Today’s Recommended Podcast: 3rd DEGREE BYRNE Ep# 1 AVENGERS 164-166

I stumbled across this relatively recent podcast today. An entire podcast dedicated to the works, the oeuvre, of one of the most influential artists, and later writer/artist, of the 1970s and 1980s… John Byrne.

As a kid of the 70s and 80s, I very much grew up on the artwork and collaborations and stories of John Byrne, so I still hold that work as formative and really ground breaking. And really his body of work remains a large part of the cultural storyboards that power today’s billion dollar comic films.

So this podcast that discusses his work, rather than the politics or quirks or controversy of Byrne the man, I find of great interest.

This 1st episode covers a classic three part story by Jim Shooter (writer), John Byrne(artist) and George Perez (cover artist).

For my money this is, in addition to visuals being borrowed liberally for for the 2nd Marvel Studios AVENGERS film, it is one of the  best Avengers stories.

I’ve sold most of my comics from yesteryear keeping only those that wowed me as a kid, and that still impress me as an adult, books that remain quintessentially the best examples of Superhero Blockbuster action. These 1970s AVENGERS books, 164, 165,166 remain the impetus and heart and idea space for what now 40 years later, have become multi-billion dollar cinematic mythologies… for new generations.

For my money nothing surpasses those three books, and it would be decades before Kurt Busiek in his wonderful 4 part Ultron Story-line in the  AVENGERS (vol III from 1999 – 19,20,21,22) wrote anything as iconic as those three Shooter/Byrne images.  The 90s Busiek/Perez run being very much a homage to those 70s  Shooter/Byrne issues. Shooter and Byrne telling in 3 perfect packed issues, what lesser creators would have ruined by trying to stretch to 4, 5, or 6 issues.

It is no mistake that those two disparate stories were mashed together to make the plot for AVENGERS II AGE OF ULTRON. A movie I liked quite a bit, it is a solid B/B+, but it is not as successful as the two story-lines that inspired it. Whereas the beauty of most of the Marvel Studios output is they are actually superior to the story-lines that inspired them; the movies written to be more sophisticated, and appeal to a very savvy adult audience. The first AVENGERS movie is better than the books that inspired it, as is the 3 CAPTAIN AMERICA movies,  as is the GUARDIAN OF THE GALAXY movies, and the IRON MAN movies (the first two Thor movies, not so much 🙂 ).

Jim Shooter was a boy genius who understood hyperbole and the dream of the mythic and heroic, and arguably there is no better example of that than in AVENGERS 164, 165, and 166. These issues are relatively still very affordable as 1st printings, and recently have been reprinted along with other essential issues in a very affordable collection.

 

You can get the issues here:

 

Avengers Epic Collection: The Final Threat

 

This collection is close to going out of print and covers issues #150 to #166, which is really the very best issues of the run. Pick them up at the link above while they are in stock.

Once you have read them, or if you have already read them, check out the podcast below. I disagree with them on some points but overall an interesting listen, and an interesting idea for a podcast. And I have to thank their podcast for spurring this blog post.

http://twotruefreaks.com/media/podcasts/byrne/rss.xml

 

 

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Netflix/Marvel Studios 2017 IRON FIST Episode #1 Review!






Iron Fist Movie Poster

The last of the long awaited DEFENDERS heroes, IRON FiST breaks on the Netflix shores this Weekend, and my opinion? Well After Loving the first season of DAREDEVIL with some minor hiccups in the later episodes, Really enjoying JESSICA JONES, being Lukewarm on the 2nd season of DAREDEVIL, and LOVING Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE: POWERMAN, I find the first episode of IRON FIST… underwhelming.

 

The trailers were the first hiccup as I found them tedious rather than exciting, and tedium is not what you expect from what should be a Martial Arts rich show. The action looked unimpressive, and the casting, especially of the protagonist gave me cause for concern. He looked unimpressive rather than what he should be… a living weapon.

But trailers can steer you wrong, and hoping to be proven wrong I watch the first episode of IRON FIST. What hits you is the opening sequence, one thing all the Marvel/Netflix collaborations have gotten right is an absolutely great opening/credit sequence. The IRON FIST opening sequence by comparison looks like an unfinished product, a bad joke. An unfocused concept that they simply ran out of time and ended up just throwing something together.

 

 

Getting beyond the disappointment of the Credit Sequence, I like the opening shot of the barefoot hero in New York, a shout out to the Master of Kung Fu Comic’s of the 70s.

 

Quirky but in reality do you know how impossibly disgusting it would be to walk around the streets of New York or any major city in your bare feet?! There are things I fear to step on, even with shoes on. But again it’s a harmless if ludicrous call back to the comics of yesteryear.

 

What immediately impresses me is how much better Finn Jones is as Danny Rand, than the trailers hinted at. He has a likable and commanding presence, that is at the heart of the character, and he is choreographed to move with an effortless balletic grace that speaks volumes of his character and journey.

 

Iron Fist Movie Poster

 

Indeed, Jones as Danny Rand is pretty much, contrary to my thoughts on the trailer, rather than being the weakest thing about the show, in this episode he is the strongest thing. He is very affable, which above all is the saving grace of his character, and in many ways distances him from the other more brooding members of the Defenders.

With the exception of Luke Cage, who beneath his bullet proof skin has, like Danny Rand, the heart of an optimist and a poet. Unlike the bone breaking Daredevil or the oft alcoholic and fatalist Jessica Jones, Power Man and Iron Fist don’t want to hurt their fellow man, they want to help them, make them better; Even, if possible, their villains. It’s why those two work so well as a duo in the comics. Particularly the wonderful David Walker and Sanford Green POWERMAN AND IRONFIST comics that started in 2016.

 

Finn Jones gets the character of Danny Rand, The Iron Fist. Underneath the affable nature of Jones portrayal, there is something you see in his first closeup (when he is trying to get in to be seen) a core of steel, something unyielding that completely sells him in a way the trailer did not.

So the Danny Rand portion of the first episode works well, it is a lot of setup, and I don’t mind setup, if it is done well, and written well, and brought across well, I thought the first two epiosdes of LUKE CAGE, which some considered talky, I felt were two of the finest written hours of television of 2016.

ASIDE ON  LUKE CAGE SERIES AND COLOR CODED TELEVISION

(I’m about to get deep into media bias, particularly as it relates to ethnicity, so feel free to skip the following aside, the ending of it is marked, and continue on with the Iron Fist review)

 

Coker’s LUKE CAGE said wonderful truths that you usually don’t get with ethnic characters, because mostly ethnic characters on television are nothing more than Black faces spouting and reaffirming White messages . Messages which whether BUFFY or SUPERGIRL Season 2 or DOCTOR WHO or NEXT GENERATION all tend to be some variation on the wish fulfillment of its writers or worse the unconscious coded messages that they unknowing have accepted as truths, namely White female initially falls for Ethnic Character than comes to her senses and dumps him for a White character.
If that plotline plays out in one show, that’s fine, that’s life, stuff happens. However, if that plot-line plays out in every single show where a white female is romantically tied to a man of color, then that is no longer sharp, inventive writing, or originality, it is programming, played over and over again until we stop seeing it, but keep believing it.
In Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE you got writing that was shorn of that very racist programming that makes up 90% of the shows we see on TV, and the output of even our best writers. By no measure do I think Joss Whedon is racist, however he reuses the above pattern of racial politics when it comes to the romantic lives of the men of color he scripts from FIREFLY to BUFFY to AGENTS OF SHIELD to AGENT CARTER. At some point any romantic light he casts the men of color he scripts, any momentum to a healthy heterosexual relationship, particularly with a female of another ethnicity has to be derailed. Their identification as a sexual alpha, derailed. Mac on AGENTS OF SHIELD becomes comedy relief, rather than what he should be on that show… the Mac.
And like I said you would be hard pressed to not see this very strange repetition of sexual marginalization and symbolic castration (fit to be comedy relief or the non-threatening buddy or father figure but not the romantic interest) occur over and over to men of color in just about every dramatic show you can name, particularly the action oriented ones. Whether BUFFY, AGENT CARTER, AGENTS OF SHIELD, NEXT GENERATION, ER, ROSEWOOD, SUPERGIRL, FIREFLY.  Such bias extends even to our news and ‘reality programming’, the fact that over 20 years later the media is still lynching OJ Simpson (A famous Black man accused of murdering a white woman) while in the intervening years there has been no shortage of murdered spouses. However this particular case accomplishes familiar goals of America, the tearing down of idols, the vilification of the other, and a platform to use an individual act, to try to send a message to a whole mass of people. It’s a lynching, writ large, 20th and 21st century style.
And by contrasts it has been envogue for the last 20 years to pair White Males successfully with women of color, pair being perhaps too equal a term, more like have the woman of color fling herself at the White Male, whether that’s FLASH, JAMES BOND, WALKING DEAD, TAKEN, EMERALD CITY, and again a couple of times it is just original storytelling, but for this pattern to be a constant over the last 20 years, then that is something else, that is programming.

 

So I’m always drawn to the shows that eschew these programming ploys, these repeated coded messages. So that is why I hold shows like LUKE CAGE in such high regard. A show where a man of color, a Black man, can be a hero and get the girl, full stop. It’s a rare concept in a mass media that is so racist it is not aware of how rare they have by design, made that concept.
Name me ten Dramatic shows (not comedies) on TV right now where a lead character of color, is in a successful healthy relationship with a female, particularly of another ethnic group. You’d be hard pressed to name 2. But you can name dozens upon dozens of shows that are cast and written the other way. Even though statistics tell us there are far more Black Male/White female relationships than White Male/Black Female relationships.
So why would the fiction of mass media be so contrary and completely out of sync with the realities of the populations watching those fictions? Because invariably the writers, who mostly are white males, propagate their limited definitions of diversity while also crafting their wish fulfillment, which usually breaks down to our White Hero is ‘so enlightened’ because he deigns to have a Black girlfriend, and the Black Girlfriend who has to throw herself at him.
Like I said, once or twice, it is original, however all the time, the same way, it is programming and it is insulting.

 

END OF ASIDE

Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE : POWER MAN brilliantly gave us something more than the programming we have been used to, showed us Netflix as a channel where more original and more truly DIVERSE stories could be told.

It left big foot prints for the next show, IRON FIST, to follow in.

And without expecting IRON FIST to be ground breaking, or anti- stereotype and ANTI programming, I did expect it to be good.

Unfortunately the first episode of IRON FIST suffers because its lack of action is not compensated for by rich and compelling characters, or evocative acting. Case in point… Ward and his father.

There is nothing more derailing to a narrative, than a weak antagonist, and unfortunately in Ward and his Father you have two very boring and uninteresting and cookie cutter antagonists. Ward came off as just a petulant child, a whiner, and whiners do not make for great TV.

The scene with Ward and his Dad discussing Danny Rand, rather than riveting is the definition of tedious. I had to look at the clock, to see how much time was left before I could watch something else.

That is never what you want to be doing when watching a show, looking at your clock.

So,  between the pacing issues, and the casting issues, and the uninteresting bad guys, I’m solidly unexcited to move on to the next episode. And that’s not an issue I have had with the previous shows.

I hope to work my way through the series and all the way to the end, and I hope I can report it gets great, but for the first episode all I can give it is a …

Grade: C-

 

Iron Fist Movie Poster

The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Kenneth Branagh or Marvel Studios Thor and Black Norse Gods!

Mavel Studios 2011 feature THOR, will be the latest film from director Kenneth Branagh, following up his 2007 film SLEUTH. SLEUTH met with uneven reviews at best, generally considered to suffer in comparison to the original.

I haven’t seen Branagh’s SLEUTH, and indeed have not followed a film by Kenneth Branagh since his 1996 film HAMLET. I consider Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 debut film, HENRY THE V, to be an undisputed masterpiece. It’s one of those rare debuts that is so good, that the rest of a filmmakers filmography can, if he is not careful, suffer in comparison.

It is a fate that befalls many a great director:

Orson Welles spent all his life in the shadow of the success of his first film, CITIZEN KANE.

Tobe Hooper has never quite crafted anything to rival, much less exceed the filmic power of his first film 1974’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Michael Bay who made himself a Hollywood Power, on the strength of the blockbuster success of his first film, 1995’s BAD BOYS, but arguably (while his films get bigger) he hasn’t yet made one better, than that early buddy film.

And that brings us back to Branagh. Following up his debut with DEAD AGAIN (Branagh’s most financially successful film to date. Nearly tripling its 15million Dollar budget, with its US take alone), PETER’S FRIENDS, and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (A theatrical hit, doubling its budget in US sales alone), all good films, but all paling in critical comparison to his first film, and then releasing his first unquestioned financial and critical failure in 1994’s FRANKENSTEIN (which in the years since has managed to recoup its cost in Worldwide sales).

FRANKENSTEIN is the kind of film that can easily end careers, however Branagh, being Branagh, follows it up with a beloved comedy A MIDWINTER’S TALE and his best film since his debut, the magnificent, audacious 4 hour magnum opus HAMLET.

Long before LORD OF THE RINGS sold America on extended length films, in 1996 Branagh, backed by three brave production companies (The now defunct Turner Pictures and Fishmonger Films, and the still swinging Castle Rock Entertainment) released this stunning production on an unprepared America (Distributed by Sony Films and Columbia Pictures) . It did Katherine Hepburn type business (critically acclaimed, but too high-faluting for middle America, the theaters that did show it, showing it in a butchered 150min print), which is to say it lost money theatrically.

However on DVD the film would gain a new life, and continues to be considered not just one of the most ambitious Shakespearean productions ever staged, but one of the best. You can make a strong argument for HAMLET being Branagh’s best film. And I think the more often you watch it, the better it gets. Though personally for me, HENRY THE V is the stronger film. Part of it being, it’s no fat on it, it’s gripping from beginning to end. That said HAMLET is a brilliant and strong film, and is deserving of all accolades, and is a very close 2nd.

It is obvious Branagh put his heart and soul into this film, and its theatrical failure was a clear disappointment and setback to the director, as he would not make another film for 4 years, the 2000 film LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. By all accounts a good film, but on a 13million dollar budget, the film would receive virtually no distribution, only being released in less than 200 screens in the UK, and only TWO SCREENS in the USA. Needless to say the film was a financial disaster.

Following this Branagh would not make another film for six years, 2006 ‘s AS YOU LIKE IT for HBO Films, and 2006’s THE MAGIC FLUTE (a French/Uk production, Branagh’s most expensive film to that time, at a reported 27 Million Dollars) both films, virtually unknown in the US, generating little theatrical business. Though both films, as well as LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST I’m in the process of acquiring the DVDs to, and viewing, as they all sound compelling.

So That brings us to 2007’s SLEUTH. Five different production companies, including Sony, an undisclosed budget, and Branagh coming off a string of Eight theatrical misses, and a piecemeal distribution schedule, the film did not have hit written over it, and unfortunately it wasn’t. Managing to gross only a sickly $343,000 in the US. And considering the actors involved the budget was most likely between 18 and 30 million dollars, the loss can only be called… staggering. Whatever its actual budget it’s clear the film was yet another crushing theatrical failure, Branagh’s 9th in a row.

With a budget of $150,000,000 Dollars Marvel Studios’ THOR is yet another of their very expensive super-hero franchise films, and kenneth Branagh has been chosen to helm it.

To date Marvel Studios, since taking over production in-house at the end of 2007 (with David Maisel as Chairman and Kevin Feige as Head of Production) , has been hitting all homeruns, starting with 2008’s Iron Man which grossed $319 Million domestically, followed by HULK in the same year, it was a powerful and successful one-two punch. Followed in 2010 by the equally successful IRON MAN II. 2011 year sees the release of the latest Blockbuster films from Marvel Studios: THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. At budgets of a $150 Million and a $140 Million respectively, no one is going to confuse these with cheap movies. And it is clear THOR is the one they are banking on , hoping to be this year’s IRON MAN.

Marvel’s choice of directors for both films is quite interesting.

Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Their choice of directors from day one has been unusual to say the least. Their choice of Jon Favreau to helm their first film, a huge expensive action blockbuster, IRON MAN, when Favreau’s filmography didn’t hint at the background to pull it off, had many people seeing a repeat of Tim Story and The Fantastic Four films (Which are better films than Story is given credit for, the issues being not directorial, but script and production). However Favreau steers the ship, creating one of the best films of the year, and duplicating his success with 2010s IRON MAN II. So not sure what made someone think Favreau could do the job, but they were correct. Or was it just a case of economics? Was Favreau the right price? Much like Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA, Favreau was coming off of a movie that was a theatrical disappointment.

While I personally was a huge fan of Joe Johnston’s WOLFMAN, it was a theatrical failure.

Could Marvel be selecting directors that have fallen on hard times, coming off theatrical failures, directors they can control? Directors that have name recognition among fans for films done early in their career, but have not been successful of late. This extends to Joss Whedon, that both the big screen and small screen, have been not exactly favorable to in recent years.

This way the studio gets a name director, but without the prima-donna stance that is typically the director’s right. An auteur as hired gun.

The only exception to this being Louis Leterrier, director of 2008’s Hulk, unofficially co-written and co-directed by Edward Norton. Leterrier coming to the table with a short filmography, but a filmography of films that make money domestically. Unfortunately THE HULK, which I found to be a great film due to what Norton and Leterrier brought to it, and tried to bring to it (the conflict between director/star and studio being well known), didn’t recoup its $150000000 cost domestically. But I see this as less supporting Marvel’s producer heavy style, and more indicating the flaws of handicapping your director/star.

I’m still waiting to see THE HULK director’s cut.

The least interesting part of the Hulk film was the 30 minute CGI fight at the end. What was interesting about that film was Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, the journey he took that character on. So the fact that Marvel Studios is quick to flex their producer muscles, and throw actors under the bus they deem difficult, ignores the fact that those actors may be difficult, beyond just monetary reasons (we’re not talking Terrence Howard here) but because they invest themselves in those characters, and they really deeply care. And in the case of Ed Norton, they may be completely right about how that character should be played.

Kevin Feige came out with a pretty scummy press release about Ed Norton back in 2010, trying to label him a troublemaker, and justify the studio’s, I feel, bad decision to replace him. Kevin later on stating they wanted basically a weaselly, simplistic Bruce Banner, who basically will just be there as a place holder for their CGI nonsense. In essense playing up what didn’t work about the previous two Hulk films, which was the Hulk, and discarding the thing that did, which was the heroism and humanity Ed Norton imbued the character of Bruce Banner with.

It is a bad decision by Kevin Feige and a bad decision on Marvel Studios part, and shows the first chink in their armor, the chink being a mentality of treating directors and actors as commodities that should obey, rather than as collaborators that should care. It’s a policy of hubris, that if not watched, will begin to chip away at the studios… successes.

Already in IRON MAN II you begin to hear the grumbling, and the diminishing returns of just special effects. Of just CGI. The film cost more than IRON MAN I and made less. A movie needs a heart. That means actors of the level of Ed Norton, who care enough to tell you when you can do better. And you need a head of production, who is not so full of himself, that he is actually capable of listening, and letting the director do what he is paid to do, which is make the decisions on set, and make the best film he possibly can.

Which, again, brings us back to Branagh.

I do think it was a great idea, recent films notwithstanding, to hire Kenneth Branagh for the THOR film.

For my money they could not have chosen a better director to get people excited about this film. Branagh’s name, and his Shakespearean Pedigree, brings an air of legitimacy, that will attract people with no interest in a comic movie. People who want more from their films than CG/Video game action.

I think Branagh can deliver that.

And the cast is beyond reproach. I too was a bit up in arms by the choice of Idris Elba as a Norse God. Nothing to do with his acting, it’s understood that Idris Elba is one of the best actors of his generation, but there was some, justifiable question, about a Black guy playing a Norse God.

But I’ve seen the trailer, and it’s not just Idris, there are Asian characters as well, they are going for a whole multi-cutural feel, and I had a chance to think a bit, and especially weighed against some extremely stupid, moronic comments I read online, I can see the casting making sense.

Some less than enlightened individual (I won’t credit him, because he is undeserving of credit) posted the following (his mistakes of spelling left in), regarding Kenneth Branagh and Thor:

“if he really loved the character and world of thor he wouldnt have casted Idris Elba as Heimdall. and dont give me all this racist crap everyone here always does. Heimdall is white, the actor should be white, Norwegians are white, do you know what ancient Norwegians called black people? NOTHING because they didnt know they [frick]ING EXISTED! so go bring on your hate ”

The problem with the above is it is written by someone who sees but poorly. But it helped, by its moronic and belligerent stance, clarify the problem I initially had with Idris’ casting. Yes Norwegians are white, and yes Norwegians were ignorant of Black people. But the film is not about Norwegians, it is about the Gods they worshiped.

I was hung up on this idea that Gods are extensions of the men that worship them. In short we make them up, so they should look like those who worship them.

But here in this fiction, Gods are real tangible things. Which means they are not extensions of the limitations of men, therefore our definitions of them, encompass them but poorly. And let us assume Gods are not as limited or ignorant as men. Let us assume the Gods the Norwegians prayed to, were real gods, of real colors, and that they were not ignorant. That they were the real spacefaring fact, behind the Norwegians flawed and biased fantasy, and the Norwegians being only human made in their own image… those who were not of their image.

Same way even today Hollywood portrays Nubian Queens with Elizabeth Taylor, or Black Scouts with John Wayne. Or for that matter the way churches still propogate the idea of a white Jesus Christ, of the straight hair and the blue eye, which goes contrary to his description in the bible. So let us assume the ancient Norwegians were as close-minded when recounting their tales of Gods and heroes as modern day man. Were as willing to whitewash the truth.

Now I’m saying all this without having read the script, or having seen anything more than the trailer, but just throwing out some ways the casting of Asiatics and Nubians could work.

So yeah, I can totally see that these Gods adopted by the ancient Norwegians, were not then, nor now, Norwegian. They were Gods, or Advanced Aliens ( The Trailer looks like they may be going for that), they don’t have Norwegian names, Norwegians adopted their names. and as such the multicutural cast works fine.

So if you go into the movie, with that perspective, it works fine. But I can definitely see how initially that casting, sans anytype of explanation like what I just gave you, could cause issues.

I personally have a bit of an issue, everytime I see a White person playing an Ancient Egyptian/Nubian. And I would have similar issues seeing a Black person playing a historical Norwegian. However if we accept my previous hypothesis that the Gods (Aliens) are not the men, and the Men are not the Gods, you know a nifty scifi explanation, then I can work with it.

Going back to Elba for a second and the heat he has been taking; he’s an actor, it is not his job to justify the roles he chooses to accept, it is his job to do those roles credit. And Elba has made a career of doing that job well.

So any questions, concerns shouldn’t be directed at him in the first place, but the filmmakers. And I’m confused why Elba is the only one getting heat. As I pointed out, he is not the only actor of color cast in this film as a ‘Norse’ God, however he’s the only actor to get any grief about it. So I would say… back off. Those issues need to be taken up with the producers, not the actors.

Anyhow, Marvel Studios, Branagh, I gave you guys a way to make this casting right for the complainers. You can put my check in the mail. 🙂

Okay I hope I’ve put that argument to rest.

I am looking forward to the THOR movie. Based on the trailer, and Branagh’s track record with the dramatic and Shakespearean I think it will be a good film, and I definitely think it will make money. At least as much as IRON MAN II. My only concern is the budget of these Marvel Studio’s films. I think with budgets of 150million and 200million, you have to do a lot more to make a sizeable return on that investment. I think from a business standpoint if they could bring these films in for 100million or under, it would take a lot of pressure off of needing the film to crack 300 million domestically.

Now the question is could they bring it in and still get the quality actors and directors, and special effects? Well Look at DISTRICT 9, that was done relatively affordably and it looks great. So I would think it can be done. Of course, I guess being backed by Disney these days, money is no object for Marvel Studios.

Though I tend to think extravagance, for extravagance sake, does not usually translate into great film-making. Look at TERMINATOR 3. Very expensive film at the time, pales in comparison to the first two films.

So in summation, very excited for a good THOR film, and more than that I’m excited for a strong showing from Branagh. Here’s hoping we get both.

The Crucifixion of Tim Story and The Fantastic Four

Today, five years after its cinema release, I finally got around to watching 2005’s FANTASTIC FOUR directed by Tim Story.

I have had the DVD for some time now, I got it as a gift, but based on a/ The across the board scathing reviews the movie had garnered and b/ the underwhelming sense that the cast and previews filled me with… I had no interest or intention of viewing this film/DVD.

I immediately put it online to resell. Fast-Forward a couple years, and the DVD hasn’t sold and is still taken up valuable space in my abode. I’m looking around for a DVD to make me feel halfway clean again after sitting through a particularly dire film, 1978’s extremely odd, THE MAFU CAGE (avoid).

So I unwrap the DVD of the FANTASTIC FOUR (still in its original plastic) pop in in, and prepare for some campiness just to wash away the MAFU CAGE.

Instead of a diversion, I find, much to my surprise quite an entertaining movie, with some indeed fantastic set pieces.

I found the film exciting, fun, action packed, well performed and well directed. None of which the vicious reviews would lead you to believe.

And yes the film does make changes to the source material, but that is a film’s right and to a great extent its duty. You want the comic, go read the comic (I’m a huge fan of the original Lee-Kirby run, as well as some of the books from the 70s, and definitely Bryne’s stories of the 80s), this is a movie and the adaptation is ultimately its own beast and must answer to different criteria and different expectations.

And that’s something this film does, and does well. Prior to seeing this film, I personally wouldn’t have cast Tim Story as Director, for the simple fact that it is directors more than anything else that defines a film for me, and while succesfull in BARBERSHOP, there is nothing in that pedigree that screams he could handle a huge budget Action/FX flick.

The same reservations extended to the cast for me. Particularly Jessica Alba, struck me initially as miscast for the pivotal role of Sue Storm.

And having seen the film I can now say both reservations were unwarranted. Jessica Alba isn’t the Sue Storm of the comics, just as the film’s Doom isn’t the Doom of the comics, etc. And you know what… that’s perfectly fine. Because the characters they do craft work very nicely in the confines of a summer movie Blockbuster. Jessica is hot and young, and she fills out a skin tight suit very well, and she’s equally adept at filling theater seats with the requisite warm blooded young guys. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And beyond that I thought she gave a good performance. True to this movie’s version of Sue Storm.

And the changes work for the story they want to tell. I really enjoyed the movie, it had some real wit to it, courtesy of Chris Evans in many scenes, and the story progresses briskly, and the action rousing and larger than life.

It was a fun, fun movie. Tim Story rising to the challenge (and make no mistakes that’s what it was… a challenge). Producers looking at his abiliy to quintuple BARBERSHOPS’s budget of $12000000, give him a budget nearly ten times of that for this movie, expecting lightning to strike again.

The problem with that is… its unlikely. It is the Peter Principle in effect. A director who is brilliant at bringing in a movie at one budget and one genre, taken out of his comfort zone and asked to repeat his success.

It’s quite frankly from the get-go a recipe for lack of consumer confidence. It is also a recipe for failure.

But to Tim Story’s and the casts credit, they pull it off, manage to make money with the film, and tell a tale that I found quite entertaining.

The 2007 FF followup, again subject to scathing reviews, and while that makes less money still manages to break even via domestic sales alone.

And getting back to the 2005 FF, the cast is great, particularly Chris Evans.

Unfortunately for Tim Story I think the damage is done. Per the Peter Principle he was advanced to his level of (assumed)incompetance, so now his star is in definite decline.

Which is a shame because I think with FF he showed he was a filmmaker of some versatility and would have liked to see a third film with this cast. He would have been better off bulding his reputation gradually rather than following the dollar into potentially a career ending couple of films.

You see that particular dynamic more and more, of the disposable director. Producers instead of getting an established director for these films, hire these video directors and untried directors, that they can get cheap, and if necessary use as a scapegoat should the pic not make the return expected.

Tim Story has become the focus point for I think undeserved negative reaction, to a film that end of the day I found far more enjoyable than such ‘celebrated’ flicks as SIN CITY or BATMAN BEGINS.

Final Grade on FF: C+/B-. It’s a good natured movie, with real heart. Performed and crafted by people with love, passion, and a little bit of fun. And I’ll take a movie like that over the cynical, brutal, pessimistic fare, that too many people equate with quality.

Heart, baby. The whole world is crying out for movies with a little bit of heart and a lot of fun, and this movie has both in spades. And that counts for a lot with me. And the DVD offeres a great commentary with the cast. It’s one thing to have not seen the movie, but to have seen the movie and not been able to enjoy it and have fun with it, as it is, for what it is, says sad things about the viewer I think, rather than the viewed.

Recommended Flick!