A new Fantastic Four movie was just released from Fox. This… is not about that movie. This is about the way we fans talk about Fantastic Four movies, and how we may, in fact, be getting it wrong.
I’ve seen it happen enough to be a foregone conclusion: when discussing Marvel comics on film, if you bring up the Fantastic Four, somebody will return volley with, “If you want to see a perfect Fantastic Four movie, go watch The Incredibles.” I’ve done it myself — MANY times — and that particular refrain got louder and more frequent the closer we got to the release of the latest Fox effort. But, hearing some variation of that statement repeated so often kinda got me wondering… are we actually right about that?
I mean, yeah, The Incredibles has a lot of surface details in common with the Fantastic Four. It’s a super team that’s also a family. Most of their superpowers are the same; Mr. Fantastic and Elastigirl’s stretching ability; the Invisible Woman and Violet Parr’s invisibility and force fields (that one’s a blatant knock-off); The Thing and Mr Incredible are both big, bulky muscle-men. The only odd-man-out is Johnny Storm, whose flame powers are reflected only briefly as ONE of Jack Jack Parr’s multiple abilities — on the other hand, Dash Parr is practically a carbon copy of Johnny Storm’s brash, mischievous personality.
The similarities are obvious, and they beg comparison, but do the comparisons stand up under scrutiny? Could you really swap out the characters and tell the same story as effectively as The Incredibles did?
I’m kinda thinking… no.
The Incredibles is a story about a guy dealing with his midlife crisis in a world where superheroes have been outlawed, and how his past mistakes and rash decisions drag his wife and children into a dangerous scenario that tests and ultimately strengthens their bonds as a family.
Is that a Fantastic Four story? Can you really see Reed Richards as the middle-aged, middle-class meathead who keeps uprooting his family because of a selfish longing for the good old days? Can you really see Johnny and Ben hiding helplessly in a cave, not knowing what to do while Sue sneaks off to find Reed in Doom’s compound? Can you really see Doctor Doom as an over-obsessed, petulant fanboy who is eventually done in by his own insistence on wearing a cape?
The Incredibles worked because everything about it, from the world-building to the character dynamics to the distribution of superpowers, was built to support the story of how Bob Parr overcomes his midlife crisis and learns to love his family again. It may have shown us some cool action sequences and clever ways to use the Fantastic Four’s powers, but that doesn’t make it a good Fantastic Four movie. It just makes it a good movie that kinda reminds us of the Fantastic Four.
I don’t think fans actually want to see Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny going through the same trials and tribulations as Bob, Helen, Dash, and Violet. The Parrs’ life was one of exceptional people straining against the bounds of mundanity — superheroes forced to hide in plain sight, state-enforced secret identities, high school crushes, soul-sucking day jobs, moving houses, school sports, social problems. The Fantastic Four have more resources, more freedom, more visibility, more power, and NONE of the dysfunction the Parrs have (in fact, if they were to ADD that sort of dysfunction to a Fantastic Four movie, I’m pretty sure it would piss people off).
We do a disservice to the Fantastic Four by focusing on their superficial attributes while ignoring the actual substance of what makes them unique. Sure, Hollywood hasn’t gotten it right yet. Sure, Brad Bird has come the closest, and he’d undoubtedly have some valuable insight to offer the next time someone attempts to bring them to the screen. But insisting that the Great Fantastic Four Movie has already been made, just because someone told a good story with the same superpowers, means we’re looking at these properties the same way cynical Hollywood does: as a collection of visual FX with interchangeable stories.
The fact we keep pointing to The Incredibles as the perfect Fantastic Four movie makes me think Hollywood aren’t the only ones who don’t know what makes a good Fantastic Four movie.
The fact that I get teary-eyed is the stark difference between the two movies. Your summary about Bob Parr’s struggles is spot on, and where I see it parallel my own, I give Brad Bird full credit for reaching my soul.
Though, I might take issue with the classification of dysfunction. The Parr family mirrors ordinary people in their actions, reactions, hopes and fears.
Comment by knechod — August 13, 2015 @ 3:37 pm
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Pingback by RECKSTAR » GoD Article: The Incredibles is NOT a Fantastic Four movie — August 13, 2015 @ 5:31 pm
Thanks for your comment! I agree 100% — Brad Bird wrote a beautiful movie. And the Parr family absolutely mirrors the average family in their failures and victories. I’d still call some of their conflicts dysfunction, though I use the term perhaps more lightly than a clinical definition might. I see them as the same dysfunctions all families face, NONE of which are permanent. Maybe that’s a misuse of the word; I am the layest of laymen.
Comment by Joey Cruz — August 13, 2015 @ 6:38 pm
Am I blind or is Watchmen not mentioned in this article? The Incredibles is Watchmen-light.
Comment by Trevor Williams — August 13, 2015 @ 10:43 pm
Dash’s power isn’t that far off from Jonny Storm’s. See, Dash can move quickly, and when you move quickly, you generate friction by moving through the air faster than it wants you to, and this friction in turn generates heat, which in turn could, under the right circumstances, “flame on.”
Comment by Jacob S — August 14, 2015 @ 11:39 am
I can absolutely buy Reed having a mid-life crisis. He always came off as the stately elder in the Marvel U anyway.
And being selfish and work-obsessed? Also Reed qualities.
Comment by Greg Phillips — August 14, 2015 @ 12:02 pm
The Incredibles and Watchmen share two superficial attributes. A) Superheroes have been outlawed by the government (though reasons are different in either story). B) Someone is bumping off former superheroes (for different reasons in either story). The Incredibles borrowed from A LOT of existing stories, but just as I can’t compare it one-to-one with Fantastic Four, I can’t call it Watchmen light either. Both stories have completely different internal machinery.
Comment by Joey Cruz — August 14, 2015 @ 8:38 pm
Ha! Fair point. And in both cases, he’s the reckless look-before-he-leaps type.
Comment by Joey Cruz — August 14, 2015 @ 8:44 pm
Good points. Though, I’d argue Reed’s mid-life crisis wouldn’t look like Bob’s mid-life crisis. The Incredibles brings the Parr family as close to the typical American family as possible. They are safe and ordinary and Bob is placing them in danger. Even if Reed’s MLC (is that an acronym? It is now) places his family in danger, they’re all accustomed to it. It would play on a different set of emotional reactions.
(incidentally, if you want to see the dark, R-rated middle-ground between those two dynamics, you should check out an Image comic called Black Science)
Comment by Joey Cruz — August 14, 2015 @ 8:49 pm
I agree with things that were said, but I would argue that it’s not the subject matter which points to a better Fantastic Four movie in the Incredibles, it’s the obvious life of the characters, the fights and the arguments, the love and care. The way they look at things from a perspective of being Super-Powered has been better written. Sure, Reeds mid-life crisis might be that he finally contains Doom and conquers Latveria instead of leaving it alone, but it would still have the same heart to it. Just my thoughts on it though.
Comment by Ajay Pollarine — August 16, 2015 @ 5:02 pm
I can get behind this idea. Certainly a FF movie can share that level of warmth and familial affection/head-butting that we see in The Incredibles. I still think the vastly different circumstances between the two families begs more analysis — you don’t get the same conflicts between four adults that you get between two adults and two kids — but you make a very good point.
Comment by Joey Cruz — August 17, 2015 @ 7:13 am
I think the heart and the friendship/bond that is forged between the four of them is what has continued to be missing from the film adaptations. One of the best issues of the FF I ever read (to me) was an issue where a reporter tagged along with them and wrote about every aspect of what summed up this group of Astronauts and family. It told the story in a way that made all of their super powers and exotic locales the backdrop and not the focus (while that might not be everyones taste, that captures FF more in my opinion).
Once they find a way to create that, I think we’ll see the FF franchise take off.
Comment by Ajay Pollarine — August 17, 2015 @ 3:20 pm