Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fantastic Four - It's Not


Fantastic Four (2015) Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson. Directed by: Josh Trank. Screenplay by: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank. Based on Fantastic Four comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Produced by Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Hutch Parker, Robert Kulzar, Gregory Goodman. Run Time: 100 minutes. U.S. Fantasy, Science Fiction.

The summer of sequels and reboots continues with Fantastic Four, a reboot of Fantastic Four (2005), which, while a commercial success, was still considered a critical disappointment when it was first released. The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is that the original film is "Marred by goofy attempts at wit, subpar acting, and bland storytelling, Fantastic Four is a mediocre attempt to bring Marvel's oldest hero team to the big screen." The films initial financial success could be due in part to the fact that superhero films were still in their infancy. The MCU would not kick into gear until 2008, so it was easy to stand out when there wasn’t a glut of product and audiences were obviously hungry for these types of movies.

Things didn’t seem like they could get worse, but that film’s sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) would only be considered a bigger disappointment with it’s over the top product placement and even lamer story. It says something when a franchise has to be rebooted within eight years, but it really says something that this reboot makes 2005’s and 2007’s disappointments look better by comparison.

The opening weekend of the reboot was so disappointing, that a planned-for sequel was cancelled, as home studio, 20th Century Fox, talked financial write down in the wake of its $26.2 million opening; the original opened at more than twice that amount, $56,061,504, and last I looked ticket prices had only gone up in the meantime. So bad were the reviews and the word of mouth that I felt compelled to see what all the noise was about. Having now seen it in a theater, I can say that the new Fantastic Four is not the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it actually made me long for the original film, something a reboot shouldn’t make you do.

The Fantastic Four are made up of Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Johnny Storm/Human Torch, Susan Storm/Invisible Woman and Ben Grimm/Thing and no doubt grew out of the space race the U.S. and then U.S.S.R. were engaged in at the beginning of the 1960’s. The comic was first published in November 1961 and the ill effects of cosmic rays, which is what transformed the four into heroes, reflected the real concern of the unknowns of space travel, an era which was already underway with the launch of Sputnik, Cosmonauts and Mercury Astronauts. The original film updated the premise, but still retained the idea of the dangers of space.

Fantastic Four has now been reborn as a politically correct, scientifically challenged mess of a story. There is enough mumbo jumbo science to fill a library. A good science fiction film should lay down a plausible, if not realistic, basis from which to operate; I’m afraid this one doesn’t even really try. Nothing is really ever explained as to what really caused their transformation, only some strange gloppy energy that looks more like nuclear waste than anything else.

Even the politics don’t seem right and I’m as skeptical as the next when it comes to the workings of our Federal government. Forget Victor von Doom as the villain, the government is in the form of Dr. Harvey Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), a significant character that is drawn as sketchy as any I’ve seen in recent memory. His role shifts from venture capitalist to government stooge seamlessly, with his real purpose only to be the foil of all that is supposed to be good. (Now there’s a job description.) He easily corrupts Thing into a war machine, but the others prove harder and all are disposable after they’ve filled out his evil score card.

In an attempt to be politically correct, the movie offers up a Black Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), but keeps his sister, Susan Storm (Kate Mara), White. Instead of blood siblings, the movie gets around it with a few throwaway lines about her being adopted. Nothing against the actors, but I am not a big fan of changing characters to be politically correct. (Make new superheroes rather than altering existing ones.) But why stop there? Why not make Susan Black as well? Were the producers hedging their PC bet? It comes off as a really stupid idea that is not even carried out as fully as it should have been.

And I know they like to skew films to attract younger audiences, but I think these characters are too young. We get the impression, based on the timeline the film sets down, that Reed (Miles Teller) is like a freshman in college. In the original, I felt like these were people who had lives and their transformation would not only affect them, but others as well. Here, I get the feeling that this is more a redirection of their career paths, if they even had one. Ben (Jamie Bell) is sort of a tag along that gets transformed into Thing because he answered his cell in the middle of the night. And he seems to be the one who most easily accepts the transformation, even though he has no pants or genitalia as a result.

The biggest problem though with the film is its timing. Way too much time is spent before we get to the action. Watching people build something does not make for great entertainment and the generic montage of the crew getting to be friends while they work is as old as Methuselah. If you find yourself looking at your watch, you are not alone. The film doesn’t really get going until the last third and by then it’s too late.

The true comic book villain, Doom, is one of those so formidable that he seems unstoppable, which is always a mistake. We see Victor easily dispense with the petty humans, like Dr. Allen, but he doesn’t use the same tried and true method on the Fantastic Four, which makes no sense. It is a shame that the film dispenses with what had been a recurring villain in the comics so early in the “franchise”. It makes you wonder what they would have done in the sequel.

And the Fantastic Four, which are not named until the very end, seem to be going into industry rather than superhero work, demanding and getting from the government a top secret facility that they can use for their own purposes. To paraphrase Susan’s demand, whatever they develop belongs to them. What do superheroes make anyway? I know Iron Man is an industrialist before he’s transformed, but then he handed over the day-to-day running of the business to someone else.

What could the film’s producers have imagined for a sequel, more building? We don’t want to overlook the exciting blueprint sequence or the thrilling RFP process. And were they going to bring back the Silver Surfer, which was a mistake the first time around? Thankfully we’ll never have to find out.

While I can’t recommend the original Fantastic Four or its sequel, I would say the new one was better avoided all together.

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