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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fantastic Four

I blame Josh Trank.

Incidentally, I do go through the plot of the film from beginning to end, pretty much, so this isn't technically as spoiler-free as my usual reviews. That said there is absolutely nothing about the plot that could actually spoil this for you. Fantastic Four is so bad, it really is quite beyond anything as simple as spoilers. Frankly, the only way you could spoil this film for yourself is by actually going to see it.

Also, if you're looking for a dispassionate, professional review, I'm afraid you're going to have to look elsewhere. Things are going to get ranty and fast... 

It's only been a few days since the Fantastic Four reboot hit US and UK screens and already I feel like I'm just piling on to all of negativity that greeted the film by fans, casual movie goers and critics alike. What can I do though, Fantastic Four really is that bad.

It's so bad, in fact, that walking out of it, it's hard not to look back at the 2005 Fantastic Four film and its Silver Surfery sequel with a newfound appreciation. Sure, those films were excessively cheesy, cheap-looking and lacking in the imagination and wonder of the comics at their best but at least it had a sense of lightness to it, a sense of fun, and characters that were at least partially faithful to their comic book counterparts. Yes, Jessica Alba was a terrible choice to play Sue Storm (I like Alba fine in other stuff but she was way miscast there) and Dr Doom was just an unholy mess from top to bottom but, even then, the 2005 version is still leagues ahead of what the current version does to these characters - and the poor actors playing them.

The plot this time goes back to retelling the origins of the Fantastic Four, only this time spending a good hour of the film's fairly brief one-hundred-minute running time on the lead up to our heroes (and villain) getting their powers. The characters are younger this time, as the film draws heavily from the reimagined Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, and they earn their powers by travelling to another dimension, rather than into space but the basic gist is much the same. Except it's not. Though it was actually a smart move to base their origins in inter-dimensional, rather than space travel, as the original origin was very much a product of the early 1960s - as the Apollo missions were only getting started - and there's nothing inherently wrong with having younger actors for these parts, this protracted origin story feels off right from the word go.

It might seem unfair to quibble about the film not being faithful to the source material, as it should be entirely feasible that you can make a perfectly good superhero film that is largely divorced from the comics, but if there's one thing that decades of superhero films have shown us, it's that the best DC- or Marvel-based superhero films stick very closely to their comic book counterparts. Small details can be changed, sure, but the best superhero films keep the basic feel, characterization and themes of the original comics.

And, boy, does Fantastic Four (2015) prove this. The interesting thing about the FF, you see, is not the building of the space ship that would take them to their weird fate but it's about what happens when they actually get their powers. It's about their brilliantly conceived family dynamic; it's about the double-edged sword of their powers that grant them great abilities but, in Benn Grimm's case at least, make them outsiders to the rest of humanity and it's about the endless parade of incredibly imaginative, colourful and wondrous adventures that finds our heroes/ adventurers hurtling through space-time and facing a wild assortment of adversaries and allies. The Fantastic Four, as written by Stan Lee and illustrated by the incomparable Jack Kirby, is nothing less than the book that started off the Marvel Age of superheroes; a groundbreaking, game-changing title without which we most probably wouldn't have had Spider-man, the Avengers or the X-Men.

And absolutely none of this is reflected in this dour, humourless and grey-toned drag of a film. Spending nearly two-thirds of the film on the construction of the bloody dimension-hopping machines is a befuddling judgement call in and of itself (as is the pointless fifteen minutes we spend with young Reed and Ben) but what really rankles is that director Josh Trank and screenwriters Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg (all three of whom really should know better) don't use this opportunity to explore these characters and their relationships. We have a quite excellent cast all round, but not one of them have anything to work with. And the less said about the chemistry between them, the better.

So, that's one crucial failing of the film. Here's another. Once the endless faffing around finally comes to an end and Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) finally head off to the other dimension (not Sue Storm (Kate Mara) though because obviously the woman stays at home!) and they all get their powers/ mutations (including Sue Storm, because... just because!), the film doesn't exactly pick up speed. It just becomes really, really, really mopey. And really, really, really boring.      

Trank does get the tragedy of the Thing (the rock monster formerly known as Ben Grimm) but he also makes him a tool of the military who has forty-seven kills to his name. Yup, your "ever-long, blue-eyed" Thing has 47 kills to his name! Meanwhile, we have Reed, who buggers off and leaves his friends in the hands of the military as he wanders the world doing... stuff. Reed Richards could be a bit of a bastard so it's not exactly entirely out of character but it still feels mostly pointless. As for the Storm siblings (yes, Johnny is black in this incarnation - not sure why, but whatever) they mostly confine themselves to this military base, with Johnny occasionally getting called up for a mission. Daring adventures and fun team dynamics? Don't be silly. And, yes, there's a one year jump in there, as well. Though that's mostly about jumping from one bout of moping to another. So, again, what's the point?

Oh, wait. The point is Doom. That's right, with something like fifteen minutes left of the film, Doom shows up, complete with nonsensical character motivations, nonsensical powers and a truly hideous redesign. He's been living in the alternate dimension since they all thought him dead and he returns to earth to bring his former colleagues back to his new home world... for some reason, which he wants to, I don't know, rule or something? It's never exactly clear. Or maybe I just didn't care. Either way, it's super duper lame, which only gets lamer as the FF finally join together to stop him - which they do in roughly five minutes by, uh, throwing stuff at Doom and his Evil Portal of Whateverness. They then go back to the military base before being relocated to the Baxter Building in New York! No, wait, not New York. Why would you put Marvel's First Family in their hometown of fifty years, when you could put them in some weird, isolated forest place instead? At this point, who knows and, really, who cares.      

It's just so, so bad. And not bad in a laughably crap Batman and Robin kind of way, either. Bad in a Catwoman way. Bad in a way that's technically terrible, horribly disappointing, mind-numbingly boring and disrespectful to truly great characters (and, again, the great cast that are stuck playing them), all at the same time. It's not offensively bad, I suppose, in the way that something like That's My Boy was, but that's about as nice as I can be about it.

Oh and by the way, I know that Josh Trank has laid all the blame at the feet of Fox Studios. Here's the thing, though: while I have no doubt that Fox meddled with the final product (it's what studios do), the idea that there's anything good buried somewhere in this film, and that Josh Trank is merely a victim of an unfair system, just stinks of bullshit to me. Especially since right from the off, Trank boasted about how un-Fantastic-Four he was making his Fantastic Four film to be - a boast that been more than borne out by the final, stinky product; studio meddling or no studio meddling.

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