Welcome to my Interpretation
As a victim of the previous Fantastic 4 films, I have to say that I was rather looking forward to this remake. I enjoy superhero films and felt that the Fantastic 4 might work better with a younger cast. The teaser trailer had me excited and the full length trailer only added to my anticipation. I should probably mention, that while enjoying comic book based films, I have in fact never read a comic book. So seeing the new interesting storyline (which is probably not new if you have read the comics, I would imagine) gripped my attention.
I mean creating a machine to travel to another universe definitely sounds like an interesting concept to me. So you can imagine my disappointment when before even seeing the film reviews start appearing everywhere about how much of a let-down this film was: Comments suggesting that the 2015 remake actually makes the previous films seem good, didn’t fill me with confidence.
I don’t usually check reviews before I go to see a film but I simply couldn’t avoid them in this case and my excitement began to lower and lower with each review I read. But still, one bored day I decided that I may as well give it a shot and see for myself.
Duration does Matter
In my personal opinion, the film wasn’t as awful as I had expected based on reviews. I mean there are definitely issues that stand out. The length of the film being the main one as no section of the film is as long as it should be. Our brief introduction to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm are the closest thing to character development we get, which is saying a lot considering that the other two members of the Fantastic 4 may as well have had no previous life history at all.
I mean sure, Johnny Storm’s “bad boy” attitude is highlighted by the fact he takes part in street racing, which leads to our introduction of the awkward father/son relationship he has with his dad, but overall some dragged out character development would not have been a bad thing for this film. There are of course plenty of other positive and negative aspects to it, but one thing in particular stood out for me: The thin line between the good guys and the bad guys.
Who’s the Bad Guy?
Let me explain what I mean by this (although I imagine that I’m not the only one to have noticed this and in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this angle of the film wasn’t taken on purpose). Going into this film, most people will be aware the Victor Von Doom is the villain of the story and obviously the Fantastic 4 are the heroes. Like many previous heroes/villains, we expect there to be a very clear line between the two. As an example, we need only look to the previous Fantastic 4 films with their version of Doom (2005).
Similarly to Norman Osbourne in Spiderman (2002), the previous Doom starts to drift into his role as a villain after investors pull his funding. Murdering these people crosses him over the villain line, as does Harry Osbourne in The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014) when he is framed and kicked out of his own company.
The list could go on and on but I’m sure you see what I mean. In most cases, the villain is usually on the side of the shady government division, usually in order to become rich or moved into a position of power. On the opposite end of things, we expect the good guys, the heroes to be just that. So why is this not the case with Fantastic 4 (2015)?
Let’s look at Doom
In the first half of the film when we are introduced to Victor, we learn that he previously left the Baxter Foundation and set fire to their databases (or something along those lines) and Victor himself states that he doesn’t trust the employers of Dr Franklin Storm. This is taken a step further when discussing the use of this new world (Planet Zero) to save Earth when Victor states:
“Not that it deserves to be saved. I mean think about it, the people running the Earth are the same ones running it into the ground, so maybe it deserves what it’s got coming to it”.
It’s made clear early on that Victor does not have a huge amount of faith in humanity and the people pulling the strings. I mean it had been pointed out that Planet Zero may be in the same stages as an early Earth. Meaning there could be the possibility of life, especially with this crazy energy source it contains. However, the main moment that made me reconsider “Doom” as a villain, came just after the test run of the machine, when the group are informed that NASA will be the ones taking the first step in this other universe.
“Hey, why just NASA? Why not the army or the CIA? We could send our political prisoners there; waterboarding in the 5th dimension could prove very effective.”
A Villain who speaks out Against Water-Boarding?
To me, this doesn’t sound like your typical villain. I mean Victor is against the involvement of the Army and NASA and not even for selfish reasons, he in fact understands that bringing these agencies in could be a huge mistake. He understands that their involvement could be detrimental to people of Earth or more accurately: detrimental to enemies of the US and Western society!
I mean let’s face it, the CIA aren’t exactly the sort of people you want to have access to super human individuals, not to mention the ability to travel to other universes/dimensions. We are used to many of our villains being money or power hungry. Not worried about the rights of political prisoners.
It becomes even more clear that Victor is not a typical villain (if even a villain at all) when he first returns from Planet Zero. When asked by Dr Allen, one of the shady organisation members (or at least foot soldier) what sort of power he was shown there, Victor replies “The kind men like you must never possess”.
So the villain in this film is the one making the moral decisions on who deserves power and who doesn’t? Could any of us actually argue against him? He’s not claiming it as his power, he’s saying that a man who has repeatedly displayed a lack of morality should never have it.
After all it is Dr Allen who we see convincing Ben Grimm that his best friend has abandoned him and is never coming back. All before sending him on black-op kill missions and flaunting his success to a darkened room of generals and officials while also making the claim that in the end they would not only control planet Zero: but also Earth. Victor even tells Dr Allen “It’s not enough to ruin your world, now you want to ruin mine. If this world must die so mine may live, so be it.”
Only a Villain in the eyes of the real Villains
Of course the argument for Victor not being the villain becomes less valid when he attempts to destroy the Earth for the survival of the planet that he comes to call home…but is he perhaps all too aware of mankind’s destructive and reckless nature?
Given the points Victor makes throughout the film we know he doesn’t approve of humanity and it’s imagined rights to Earth. Not to mention that we have no idea what Planet Zero is. Is it one giant, living organism? There is every chance that the being we believe is Victor is in fact the planet’s energy using him as a host, or perhaps in a similar way to Venom in Spiderman, this thing magnifies certain personality traits as the two life-forms co-exist.
I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that Victor is the one of the four who dips his hand into the glowing, green energy saying “the energy, it’s alive!” He even describes it as being like a nerve. Victor is the one who makes physical contact. He is also the one literally grabbed by the energy when the team try to escape. It actually looks like it was reaching for him specifically. Was the planet choosing him? Had they made a connection?
Towards the end of the film we even hear Victor proclaim “There is no Victor, there is only Doom!” I’m sure this could be interpreted in many ways but I think the most likely explanation is that Victor is now one with this energy. Maybe it needed a physical host in order to unleash its power.
Perhaps Victor’s lack of faith in humanity (combined with a year of isolation while being physically and mentally invaded by an unknown energy) drives him to the conclusion that we have had our chance on Earth and now it’s the turn of his planet.
If this really is a Victor-energy combo and this green life force has some sort of consciousness, then isn’t it perhaps just defending its planet? If we assume that the two did combine. This life-force may have access to Victor’s memories and personality.
It would see the destruction that mankind did to its own planet; it would feel Victor’s contempt and hatred towards shady and untrustworthy organisations such as the ones now in control of the Baxter project. Wouldn’t you try to defend you planet if you thought these people were about to invade it? Victor the Defender sounds more appropriate in this case. Putting this aside for a moment, let us look at the Fantastic 4.
How Fantastic are the 4?
Upon escaping, we don’t learn a huge amount about what Reed gets up to, other than the suggestion that he was building a one man capsule to transport back to the other planet and of course the construction of his suit. However, we do get a good idea of what Sue, Ben and Johnny are up to during the year after their change.
While Sue seems to be trying to find a way to solve everything (through nudges from her father), Ben and Johnny seem a lot more content in their new jobs. Let’s assume that Victor is right in being suspicious of the “employers” of Dr Franklin Storm, which seems fairly accurate as they turn out to be some division of the army. Ben becomes a weapon; a human tank; a killing machine; completing assignments for this company with the understanding that they plan on helping him (although we never really find out why he puts his trust in them rather than his best friend).
We only see glimpses of the sort of activities Ben gets up to but without a doubt he kills many, many people. Johnny is also very keen to join Ben on these adventures and as we see, enjoys the challenge of blowing up drones.
So completing army contracts could of course be seen as a positive or negative thing, but I think most of us would agree that some shady American army division that likely has a similar role to the CIA is perhaps taking part in less positive missions.
We see “The Thing” ripping a tank apart before throwing it at a group of people where it then causes an explosion. We only have to look as far as “Operation Northwoods” to see how dangerous divisions of a government can be. The CIA is a perfect example of this. I mean think how chaotic our world would be today if the CIA had their hands on something similar to The Thing.
Besides, how fantastic are the Fantastic 4 if 50% of their team are completing military contracts for a sketchy division of the American government? Even if you view this organisation as being the good guys, you then have to deal with the fact that 25% of the Fantastic 4 are on the run from them out of distrust, while the other 25% doesn’t seem to want a huge level of involvement. I mean sure they do save the day at the end and in fact stop Earth from being sucked into some sort of wormhole that will lead to life on Planet Zero…and in the end they do cut themselves off from this shady organisation. But is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons really that heroic?
Was Victor Chosen?
I’ve been wondering to myself: why would the Planet Zero energy connect with Victor (assuming of course that that is indeed what happened) when there were three other candidates there? Was it simply because he touched it? I don’t think so. Let’s very briefly look at the 4 characters who took that “giant leap for mankind” to Planet Zero.
This is made more difficult by the poor character development within the film but anyway: First off we have Reed, the typical brain-box who from what we can see grew up in an average household with his mother and step-father. We don’t see much of them but what we do gather is that his genius is left unappreciated and his somewhat destructive inventions seem to annoy those he encounters. Typical tragic upbringing? Certainly not. If anything, he’s more like Sheldon Cooper.
For one thing he doesn’t grow up being a loner (at least after 5th grade) and as we see from his interactions with Sue, there is some sort of romantic element between them (Although this pretty difficult to see due to the lack of on-screen chemistry).
Next we have Johnny: while we get the feeling Johnny has been unappreciated by his father due the success of his adopted sister Sue, Johnny still has friends, he has money to build cars, he has a family and seems like a cheery fellow.
What about Ben? As we see Ben’s life, we get glimpses of a dysfunctional family with an abusive older brother and potentially an abusive mother who spend their days running a scrap-yard. Even Ben has Reed as a friend and while we don’t see much else from his life, he seemed to grow up fairly happy.
Finally, we have Victor: We first see Victor when Dr Franklin pays him a visit to convince him to join the team. He is living in a dark room behind a computer screen, CCTV cameras set up around his home and a rather sophisticated lock on his door. If this wasn’t enough to imply just how much of a loner Victor is, we have a glimpse into his past when he tells Dr Franklin “I was always alone.”
His feelings for Sue appear to be brushed off or non-mutual and nobody listens to his warnings about the government despite the later developments that highlight just how true they were. It seems to me that Victor is possibly the only truly moral member of the team (before the trip to Planet Zero at least) as he realised the dangers of providing governments with the ability to travel across dimensions.
He abandoned plans that would make him famous, successful and potentially rich because he knew what would happen should this technology fall into the wrong hands. He only re-joins the team when he realises that they have a new member who could finish his work. At which point all he seems to try and do is warn them of this shady government group. I think that IF we view the energy of Planet Zero as a life-force, it selected Victor not only because of his moral view on things but also because of sheer loneliness.
Is there a Conclusion?
I feel like this film can’t really decide the good guys from the bad guys. I mean we know that the Fantastic 4 are supposed to be the good guys and this film introduces the characters in such a way that you know they are villains. So who is the villain? Victor?
I guess that’s up to each of us to decide but if I had to choose a villain for this film, it would be the guys in the shadows, the organisation pulling the strings and sending ill and scared people out as kill-squads to obliterate targets who we have no information on.
I don’t believe Dr Allen to be some sort of mastermind but he is definitely involved and will have benefited from using The Thing like a walking tank. When it comes down to the final battle, the Fantastic 4 are just protecting their planet while Doom protects his planet. Are either of these really so evil?
I think that both sides are simply pawns in a larger game. None of them set out to benefit greatly from this mission, they didn’t want powers or riches they just wanted to go down in history. I also feel like if the group had actually listened to Victor earlier in the film then Ben, Johnny and Sue would have been more aware that they were working for a sketchy government agency.
I mean Reed had the right idea in bailing, he knew that the only way he could help his friends was out-with the prying eye of this group. They all think he abandoned them but the viewers know he was working on another machine. Would things have turned out drastically differently if Sue hadn’t found him? What if Reed had travelled to Planet Zero and found Doom and just talked to him? Could the Fantastic 4 have become the Fantastic 5?
Nearly at the End
I think it’s interesting to consider the possibility that this film could have been about a battle between a less traditional good and evil. In the end, it played out like a badly written superhero film but if they brushed on an idea that was certainly compelling: who is the bad guy?
There are times when we root for the villain or at least enjoy them as characters: Joker, Ultron, Loki, Joe Carrol, the dude from Psycho-Pass…I don’t think that’s what this is though. I don’t support Doom because he is a villain, I support him because he is the real hero and one of the view truly moral individuals within this film. I think the more interesting film would have been to flip this entire formula over on its head.
Imagine everyone going to see the film, expecting it to be another superhero film. Oh it’s the Fantastic 4 origin story and Doom is the villain. I’m sure we’re all compelled as to how this will end…when BHAM! The film starts throwing these suggestions to you that perhaps Victor isn’t all that bad. He’s against shady government operations, he shares moral objections to water-boarding and the destruction of Earth and other planets…hmm!
This would all then be taken a step further when the Fantastic 4 starts being a US-owned kill squad; Sent mission after mission to hunt targets that ware enemies of the US. Then they manage to make it back to Planet Zero but this time they have a technology that will drain the planet of its power, despite the fact it showed signs of being alive.
Just as they are ready to do so, through steps a protector, a guardian of the planet, a hero…Doom! We would see a battle between the two and come to the conclusion that while the Fantastic 4 aren’t evil, they were easily manipulated into doing evil deeds. Victor was the only one who stood his ground and followed his moral compass.
The superhero franchise could have had a bit of a shake-up and ultimately the film could have ended with Doom dying protecting his planet only for the Fantastic 4 to realise their mistake and shut down the project, with the film ending pretty much the same way it did.