What seems like a ludicrous proposition nowadays, there was a time when the bigger names of the comic book world weren’t as represented on the cinema screen. Sure, some characters found popularity on T.V. but usually, it was tent pole characters, like Batman and Superman, that got big releases. Even supergroups like the Avengers were largely unheard of, nor were the prospects of The Fantastic Four. All that changed in 1994, when the likes of Roger Corman swiftly and cheaply tell the still technically untold tale of The Fantastic Four.
Best buddies Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom are two bright scientists until a freak comet experiment perishes Victor one day. Reed continued his work and ten years later takes the Storm siblings, and buddy Ben Grim into space attempting to harness the comet’s power once again. When a vital component of the ship is pilfered by The Jeweller, the four are imbued with superpowers upon returning to Earth. It also turns out Victor Von Doom’s death has been greatly exaggerated, and now he wants revenge and all the power of the four for one man. It will take a team united to stand up to this mechanical monarch.
Whether the film’s existence was purely to beat the copyright clock, like other films in a profitable franchise, is debatable. However, it is the first time that it felt challenging to find a copy, yet the film even made it out and got to see the light of day is something to celebrate. If you can stomach the onyx technicalities to seek the film, despite never being officially unreleased, footage can be found in some surprising places, if you know where to look. This introduction does set up the characters, but does so with a fraction of the budget, and relatively swift too. It also does a great job of introducing the villains, even the ones outside the confines of the comic book. Most notably, The Jeweller, an original creation for the film feels partly inspired by Batman Return’s Penguin, yet shares similarities to other Fantastic Four characters.
From retrospectives dedicated to the controversy, It seems the cast was unaware of the film’s undesirable status. You can see them put their heart and souls into the performances, and it feels unfortunate that such effort would be coldly shelved. Outside the acting, an orchestral accompaniment accents the film and in an era where scores can get lost in the background, it is pleasing to have one so substantial to the action. While it is debatable how complete the leaked film is, but the effects are quite impressive even if the film was unfinished.
The quasi-legality of the film is unfortunate, as it offers a really fine telling of the origins of the four. It sets up a competent cast with ample opportunities that could be explored, with sequels, and spin-offs, a whole decade early. It also shows off what can be achieved, with fewer resources, crafting a worthy origin, that is both visually and sonically interesting (despite its limited scope). Cursed by its circumstance, but as a jumping-off point for the Four and into the wider world, you could say that its legacy is indeed fantastic.
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