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'Fantastic Four' - Marvel's Biggest Missed Opportunity

The film's failure came down to execution more than conception.

Marvel Comics was built on the foundation of the Fantastic Four. It was pointed out that this franchise still has the potential to be successful by this review for 2005’s Fantastic Four, and it sums up the way a lot of people felt about the film. The Fantastic Four was the first “family” of superheroes from Marvel, and still has a loyal following to this day. The movie, put out before we had any concept of a modern Iron Man or Avengers, could have been a very big deal. Instead, it was a critical flop and one many audience members have since forgotten about.

In a way, Fantastic Four followed what we’ve come to recognize as a standard pattern for a superhero film. The heroes gain their powers by sheer chance, discover them gradually, and use them to do good. Then, as they study themselves and determine their place in society, a villain appears who is blessed with similar powers, and we start to head toward a final showdown. It’s the outline that had already presented itself at the core of the X-Men films, the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, and even in Ang Lee’s unfortunate Hulk. One could look at it in one of two ways in that it's either tried and true, or unfortunately unoriginal.

Specifically, Fantastic Four followed scientist Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) on a mission to a space station to study a sort of space cloud he believes is similar to one that sparked evolution on Earth millions of years prior. When the mission goes awry he and his team including Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) and Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon) are bombarded with cosmic rays that give them various superpowers. Back home, all but Von Doom become known as the “Fantastic Four” as they attempt to put their new powers to good use. Meanwhile, however, Von Doom has an eye for vengeance after the mission left his company in shambles. Assuming the mantle of Doctor Doom—one of Marvel’s most powerful villains—he decides to take on the heroes.

The outline is familiar and fine, and by 2005 it wasn’t particularly tired yet even if we’d seen it a few times. The movie’s failure came down to execution more than conception. A fairly talented cast was, for the most part, wasted with campy lines and seemingly poor direction. Watch 2004’s King Arthur and you’ll be convinced that Ioan Gruffudd is capable of pretty good work, even if he hasn’t done much since. Chris Evans, as we now know, would go on to enormous success in the superhero genre. And Jessica Alba was at the height of her popularity, even though Rotten Tomatoes quoted Richard Roeper as saying that to cast the beautiful actress as an invisible woman made very little sense. Perhaps worst of all, a better talent was needed for the role of Doom.

However, it’s not as if the film left no legacy. Despite wasted talents, poor direction, and overall ineffective execution, it actually showed early signs of sparking a franchise. There was almost immediately a Fantastic Four video game, and a sequel (Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer) was released in 2007. Even now, there remains an online casino game based on the 2005 film. One platform that covers every angle of the core online gaming projects hosted by casino sites, you’ll find Fantastic Four still sitting there alongside a lineup of more modern superhero inspirations like The Avengers and Wolverine. These hero-infused slot reels only stick around as long as they’re popular with players, and that says something for the Fantastic Four.

In a strange way, that might actually be the clearest indication of what a missed opportunity this movie was. If a game is still in circulation 12 years after the release of a movie that most everyone agrees was disappointing, it speaks to the value of the characters and the team, if not the film itself. Even after 2015’s failed reboot, there are still Marvel fans out there dying for a better version of this beloved team on screen.

With the right star power, a gripping script, and a director at the top of his game it could be an Avengers-sized hit. It’s just hard to look at it that way right now. 

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