Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, Part 2: The Review
After decades of waiting and a chance posting on Facebook, this madman finally got to see one of the most elusive comic book motion picture holy grails- Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four.
Yesterday, I explored the myth and history of the making of the film. Today, I share with you my review. While it’s clearly no Avengers Endgame, this low-budget take on the First Family of the Marvel Universe is surprisingly not bad!
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Starring: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staub, Joseph Culp
Directed by Oley Sassone
Distributed by New Horizons Films
Run Time: 94 minutes
When Roger Corman was approached by German producer Bernd Eichinger to create a full-length live-action movie of the Fantastic Four, the legendary filmmaker was only given a budget of $1 million dollars. That meant Corman would be faced with cutting a number of corners in order to get that project done. It wasn’t something that Roger Corman was unfamiliar with. Corman is known to be the McGuvyer of filmmaking. But with such a small budget, that meant not having any established stars in the cast.
Faced with casting a quartet of relative unknowns, only Jay Underwood playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, had any real meaty acting credits prior. Underwood had starred in a trio ABC/Disney TV movies based on the Not Quite Human young adult series by Seth McEvoy. A cameo by George Gaines (Punky Brewster, The Police Academy films) as Reed and Ben’s physics teachers is perhaps this film’s only real household name.
The premise for the Fantastic Four film is pretty close to accurate for the comics created by Lee and Jack Kirby. Radiation during a botched space flight imbues 4 astronauts with special powers. After crash-landing, the quartet run afoul of the evil Doctor Doom who seeks to siphon the team’s powers to make himself the most powerful man in all the world!
Doctor Doom is played with maniacal aplomb by Joseph Culp (Mad Men.) His acting is perfectly over-the-top for a comic book villain. And his costume is 5000 times better than any of the modern Fantastic Four movie versions of the character. It’s just a shame that you can barely understand anything Doom is saying as the mask he wears really muffles the actor’s voice.
There’s another villain in this movie called the Jeweller. This subterranean leader of a band of homeless misfits is obviously based on the Fantastic Four issue #1 villain, Mole Man. But why this guy isn’t called by that name here is a mystery. Maybe the producers didn’t have the rights?
The Jeweller is the comic relief of the movie. It’s his actions that cause the malfunction of Reed’s spaceship. But his goofiness just can’t hold a candle to the outlandishness of Doctor Doom!
The special effects are a mixed bag. The stretching scenes of Mister Fantastic are anything but. What do you expect for a million bucks? For most of the movie, only Johnny’s hand catches flame. But in the climactic battle with Doctor Doom’s cronies, Storm finally goes full flame-on. Though it’s clearly CGI done with 1990s era computers, it’s actually not bad animation for the time period.
The make-up and suit made up for Ben Grimm’s transformation into The Thing was kinda hookey. You can tell it’s a foam rubber suit. But it actually looks tons way better than Michael Chiklis’ version of Ole Blue-eyed Benjamin! That’s because of the level of articulation put into the mask. The lips, eyes brows and even the Thing’s forehead moved. Other live-action versions of the FF’s strongman visage were quite static.
Costuming for the movie was far more superior than some modern day superhero epics. Like I said, Doctor Doom’s armor and costume were the best I’ve ever witnessed in a motion picture. The FF’s uniforms are pretty comic book accurate. And when it comes to form fitting on Sue Storm actress Rebecca Staub- va-va-va-voom!
There have been 4 live-action films starring the Fantastic Four. Roger Corman’s take on the team was by far, the best one! The 2005 origin story was good but it lacked heart. The Silver Surfer sequel was completely unfaithful to the source material with having Galactus be a huge cloud of destructive space gas. And 2015’s FF… That’s 2 hours of my life I want back.
At just over 90 minutes, this forgotten Marvel movie was a good distraction. I didn’t think once about the COVID-19 pandemic while watching it. That right there says a lot. This wasn’t the best movie. But it wasn’t Thor: The Dark World either.
Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four was hampered by a tiny budget. In today’s dollars, that only comes to about $1.75 million. With such a small allotment, Corman’s team did some big stuff. Imagine how much better the CGI and make-up could’ve been with an extra million bucks or two. The Jeweller’s minions might actually have looked like Moloids. Doc Doom’s army might have actually been Doombots and not pasty white guys in green hoods!
Yes- you will get some unintended laughs if you ever get the chance to watch this film. But I don’t think you’ll be very disappointed either. For what Roger Corman pulled off with the number of barriers in his way, he made a B-movie classic out of one of our all-time favorite bands of superheroes! I don’t know if Stan Lee was proud of this movie. But as a life-long fan of the FF, I sure was!
Excelsior, Mr. Corman! Excelsior in deed!
For more reviews and other fun, check out my blog: Madman with a Book!