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A collage of stretching powers in live-action media, featuring Rita Farr in Doom Patrol, Reed Richards in the 2005 Fantastic Four, Ralph Dibny in The Flash, Michael Jordan in Space Jam, Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel, and Lash in Sky High. Graphic: Pete Volk/Polygon

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Stretching powers in live action: gross or cool?

A definitive categorization across live-action movies and TV

We’re not going out on a limb to say this: Every example of super elasticity (also known as “stretching” powers) in live-action media falls into one of three categories — gross by accident, gross on purpose, or actually cool. While stretching powers can look awesome in comic books or in animation, it’s very difficult to make them look cool in live action due to all the... skin. This is just science, as Reed Richards would tell you.

With Ms. Marvel now streaming on Disney Plus, what better time to revisit the storied history of superpowered beings stretching their bodies in all sorts of odd ways? Kamala’s powers in the show are quite different from her powers in the comics, but some elasticity elements still carry over.

At the risk of sticking our neck out, Polygon’s team of expert elasticity scientists have categorized the following 11 examples of live-action super-stretchers. Enjoy.

Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel)

Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel throws a big stretchy punch made out of faceted hard light, inside a room decorated for a wedding in Ms. Marvel. Image: Marvel Studios

Truthfully, I was skeptical when I found out the Disney Plus show would be diverting a bit from Kamala’s comic book powers. But as we’ve seen many, many times before (and as you’re about to see below): Most of the time, stretching skin in live action just looks really gross! Going instead with a starry, crystallized aesthetic for her powers helps build a layer of removal from stretchy skin, and still allows Kamala’s embiggened limbs an opportunity to shine. —Pete Volk

Verdict: Actually cool!

Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four 2005)

Mr. Fantastic opens a door with his stretchy arms in Fantastic Four. Image: 20th Century Studios

Of all the much-maligned Fantastic Four adaptations, the 2005 one is probably the most “fine.” Attempting to follow the goofy but earnest path of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise (but lacking in its strong character themes), Fantastic Four (2005) isn’t sacrilegious so much as just kind of boring. And I would argue that it captures the stretchy comic book hero quite well for the following reason:

Even in comics, stretch heroes are GROSS as HELL, and there’s no getting around it. You cannot morph the human form in that fashion and not slip over the border into the Uncanny Valley, as the multitude of long-limbed monsters of urban myth (gray aliens, Slenderman, etc.) will attest. FF (2005) doesn’t try to lean in to how gross Mister Fantastic is at all times, or to disguise it. Instead, it just has fun turning him into a water slide mid-combat sequence. —Susana Polo

Verdict: Gross and cool!

Mr. Fantastic (Fantastic Four 2015)

Miles Teller unstretches in Fantastic Four. Image: 20th Century Studios

Oh, wow. Those muscle contractions are visceral. This movie was kind of a disaster, but at least that sequence above hits the mark. It helps to have your gross stretching sequences in medical situations! Put the rest in sleeves, gang. —PV

Verdict: Gross on purpose.

Elongated Man (CW-verse)

The Elongated Man elongates his arm to shake Barry Allen’s hand. Image: CW

The Flash has absolutely played up the gross factor of Ralph Dibny’s uncomfortably long limbs, with many jokes at his expense. But the depths of grossness with this character don’t always match the aesthetic of the breezy show, and JUST LOOK AT THAT BABY-DOLL HAND. WHAT IS THAT? WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS? HAS GOD ABANDONED US?!?! —PV

Verdict: Gross, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident.

Rita Farr (Doom Patrol)

Rita Farr stretches her fingers in Doom Patrol Image: HBO Max

Doom Patrol is a show all about bodies and our relationships to them, and Rita’s character arc is one of the more evocative examples of this. As a former Hollywood starlet, Rita is very attentive to her self-image, and her occasionally uncontrollable elasticity is something that often gives her more trouble than anything else. The show uses these powers effectively to show this, especially when her face changes shape in response to an emotional trigger. —PV

Verdict: Gross on purpose.

Lash (Sky High)

Lash does a stretching somersault in Sky High. Image: Disney
Lash stretches his arm out to ask for money in Sky High. Image: Disney

Props to the Sky High team for coming up with a solution to the unnerving sight of stretching skin: audacious sleeves! Bonus points for the stripey mid-2000s edgy-boy sleeves. —Petrana Radulovic

Verdict: Actually cool!

Ezekiel and/or Love Sausage (The Boys)

Ezekiel stretches on stage in The Boys Image: Prime Video

The Boys is all about grossness, reaching new heights in that particular department this season. Back in the first season, part of that grossness came through the character of Ezekiel. He’s the rare “gross two ways” character on this list: Ezekiel is a hypocritical anti-gay Christian fundamentalist while being a closeted gay man himself, and his stretching powers are heavy on the flesh and look absolutely unsettling. There’s also Love Sausage, who has similar powers that are... focused on one particular body part. —PV

Verdict: Gross on purpose.

Eugene Victor Tooms (The X-Files)

Eugene Victor Tooms stretches in The X-Files Image: FOX

Eugene Victor Tooms, an infamous villain in the very first season of The X-Files, stands out on this list as the rare stretchy villain. He’s supposed to be scary and gross, and guess what: He is! —SP

Verdict: Gross on purpose.

Noodles (We Can Be Heroes)

Noodles from We Can Be Heroes stretches his head feet in front of his body and then runs to catch up. Image: Netflix

This is in fact so unnerving that “gross on purpose” was considered, but this child is clearly supposed to be adorable. —PR

Verdict: Gross by accident, on account of all the flesh.

Michael Jordan (Space Jam)

Michael Jordan dunks in Space Jam Image: Warner Bros.

I had to think about this one, because it is so very gross that it feels difficult for it to be an accident. However: This is the climax of the movie, as Jordan embraces the absurdity of Looney Tunes basketball and finally carries his team over the Monstars, and as such this moment is very clearly supposed to be cool. Instead, the man’s arm looks like angel hair pasta. —PV

Verdict: Gross by accident.

Gonzo the Great (Muppet Treasure Island)

Gonzo’s flailing, stretched limbs in Muppet Treasure Island. Image: Disney

Yes, Gonzo has stretched outside of our defined categorizations, but that’s because Gonzo is undefinable. Gonzo is an enigma. Gonzo is the moment. Gonzo has... octopus limbs? —PV

Verdict: Absolutely flipping adorable!

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