his head dunked in the toilet. Yeah, I got the joke, but so did the 9 year old behind me. And the majority of the effects are totally solid. They're not amazing, they won't take your breath away, but they're totally believable. There's only one shot that looks silly, when the stretchy kid gets tied up by his own limbs, but you know what? Mr. Fantastic pulled the same thing and he didn't do it much better.

We've got no less than 10 major characters here, and most of them are so much better developed than the five characters in Fantastic Four it's mind boggling. The kids are all totally solid actors with a few real standouts to watch for in the future. Michael Angarano is totally charming as Will Stronghold, our lead character. He did some fantastic work as Syd in Lords of Dogtown earlier this summer, and he really stepped up to the plate here. Will is so much more than just the geek loser. He's such a good kid that he easily fits in with the rejects and yet you totally believe that the popular girl would think he's cute. His father/son scenes with Kurt Russell are some of the best of the movie, and one in particular is absolutely heartbreaking. This kid can seriously carry a movie, and I'm psyched to see where he goes from here.

Not only do the kids rock, but the adult casting is nothing short of brilliant. Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, Kevin MacDonald, Lynda Carter, and Kevin Heffernan each bring something uniquely special to the screen, each contribute to key parts of the story in a way that makes one think the parts were almost written specifically for them. No one, absolutely NO ONE is wasted in this film.

I hesitate to say much more about the flick because a large part of the sheer joy of this film is the sense of discovery. But let me just say that if you walked away from Fantastic Four as I did, feeling like there was some good stuff, but there was still alot left to be desired, if you're looking to have some good old fashioned fun at the movies, IF YOU WISH YOU HAD SPECIAL POWERS, then I implore you to check out Sky High. Forget that it's Disney, swallow your pride, and plunk down your $10.50. This movie jumped right into my top five of the year and I wouldn't be surprised if it stayed there for some time.


Blogger Billy Dagwood said...

Donnie! You forgot the best part! The Aquabats poster! OK, maybe it wasn't the best part. But it's CERTAINLY worth mentioning.

You might say it's .. seriously awesome, even. Sometime we should get Serious Awesomeness and review that.

9:39 PM  

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