Sunday, 27 December 2015

Is Doctor Who still for kids?

"Blah, blah, blah, blah!"

I was discussing Doctor Who (as I often do) with my sister today and she told me she hadn't enjoyed the past two series very much. My sister has always been a fan of the show since it's 2005 revival, albeit a casual "Saturday night telly" kind of fan rather than a scarf-wearing, DVD owning "moaning about it on the internet" kind of fan like myself. My sister remarked that my seven year old niece doesn't watch it much any more as "she doesn't understand it". I was about to launch into my well-rehearsed and spirited defense of the show when my niece actually chipped in to correct my sister.

"I do understand it, it's just boring. All they do is talk, and talk, and talk."

It wasn't the fact that she didn't like it any more that worried me. After all, kids go off stuff all the time. It was the reason she'd gone off it that worried me. "It's boring." Doctor Who should not be making kids bored! Now I'm not claiming that my niece is representative of all children in the UK. But it's hard to deny that the tone of the show has changed over the past few series. Is the show getting too 'talky'? Is Doctor Who in danger of losing what has always been the most important part of it's audience - kids?

Once upon a time, Russell T. Davies' era as head writer (2005-2010) was full of rousing speeches and emotional exchanges, but it was always balanced with a healthy dose of explosions, running, and visual humour. The Doctor's emotional farewell to Rose at the end of series 2 for example came only after a tense, climactic battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen which resulted in them all getting sucked into a big, inter-dimensional hole. The Doctor and The Master had many a character defining back and forth at the end of series 3, but it was all centred around a very visceral victory for The Doctor, as the prayers of the world transformed him from a wizened goblin into a shining, floating saviour. (Hey, I'm not saying it made sense, just that it was visually exciting.)

Compare those climaxes to the end of series 8 or 9. Series 8 finishes mainly with a lengthy conversation in a graveyard. The army of Cybermen don't actually do anything apart from explode in the sky and Missy is dispatched by a Cyberman who we're told is a character who is only significant to viewers familiar with the classic series. Series 9 ended with a long talk about feelings between Clara and The Doctor, followed by The Doctor losing his memory for vague reasons, followed by another talk about feelings between The Doctor and Clara, this time in a diner. It's not exactly the stuff kids dreams are made of is it. Of course, the RTD era was full of long talks about feelings too, but they were always balanced with action, and visual thrills, and I don't think that's still the case.

If you think that this criticism means that I hate current head writer Steven Moffat's era of Doctor Who you couldn't be more wrong. I have absolutely loved the past two series and Peter Capaldi has swiftly entered my list of top five favourite ever Doctors. I've found Series 9 to be particularly enjoyable, with The Doctor's impassioned anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion and Peter Capaldi's solo performance in Heaven Sent among my favourite moments.

But I'm a 34 year old man and when it comes to Doctor Who my opinion should not be a priority!

Doctor Who is a family show, it always has been. It's not something for nerds like me to watch alone in our bedrooms and then bitch about on our blogs (much like I'm doing now). It's something for families, like my sister and her kids, to watch together. If you target the families then nerds like me will still watch it, but if you target nerds like me you lose the families. If you target families then the kids grow up and watch it with their kids, and the show endures, as it should!

The weird thing is, Steven Moffat knows all this! In one interview to promote the show's 50th Anniversary he remarked
"I love Doctor Who fans, and I am a Doctor Who fan, but the show is not targeted at them. And to be fair most of them say: 'For God's sake don't make it for us.' They want it to be successful. They don't want it to be a niche thing, because then it would die."
Why then would the man who said this fill his episodes with emotionally charged, character driven speeches that are perfect for fans who want actors to reenact them at conventions but not so great for retaining the attention of your average 7-8 year old? Again, I'm not saying that these speeches shouldn't be there, but for god's sake, let's have an explosion and some running straight after it.

I must emphasise that I'm not one of these critics who say that kids can't follow Steven Moffat's labyrinthine plots. As Moffat has rightly said "We're dealing with children who can read long, complicated books while tweeting and playing computer games all at the same time. You've got to be ahead of them." So I'm definitely not saying that the show should dumb down, or that kids only like explosions. I'm just saying that for the past couple of series, Doctor Who has put exposition and emotional character moments above action and it means that the show may be in danger of losing it's younger audience.

An impassioned speech about the horrors of war is great, but it's not going to resonate with a child in the same way as it is with an adult. Is it possible to make it the centrepiece of an entire episode and retain the interest of your younger audiences? I'm not so sure it is. Why can't we have the best of both worlds? Something emotionally resonant for the older fans to immortalise in gif and meme form AND something for the younger fans to reenact in the playground. Russell T. Davies managed it for four series and a bunch of specials. With episodes such as The Eleventh Hour, and Day of the Doctor, Moffat has managed it too, and I'd love to see him keep on doing it.

I've really loved series 8 & 9, but the moment Doctor Who becomes all about people like me is, as Moffat has said, the moment it dies. With the BBC insisting on scheduling the show at later, less appropriate times it's more important than ever that Doctor Who keeps the kids. Doctor Who must endure and it will only do so by attracting the whole family, not just the uncles.

Friday, 18 December 2015

I asked an economist if he'd vote for President Superman


In Action Comics Annual #3 (1991) the time travelling super-hero known as Waverider takes a peek into Superman's future and witnesses the Man of Steel getting elected President in 2001. It turns out baby Kal-El was technically born on American soil as his Kryptonian Birthing Matrix opened up on Earth, and so he's perfectly entitled to run for President.

Waverider is investigating the possibility of Superman becoming the futuristic tyrant known as Monarch, and as a result the threat of him being corrupted by his new found political powers hangs over the story. Ultimately however Superman ends up being a pretty good President and leads the United States into a bright, hopeful future.


I was curious as to whether Superman's policies, as laid out in this story, would actually benefit the USA and the rest of the world in real life. Would Superman actually be a good President, or would he be just as crappy as all us lousy humans at deciding the world's fate?

And so I asked a respected economist!

John Phelan has a MSc in Economic History from the London School of Economics. He is a Fellow of The Cobden Centre and has written about economics and politics for The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal Europe, Standpoint, Economic Affairs, Conservative Home, London Student, City AM, Global Politics and openDemocracy.

He almost certainly has better things to do but nevertheless kindly allowed me to grill him on what effect a fictional alien would have on the US economy!

Me: John, while in office Superman begins to solve America's economic problems by salvaging US gold lost at sea. Aquaman helps him of course.

John: Why would finding a load of gold help? I'd need to know more, but if it's for monetary use, all you'd have would be inflation - look at the Spanish Empire.


The comic says that it's part of Superman's "all out war on the deficit". It also claims that adding the Gold to "the Nation's coffers" causes "the US trade deficit to drop". It says "the overall benefit to the economy will be slow but should be steady if the President continues to deliver." 

So the gold goes into 'reserves' and becomes part of the monetary base of the United States. Depending on what the bank(s) holding these reserves do, they either sit on it, in which case it has no effect at all, or they use as a base to expand credit, in which case you just get rising prices.

I don't see how it helps the deficit. The US could, I suppose, use it to pay its expenses and avoid some borrowing, but, again, that would just be inflationary.

As I say, the Spanish Empire grabbed America and all the gold therein. They thought they were sorted because they had lots of new money. But they didn't have lots of new stuff to spend it on so prices just went up - inflation. They sank back as a world power after that. That's a pretty exact example of just this happening.

The trade deficit is just the excess of the value of what you import over the value of what you export. It isn't actually a problem - would you be concerned if you were getting £300 of stuff in return for £200 of stuff?

Again, though, I fail to see how a bunch of new gold would help. You ship it abroad to cover the trade deficit? Might work for a couple of years, then what?

Superman says "we will of course be making such deposits gradually so as not to affect world markets."

Gradually? Supes has just announced the find to the whole planet! The gold price would crash in anticipation of the full amount coming on the market even if just a little bit actually was released.

Look to when Gordon Brown flogged Britain's gold for a pretty exact historical parallel.

President Superman launches orbiting solar power stations that "free us all from the economic tyrrany of fossil fuels". He "diverts petro-chemicals into the manufacturing of useful, long lived, recyclable products". He also shares the solar tech with "the developing nations of the world".

What were the resources which Supes puts into making these "orbiting solar power stations" doing before? Making cars? Beds? Jenga? The price of all those things will rise and less of them will be consumed. You might think this worthwhile, that's a positive rather than a normative question.


Do you think sharing his solar satellites with developing nations so they can, in Superman's words "grow and prosper without the awful squandering of their natural resources" would work?

Possibly, but it depends on what basis. If you give the same amount of power to someone in Ghana and someone in the US, the Ghanaian is going to have a load of excess power and the Yank is going to find their life grind to a halt.
 
President Superman is shown learning the language and Holy scriptures of other world leaders while negotiating with them. (The narrator of the story acknowledges that despite Superman's attempts at peaceful negotiation there is a threat implicit in the fact that he's so powerful.)

Best of luck to him.

Does Supes have powers that would enable him to learn a language quicker than an Earthling?

In the 1950s and '60s he had a super-memory, but by the '90s he was a little less powerful so I think it would take him the same time as us to learn them.

Well, economists often think in terms of constrained maximisation - you have a set amount of money and you have to allocate it between a set of different things so as to maximise your satisfaction (utility, in the jargon) derived from those different things. But we aren't just money constrained, we are time constrained as well. We have a fixed amount of time, a budget, to allocate between different activities so as to maximise our utility. Now, if Supes could learn another language in an instant, he might as well do so. But if he can't, if it takes time, then he has to spend time on that that he could be spending on something else - foiling Lex Luthor's plans, for example. If Lex Luthor, or some as dastardly, was up to something heinous, would it not be a more sensible allocation of Superman's time budget to foil that scheme and leave the translation to some spotty graduate with a BA in Arabic? Opportunity cost is, perhaps, the key thing there.


Superman also has a policy of global disarmament enforced by an army of superheroes!

How Nietzschean.

Yeah, that one's a bit scary.

That's why I liked Batman.


What did you think of that panel where Lex Luthor gets arrested after that guy with a wire records him plotting? Is that even legal?

Depends what he's plotting, Luthor is an evil chap. But it is all very creepy to a libertarian type like me. Every loon from Plato on has longed for a race of super beings to rule us base mortals. Trouble is, absent super beings, other base mortals end up trying to do it and you end up with some of the darkest episodes in human history.


Would you vote for Superman based on these policies? What party do you think he would belong to? 

He's obviously a Democrat of the Bernie Sanders stripe, or a sort of William Jennings Bryan Populist. Whether I'd vote for it would depend on who else was running, but it would take a hell of a lot for me to vote for this stuff.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

John Byrne: "Gerroff my land!"

John Byrne is one of the greatest comic book artists of all time and one of my personal favourite comic creators. A groundbreaking collaboration on Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont and work on Fantastic Four and Superman that defined the characters for a generation are just a few of his accomplishments. He is a genius.

He is also a deeply unpleasant man who embodies everything that's wrong with comic fans. Or at least that's how he comes across online.

When Byrne isn't angrily lamenting the fact that superhero comics aren't exactly how they were when he was a child he's usually slagging off everybody in the comics industry who isn't Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, or bandying the N word around in a conversation about speech bubbles, or saying Hispanic and Latino women with blond hair look "like hookers", or comparing trans people with pedophiles. You get the picture. Byrne seems to live for disagreement and conflict. On one hilarious occasion he accidentally started an argument with himself!

He can usually be found on his online Forum, surrounded by fans who fall over themselves to agree with everything he says. Those who dare disagree with the great JB are swiftly given the boot and banned from the Forum.

Byrne is currently working on a Star Trek comic that he illustrates by cutting and pasting old photos together. It seems that he's so passionate about keeping the fictional characters he loves exactly how they were when he first encountered them that he can't bring himself to even draw them anymore, (at least not in any form other than private commissions). It's a shame since he's a truly excellent artist.

In Star Trek: New Visions #7 Byrne demonstrated a level of self-awareness that I wouldn't have credited him with and cast himself as a cranky old hermit, threatening those who strayed on to his land with a gun. Amusingly this panel featuring Byrne the hermit seems to go nicely with pretty much any JB quote you'd care to fit into his speech bubbles (or is it balloons?):





I recommend Byrne's Wiki-quote page for further insights into the mind of this fascinating, frustrating man.

I also recommend JohnByrneSays on Twitter. It's run by a brave individual who scours Byrne's Forum so you don't have to, and regularly shares Byrne's pearls of wisdom in tweet form. He also shares Byrne's amazing art on Tumblr, and is a thoroughly nice man, so give him a follow.

Of course you should also check out Byrne's work. His creator owned series, John Byrne's Next Men is fantastic. It explores the dark side of the super-hero and time travel genres whilst simultaneously celebrating everything that's fun about them. His early Uncanny X-Men work, his Fantastic Four run, and his work on Avengers West Coast and She-Hulk are pure superhero fun, and I've written before about how much I love his Superman work.

Check out his work, it's amazing, but it's probably best to give the man himself a wide berth.







Friday, 30 October 2015

David Bowie and the Haunted Chateau

A friend and I were discussing David Bowie recently and he informed me that the album Low was recorded in a French chateau that Bowie, Brian Eno, and Tony Visconti later claimed was haunted. This painted quite a picture in my mind. Bowie being informed by a video will left by a recently deceased relative that he must spend the night in a haunted house in order to secure his inheritance. Bowie and Eno tip-toeing through a cobwebbed room while the eyes of a portrait of an elderly man who looks just like Bowie follow them. Bowie and Eno being chased by a figure in a white sheet (or possibly a suit of armour), running back and forth and in and out of doors lining a corridor.

I decided to mock-up an image of how I think all this looked. I think it falls into the 'things-only-Paul-finds-funny' category but since it's nearly Halloween I thought I'd share it all the same.


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Some old Cartoons by Me

About 8-9 years ago I used to occasionally draw a comic strip and stick it on the internet. The art's not great, but I was looking through them recently and a few of them still made me chuckle so I thought I'd share them here. The humour is crude but lot of the jokes were based on stuff that happened to me when I was single, short-haired, and thin.














Sunday, 6 September 2015

Why I love Superman: The Movie

Some good friends and I occasionally meet up for a film club. We take it in turns to host a screening of a film that's important to us, and beforehand we'll do a little talk about the film and what it means to us. Afterwards we'll discuss it in depth. It's really nerdy and lots fun. Recently it was my turn, and I of course chose Richard Donner's Superman (1978). Here's the talk I did. 



Superman (1978)

Directed by Richard Donner
Starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando

The first thing I’d like to make clear is that the fact that Superman is my favourite film is not a nostalgia thing. As a child I much preferred Batman to Superman, and it’s only as I’ve grown older I’ve come to think of Superman as my favourite superhero. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) is the superhero film that evokes warm, nostalgic, childhood memories in me. Superman is simply a fantastic, well made film in its own right that I love because it’s so perfect in every way. I can watch it over and over again and it makes me ridiculously happy every time I do so.


Richard Donner treats this film as if he’s telling a 20th Century myth that will sit alongside the legends of the Greek or Norse Gods, the Bible, the Mabinogion. John Williams’ iconic music plays a huge part in this, conveying the majesty of the film beautifully and letting you know right from the start that this isn’t some cartoon romp, but an epic adventure!


Superman, the character, is so many different things to so many people and this film manages to encapsulate and convey all of that in a way that’s coherent and entertaining. Within the framework of an epic this film manages to move between so many different genres and tones, and it does so effortlessly.


We begin on planet Krypton, as Jor-El (Brando) exiles General Zod (Terrence Stamp) and his cronies to the Phantom Zone. Not only does this scene set up the sequel (filmed back to back with this film) but it serves to establish the shape and tone of Kryptonian culture and Jor-El’s prominent role in it. It also demonstrates that Krypton is a rich, fascinating world with conflicts and dramas and stories of its own, separate from its impending destruction. Everything is taken completely seriously, which helps the audience buy into this world of ice, crystal and glowing tin-foil suits, and helps convey the mythic status of this story right from the start.


Next comes Jor-El’s unsuccessful attempt to convince the Kryptonian council of Krypton’s impending doom. Look out for Doctor Who’s William Russell as a member of the council. The destruction of Krypton feels huge, which is pretty impressive considering all this was pre-CGI. The shot of all those tiny figures tumbling into redness still looks amazing and really conveys the scale and horror of this catastrophe. During all this Brando is clearly on autopilot, but even Brando on autopilot is still Brando, and his nobility and dignity once again help sell the mythic status of the story.


As we see Kal-El grow up on Earth the story transforms into a different kind of myth. It becomes a piece of Americana, complete with a farm, a dog, cornfields, trains, high school football, rock and roll, and even a star from the Golden Era of Hollywood, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent. People like to bang on about how Superman “isn’t relatable” but this is the part of the film where he becomes one of us, at least in the eyes of the audience. Not only is he surrounded by recognisable pieces of American folklore (that strike a chord even with non-American audiences raised on such folklore) but he’s a lost, young underdog, looking for his place in the world. A tale as old as time. Who wouldn’t feel a connection with him? Once again everything’s taken very seriously, as if we’re seeing a legend unfold before us.


Young Clark eventually finds, or rather creates, the Fortress of Solitude and we see the wonder of Krypton once again, except this time through Clark’s eyes. Clark spends 12 years in the Fortress, studying with Jor-El. This is something unique to the movie, but I’ve always wondered why it hasn’t been used in other adaptations. I love the idea that Superman went through this period of isolation and study to prepare him for his mission. Once again, it emphasises the mythic qualities of the story, and it tells us that perhaps the awkwardness and naivety that will later be displayed by Clark are not completely part of his act.


As soon as we get to Metropolis the tone of the film shifts once more. The legend has been firmly established on a solid foundation of serious space-opera and Americana, so now it’s time to have some fun. Ironically the modern day city of Metropolis is the most “comic-booky” part of the film. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is so much fun to watch. Funny, camp, charismatic, witty, and yet when he needs to be, genuinely nasty and cruel. Look at the way he delivers the line “This old diseased maniac would be your banker”. There’s real, cold malice in his delivery. He’s the perfect comic-book villain, complete with a weaponised, secret lair and bumbling henchmen.

 
In Metropolis the story also becomes an epic love story and Lois Lane becomes the character through which the audience views Superman. Margot Kidder’s Lois is one of the most important characters in the film. Her Lois is so human. She smokes, she’s mean to Clark, she misspells words, she changes clothes in the bog before her meeting with the President. Despite, or rather because of her humanity Superman, a godlike figure, falls in love with her, and she with him. It’s an iconic, legendary love story! Lois, whose job as a reporter is to question everything, throws all the cynicism of the audience at Superman and he answers it with a straight face – “I’m sure you don’t really mean that Lois.” Lois is such a real, authentic character, but she believes in this man and so we believe in him too.


Towards the end of the film Lois plays an integral part in helping Superman to step out of the shadow of Jor-El – “The son becomes the father and the father the son.” Jor-El has emphasised to Superman the necessity of remaining separate from humanity, of not interfering in human destiny. This touches on one of the main contradictions of Superman’s existence. He wants to help but he doesn’t want to hold back humanity, or worse, dominate or control them. This is why Superman wears the costume, and also why he doesn’t fly around overthrowing dictators. He’s not an alien invader; he wants to inspire the best in humanity. Help us to help ourselves. As Jor-El puts it “They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.” But at the end of the film Superman deliberately disobeys his father; he turns back time to save Lois. This could be seen as a selfish act, but Superman is as much human as he is Kryptonian, he was raised as one of us after all. His actions at the end of the film are the actions of a human. A human man turning Heaven and Earth to save the woman he loves.


None of this would work at all if it wasn’t for Christopher Reeve. His amazing performance sells this myth more than anything else. He takes everything completely seriously and conveys the earnestness of the character beautifully. At the same time he’s not completely po-faced and his performance is warm and full of charisma and humour. His transformation between Superman and Clark Kent is amazing. When he takes off his glasses he seems to grow a foot taller. Never mind “You will believe a man can fly”. Thanks to Reeve, you will believe a man can fool the world with a pair of glasses. 


Superman is often painted as an immature character, particularly when compared to grimmer characters like Batman. But for me Donner’s Superman demonstrates why this is complete twaddle. Batman is a fantasy about punching and frightening the world into being a better place. Superman is a fantasy about showing the world a better way. It’s the belief that when given absolute power a man won’t be corrupted by it, but rather he’ll do everything he can to make the world a better place. It’s the belief that maybe we human beings aren’t such a bunch of scumbags after all. That is what Superman is about, and that’s why it’s my favourite film of all time.



Sunday, 16 August 2015

I went to Sheffield Comic Con!!! (2015 Edition)

I've just returned from Sheffield Film & Comic Con 2015, and just like last year I had an amazing time and met some lovely Doctor Who people! This year I met Colin Baker (my favourite Doctor), Nicola Bryant, and Peter Purves. I've met Colin and Peter before but it was no less of a thrill this time.





I attended a Q&A with Colin and Peter and was able to tell them how much I enjoy their work for Big Finish. I also asked Peter what he thought William Hartnell would have made of recent Doctor Who episodes. Peter said that he thought Hartnell would not have liked New Who as, like him, he would have found it hard to follow. Colin agreed that he often found New Who's plots hard to follow, despite being a fan of complex drama such as Twin Peaks. Peter added that he thought Hartnell would have liked Big Finish, and then both he and Colin spoke highly of the quality of the scripts and production of Big Finish's audio adventures. I'm inclined to agree with them on the quality of Big Finish, and although I love New Who I agree that Steven Moffat's "timey-wimey" plots can occasionally be a bit hard to swallow.

I was also lucky enough to meet one of my favourite artists, Lew Stringer, who draws for, among many other things, The Beano and Viz. We chatted for quite a while about the perils of internet blogging, and he was kind enough to draw one of my favourite Viz characters for me, Suicidal Syd.


All in all a fantastic weekend!

Friday, 7 August 2015

Josh Trank's Fantastic Four: Review (SPOILERS)

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS LOADS OF SPOILERS



Since Fox's most recent Fantastic Four movie was announced the knives have been out. It feels like all over the internet fans have been desperate for this movie to fail. In some cases this desire has been motivated by racism. In other cases it's because idiots think that if this film flops then the movie rights to the characters will return to Marvel.  Every report of behind-the-scenes drama has been used to confirm this negativity. As a result of all this I went into this film willing it to be great. I love these characters and I loved director Josh Trank's last film, Chronicle, so I wanted this film to succeed.

So, does it?

No. Not quite.

That's not to say that this film is the disaster that many are painting it to be, there's lots to love about it. But it's also a very flawed film, and to my eyes it seems that much of the blame for these flaws can be pinned not on Trank, but on interference from the studio. This seems especially likely if the aforementioned rumours of reshoots and behind-the-scenes strife are true.

The first two-thirds of this film are brilliant. It's very much Reed Richards' story, which works well for me, since he's my favourite character out of the four. We see Reed grow up as an unappreciated boy genius, with only his best friend Ben Grimm to believe in him. Both characters are established as products of dysfunctional households who's only real family is each other. Their friendship is established so well by Miles Teller (Reed) and Jamie Bell (Ben), and the child actors who play their younger counterparts, that it almost seems a shame when Reed is whisked off to the Baxter Foundation to work on their interdimensional teleportation project.

At the Baxter Foundation, Reed finds a surrogate family in Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), their dad, Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), and arrogant computer genius, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Their family bond is established in some lovely flirty-nerd scenes between Teller and Mara, and some great father-son conflict between Cathey and Jordan. There's also a fun 'working-on-the-project' montage. The film got me invested in the characters quite nicely and made me anticipate/dread the impending disaster all the more.

The cast really are excellent. Teller plays Reed Richards very well, with a nerdy, vulnerable charm, and Jordan's charisma prevents Johnny from coming across as too much of a brat. Bell is solid, stoic and loyal and Kebbell is beautifully arrogant. Mara comes across well with what little she has to work with, and that brings us to one of the film's major flaws.

In the comic Sue Storm, and her (perhaps misplaced) faith in Reed is one of the main reasons that the quartet steal their rocket and head off to the stars to get transformed by cosmic rays. She motivates the cautious Ben Grimm into accompanying them by accusing him of cowardice. The decision to face the journey and it's inherent risks is very much hers. In the movie she is robbed of this choice, as she is absent when the other four (including Doom) drunkenly decide to go on an unauthorised trip to the newly discovered dimension. Reed calls on his old pal Ben, who is not a member of the project, to accompany them, but none of them think to call Sue. She only appears after their journey has been made, and gains her powers in the explosion that ensues when she helps to retrieve them from the other dimension. It might be quite in character for these young, macho, and rash men to neglect to call Sue, but the slight is never addressed in the film.

It seems to me that it would have made far more sense in the context of the film for Sue to accompany them and Ben to be left behind to retrieve them, since he was not involved in the project but was familiar with Reed's early work. Ben's later resentment of Reed would have made a lot more sense if he had not actually agreed to accompany them on their mission. Sue is shown to view their powers not as a gift but as "aggressive abnormal physical conditions" so why doesn't she resent Reed more for what he did to her?

Sadly this is typical of how the film treats Sue. Her description of her pattern recognition abilities and their relation to music is pretty much the only good character moment she has. Her other character moments are all about how she relates to Reed and Johnny, and after she gets her powers the film seems to lose interest in her completely and she ends up being nothing more than the provider of a big, bubble-shaped taxi for Reed and Ben. A waste of Kate Mara and a waste of Sue Storm.

After the quartet gain their powers (Doom is abandoned, presumed dead, in the other dimension) the film turns into a pretty decent body-horror movie, made all the more effective by all the work the film has done in it's first half to invest us in the characters. Trank has said that he was inspired by the work of David Cronenberg. This is particularly evident in our first experience of Reed's stretchy powers. Reed seems to be in some pain and his naked limbs seem almost slimy. This emphasis on the creepier aspects of their powers is completely in keeping with the spirit of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's early Fantastic Four comics, where even Sue's relatively harmless power is shown to freak people out.




The film skips forward a year and Reed has run away to work alone on a way to get back to the other dimension (or Planet Zero, as it is now named) and find a cure. Ben has been used as a lethal weapon by the American government, with "43 confirmed kills". This may seem controversial to some, but I think it serves to add to the horror of Ben's situation. Johnny is revelling in his powers and is eager to join Ben on his missions. Sue and Franklin understand the nature of these missions a bit better and clash with Johnny as they attempt to dissuade him from going. The family that we grew to love in the first half of the film is in disarray. If the remainder of the film was the story of how this family found their way back to each other, overcoming their difficulties together, and finding the meaning to their failed project in each other, then we would have had ourselves a pretty decent film.

Sadly, somebody, I suspect Fox, had other ideas, and the remainder of the film ends up being a rushed, cack-handed attempt at a traditional super-hero movie.

A bunch of different scientists are sent back to Planet Zero to find a cure. Instead they find Doom. Doom has had his spacesuit molded to his body. He's also found a cape on this uninhabited, previously undiscovered planet. He's brought back to our world, where he suddenly decides that he's had a guts-full of humanity and that he's going to destroy our Universe and go and live on Planet Zero. Doom has a little speech at the start of the film about how he has no faith in humanity, but no further motive is given for his decision to destroy us other than he's mental and he fancies Sue. He's nothing more than a rampaging monster, and this seems like, once again, a waste of a good actor's talents and the waste of a good character.

The Four go to Planet Zero to fight him. They inexplicably don't need space suits any more. They have a bog standard super-hero battle, kill Doom, and then return to our world where they stand heroically over a giant crater, like it wasn't all their fault in the first place. The American government then decide for some crazy reason that the kids who unleashed all this horror on the world by getting pissed and stealing an interdimensional teleporter are actually superheroes and give them a big superhero headquarters. The Four share a cheesy joke in their new digs and the film ends. It really is that stupid. From the moment Doom was retrieved I felt like I was watching a completely different film. Other than my problems with how the film handled Sue I was thoroughly enjoying it and then suddenly this clever, well crafted film with an excellent cast has a complete lobotomy.

The problems with Fantastic Four can mostly be summed up in a sentence: it's a decent film about scientific exploration, family, & body horror that suddenly panics at the end & tries unsuccessfully to be The Avengers. It's not the travesty that many are making it out to be, and it deserves better than the hate it's received since day one. But it's very flawed and it's pretty heartbreaking to think that studio interference might be responsible for these flaws. Obviously I don't know the full story of what happened behind the scenes but I would be very interested in one day seeing a Special Edition/Director's Cut of this film. Maybe then we'll get the truly fantastic film I was hoping for.