These days I don't often read tie-in novelizations of upcoming films, preferring to wait and experience the actual movie, which most would agree is probably the best way to discover a story designed for the screen. But novelizations can often be fun, and this one was written by the talented comic book writer Peter David (who adapted the film script written by three other folks), so I figured I'd give it a whirl.
Sadly, if the movie sticks close to the story in this paperback, it will end up being a wasted opportunity to bring something great to the screen. In the comments that follow, I'll discuss this book, but I'm really talking about the movie on which the book is based.
Overall, Mr. David does his best to make the story work in book form, toning down idiotic sight gags (yes, Reed Richards gets kicked in a sensitive place by Ben Grimm when Reed tests Ben's reflexes with a little hammer blow to Ben's newly-rocky knee), but in the end two adjectives come to mind to describe this story: silly and thin.
What's depressing is that this is the Fantastic Four, the title that established Marvel Comics' famous formula of heroics combined with melodrama, where the heroes can save the world one issue but not be able to make its lease payment on their headquarters the next. Where wonderment and imagination permeated every issue of the original FF comic book no matter the personal dilemmas taking place. Other movies should be looking in reverence to the Fantastic Four movie to see how a super-hero movie should be done. Sadly, though, it's probably a good idea that other films don't emulate this one. Because this Fantastic Four movie, based on what's in this novel, doesn't trust its own pedigree, and instead cynically includes touchstones from our "popular" culture to make the story more "approachable".
It's not amazing enough that Johnny Storm can burst into flames and roar through the skies. No, we better have him first discover his powers while snowboarding with a hot nurse, catching fire while gaining speed on his board. Then, the next time he displays his powers, it's while participating in an X-Games/Extreme sports tournament, bursting into flames while doing stunts on a cycle. I can almost hear the story conference: "What do the kids like these days? I got it, snowboarding and all that Extreme sports stuff. Let's work that in somehow." Since when does the FF need the latest hip & trendy gimmicks to sell what they're all about? Did the X-Men movie need to do this? Did Spidey? Why did the producers feel the need to "help" the FF this way?
The Dr. Doom stuff is okay, but just so, well... thin. Doom is nothing at all like the classic villain in the FF comics. Here, he's just a guy who's mad at Reed Richards for frustrating his attempts to make money from the cosmic storm experiment, and for wooing Sue away from him. These are believable motivations, but not very interesting ones. And having Doom slowly turning into a being of metal, ala the X-Men's Colossus, was a needless change. Doom's "superpower" was always his intellect. Insane intellect, but intellect. And why NOT keep him as the monarch of the fictional Balkan country of Latveria? There are tons of examples of male monarchs in recent history (Prince Rainier, for one), monarchs who studied in the U.S. during their formative years and could have met a Reed Richards type and established an uneasy friendship. Then Reed could have went to his friend- now a monarch in Europe- and asked for funding for the cosmic ray experiment. But here Doom is just a boring Donald Trump type, with a little scientific knowledge. Hey, I know super-hero movies need to make some changes from the original comics source material, but why take out great, entertaining aspects of the original material and replace them with watered-down stuff?
I could go on and on, but I'll just make one or two more quick observations: Picturing Jessica Alba as I read this novelization, I began to feel that she is much too glamourous for the role of Sue Storm. I have no problem with her being in the movie, but she would have been better off as one of Johnny's girlfriends. Or better yet, as Alicia Masters. Wouldn't that be a kick... the monstrous Thing's girlfriend geing hotter than any of the women following Johnny around? It would add an interesting subtext to Ben's and Johnny's friendship, his secret jealousy of Ben's girlfriend. But, no, they went for a much simpler and less interesting idea: let's make Sue really hot.
To end on a positive note, there's a pretty good battle at the end in the streets of New York (though it doesn't really do anything new), and, earlier, a nice scene in a planetarium between Reed and Sue, as they begin to reach out to one another. And, without revealing too much, the producers leave things open for the return of Dr. Doom in a sequel, a Dr. Doom much closer to the conception of the character in the comics. We'll see.
But, in the end, and just from reading the novelization, I'd give the story a C/C- (readable but nothing special) and the characterizations a B/B+. And, who knows, if they don't junk up the movie with too much rock music, and the Extreme sports stuff doesn't take center stage TOO much, we may still have a watchable movie that will permit the production of a better sequel.
Oh, one final thought: none of the criticisms mentioned above are Peter David's fault. He didn't write the movie, only this novelization of it. He remains an entertaining writer who did his best here, though one gets the feeling he wrote some scenes through gritted teeth, and refused to fully embrace those scenes containing especially heavy doses of dumb-ness. But I don't think anyone will hold that against him. After all, most people agree with the old saying that says (paraphrased in a less vulgar way here) there are certain things that simply can't be polished.