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Posts Tagged ‘Stan Lee’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 4th 2005:

It’s getting so that summer at the movies isn’t summer at the movies without a movie with Stan Lee’s name on it having a massive day-and-date release. With the exception of 2001, every year so far this century has seen Stan The Man and his numerous fictitious progeny enjoying extended stays near the top of the cinema charts. We’ve had the X-Men, the Hulk, and Spider-Man (plus considerably less successful out-of-season appearances by Daredevil, Elektra, and the Punisher), but now Lee’s first and arguably most important creations get their moment in the spotlight – yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Fantastic Four, in a film by Tim Storey.

The film opens with the world’s most brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Yowain Griffiths1) and his sidekick Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) trying to get funding for his latest space mission. As NASA are understandably preoccupied with another attempt at inventing a double-sided sticky tape that works on thermal tiles, they are forced to seek help from billionaire tycoon Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon). Yes, Reed may be a scientific genius but he still can’t recognise someone who might as well have ‘destined to become a supervillain’ stencilled across his forehead. Anyway, Reed, Ben and Doom pop up to the latter’s private space station in the company of Reed’s ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her slightly annoying younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans – no, not that one, another one).

Before you can say ‘this is one superhero origin story that hasn’t aged especially well’ the station gets hit by a cloud of cosmic energy and all the inhabitants duly find themselves Fantasticised on their return to Earth. Ben is permanently transformed into a colossally strong being of living rock! Johnny can set fire to himself (this is more use than it sounds)! Sue can turn invisible and project invisible energy fields! And Reed can go a bit stretchy. Three out of four ain’t bad, I suppose. Of course, Doom also finds himself a changed man, although unfortunately the evil megalomaniac component of his personality is wholly unaltered…

A film of the FF has been a long time coming for the simple reason that until quite recently it would have impossibly expensive to do – back in the 60s, even a cartoon of the Four needed the Human Torch removing in order for it not to be impossible expensive to do! Now, of course, technology has caught up, and CGI is able to bring Mr Fantastic’s elasticated limbs and the Torch’s fiery sheath to the screen in fine style. Interestingly, the film opts not to create the Thing digitally, but rather through the old-fashioned method of putting Michael Chiklis inside what must have been a gruelling prosthetic make-up job. The result is not entirely authentic – Chiklis just isn’t big or rocky enough to pass for the classic comics Thing – but it does allow Chiklis to give a genuine, and actually rather affecting performance. Just as well, because this is a film built around performances rather than big set pieces.

What may surprise people used to the rather dour tone most comic book adaptations have adopted since Tim Burton’s first Batman is how light and breezy most of this movie is. With the exception of Ben, whose life is understandably messed up by his new circumstances, the Four have a rather jolly time, not bothering with tedious things like secret identities and spending most of their time in their spacious skyscraper HQ amiably squabbling. The film’s faithfulness to the source material is, up to a point, impressive and successful. This is a genuinely funny character-based film that touches most of the bases Lee and Jack Kirby covered in the comic – the characterisations of the Four are pretty much spot on, even down to Reed and Sue’s romance being a bit passionless and unconvincing.

However, the greatness of the classic Fantastic Four books came from the way they mixed wise-cracking sitcom characterisations (Lee’s forte, one suspects) with mind-boggling kitsch cosmic grandeur (Kirby’s stock in trade). Storey’s film has the former in spades but virtually none of the latter (it’ll be interesting to see how the planned sequel handles Galactus’ assault on Earth). This really leads to the film’s only weak link, namely its presentation of Doctor Doom. Bereft of his original origin (oh, good grief), powers, background, and (for most of the film) appearance, this is a very poor showing for a character who deserved much better (the comics Doom was a horribly maimed scientist-sorcerer, traumatised by the death of his mother, who chose to encase himself in armour and embark on a ruthless quest for power – it’s a miracle George Lucas didn’t get sued by Marvel). As it is Doom comes across as a poor amalgam of Magneto and the Green Goblin, who appears to go bad simply so the Fantastic Four can fight someone in the last reel.

But anyway, this is very solid stuff, at least as good as the first X-Men movie. Thoroughly enjoyable and a nice change of pace from most of the summer’s other movies, this isn’t quite the absolute delight it could have been, but it’s still well worth a look for comics fans and normal people alike.

(Another one for the ‘over-generously reviewed’  file, no doubt…)

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published  17th July 2003:

When it comes to the big, mega-profitable, summer event movie blockbusters, who would you say was the most influential man in Hollywood right now? Spielberg? Nah. His last few films have shown an edginess which, while welcome, is rather uncommercial. Lucas? Give me a break. The man’s head is wedged firmly up his own thermal exhaust port, and in any case, the original Star Wars owes a clear debt to the work of the real big cheese – octogenarian comic book writer Stan Lee.

My evidence? Four of the most financially successful action movies of the last year or so: Spider-Man, Daredevil, X2, and now the long-awaited adaptation of Hulk, directed by Ang Lee (no relation) – all of them fruits of a relatively brief period of extraordinary creativity for Lee, nearly forty years ago. Co-created, like the X-Men, with legendary artist Jack Kirby, the Hulk has always been the darkest, strangest, and most morally ambiguous of the big-name superheroes. The fame of the character, in the UK at least, is largely due to the TV series of the late 1970s, where a rather domesticated and wimpy Hulk travelled America as a kind of hitch-hiking social worker. Lee’s film returns to the original comics, with impressive results.

Hulk opens with a sequence set in the 1960s, as army scientist David Banner struggles to artificially augment the human immune and regenerative systems. Forced to test his work on himself, he is shocked when his wife gives birth to a son, Bruce, who possesses a unique genetic anomaly – and his attempt to rectify his mistakes will have tragic consequences for all three of them. Thirty-five years later, the now-grown Bruce Banner (played, slightly confusingly, by Eric Bana) is a civilian researcher in the same area, though unaware of his past – or that his girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly, once again playing the love interest to a genius with a split personality) has a distant connection to it. But Bruce is forced to confront his personal demons as his father (now played by Nick Nolte) reappears, and an accidental dose of gamma radiation leaves him rather green around the gills. And everywhere else…

This film has taken a fair bit of stick for being overly long and wordy and slow to get going. And to be totally honest, this is not entirely unfounded. It’s over half an hour before the Hulk puts in an appearance, and prior to this it is quite talky, with Ang Lee seemingly obsessed with close-ups of lichen growing on rocks. This is nothing like as faithful an adaptation of the comic as, for example, the Spider-Man movie, but given the extent to which the Hulk changed in the early years of his career this was probably inevitable. It’s to the script’s credit that nearly all the regular characters from the early books appear (no sign of Rick Jones or the Grey Hulk, though) and it wholeheartedly adopts the psychological take on the relationship between Banner and the Hulk which Peter David brought to the comic in the early 1990s. This is why the film takes its time to begin with – establishing Banner’s character and inner turmoil is crucial to the story it wants to tell.

But once the Hulk does appear, things pick up pace rapidly. This is the real deal, the comic-book Hulk – all the movie retains from the TV show is the iconic ‘Don’t make me angry…’ line, and even this is given an arch twist. (Oh, and TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno cameos alongside Stan Lee himself near the start.) The CGI Hulk is hugely impressive, both in the action scenes – demolishing redwoods during a startlingly brutal fight with irradiated pit-bulls, casually ripping tanks apart, leaping miles at a time – and in the quieter moments when he confronts Betty or his father. It’d have been nice if the big guy had been given more dialogue, but I suppose you can’t have everything. (The perennial question of ‘Why does the Hulk’s shirt fall off but not his trousers?’ is also sort-of addressed, a source of much sniggering during the screening I attended.)

The film stutters a bit in its closing stages. Clearly recognising the similarities between the Hulk and Godzilla – both the result of accidents with radiation, both slightly morally ambiguous, both very bad news for insurance companies – the film-makers give him an opponent worthy of his mettle in the final reel (the lack of which was one of the main flaws in the Emmerich Godzilla of five years ago). Without wishing to spoil it too much, the villainous character is essentially new, but his superpower should be very familiar to long-time comics fans. However, his actual agenda and motivation are rather unclear and – while undoubtedly spectacular – the actual battle is too brief and poorly lit to be really satisfying.

This doesn’t detract too much from a satisfyingly meaty and intelligent action movie. All the main roles are solidly played – with the possible exception of Josh Lucas’ slightly hammy performance as Banner’s rival Glen Talbot – and Ang Lee directs with impressive pace and energy, using split-screen and a range of imaginative cuts and wipes to great effect. This possibly isn’t a movie to take small children along to see, as it is a slow starter and what humour there is is subtle and quite black – but with its brooding intensity and emphasis on characterisation it fully does justice to the source material. Now all we need is for the Hulk to fight Wolverine in the sequel, and a spin-off starring Michelle Rodriguez as the She-Hulk, and I can die a happy man.

Another one for the ‘rather over-enthusiastic and over-generous’ file, I fear…

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