Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Fantastic Four (2015)" Review: You Know You Are In Trouble If There Isn't Even A Stan Lee Cameo


Back in 2004 when the first Fantastic Four movie came out filmmakers, movie studios and audiences alike were struggling to determine what exactly made a good superhero movie. That helps identify many of the problems that first film and its inferior sequel faced. But now over a decade later that puzzle has been solved (thank you Marvel) and we have a bevy of superhero films, franchises and even television shows as examples of how to do it right. Riding on the co-tails of the many successes Marvel has achieved, 20th Century Fox has decided it was time to revisit the Fantastic Four and try to get it right this time. Well, have you heard the phrase the third time is the charm? Sadly that isn't the case here, but the results aren't nearly as devastating as you have been led to believe. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 40 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox Pictures
Release Date: August 7, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Josh Trank's directorial debut 'Chronicle'
Likes: Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara
Neutral:  Miles Teller
Hates: The first two Fantastic Four movies
Josh Trank got fired?: After hearing about this disaster Disney quickly cut all ties with Trank who was supposed to direct one of the Star Wars films.


Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been searching for the answer to human teleportation his entire life. Starting with a machine he built as a child from spare parts found in his good friend Ben Grimm's (Jamie Bell) scrap yard he has made great strides over the years in developing the technology for his greatest lifelong achievement. But it isn't until Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathy) takes notice of Reed and Ben's device at a school science fair that they get a real shot at creating their machine. Joined by peers Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and the other man who devised the same technology as Reed only at a much younger age Victor Von Doom (Kebbel), the quintet of young geniuses proceed to construct an inter-dimensional transportation device that they believe will lead to Earth's salvation but in reality leads them to their individual fates.

Josh Trank burst on to the scene back in 2010 with the small independent film Chronicle which still stands as one of the only successful implementations of the found footage genre to date and was a pretty darned good superhero movie to boot. What made the film something truly special was Trank's unique take on the superhero genre which blended a surprisingly amount of emotional depth with all the bells and whistles we have come to expect from the genre. His focus was squarely on this tight bond that had formed between these three friends and how this unspeakable power that was bestowed upon them proceeded to tear them apart. With this, Trank's feature film directorial debut, he had already displayed not only his prowess behind the camera but also a firm understanding of keeping the focus on his characters even when the usual instinct would be to blow stuff up.


It's then easy to understand how that single film along with its financial and critical success landed Trank the job at 20th Century Fox for the long awaited reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. The overriding theme of the Fantastic Four comic book series had always been of family and how sticking together made each of them stronger and more capable of fending off any problems they may face. That theme was lost in the 2005 film and it's 2007 sequel as they were clearly more interested in the spectacle of treating the four like some sort of freak circus act than as real people who depended on one another when they needed them the most. With Trank's focus on the bond between his main characters in Chronicle it seemed as though Fox had finally found the right person to bring them to the big screen.

At this point most of you reading this will know that Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot hasn't been met with much praise. As a matter of fact, one would say the reaction to the film has been outright venomous with many critics citing it as a "Colossal Disappointment" and others calling it "Laughably Cheesy". Holding steady at a 9% over at Rotten Tomatoes, it is more than evident that something has gone horribly wrong with this new Fantastic Four that is so bad that it's "awfulness" is polarizing both audiences and critics alike. But is the film really as bad as everyone is making out? What happened that such a seemingly talented filmmaker like Josh Trank fumbled what looked like an easy touchdown? Sadly no matter what that answer is, the truth of the matter is that this new Fantastic Four is anything but fantastic.


There are many potentially disastrous hurdles to cross when attempting to make a Fantastic Four movie, the first of which is the casting. This is without a doubt the most successful aspect to this reboot and also the sole reason the film isn't the trainwreck so many are making it out to be. The 2005 film was a total mess when it came to the casting with the only notable bright spot being Chris Evans as Johnny Storm (who found much better luck as Captain America). While some may question the choice of going with a much younger cast for this reboot, it not only makes sense in conjunction with the newer generation comic book series (which features the four as young adults) but it also helps separate this version from the earlier films.

While all the actors are fine across the board and fit their respective roles perfectly (anybody still huffing and puffing over the race difference between Sue and Johnny Storm needs to take a chill pill), they are undermined by a script that can only be described as unfocused. This of course leads into the next hurdle which is how no matter what you do there is no avoiding the fact that when you make an origin story for the Fantastic Four you are making an origin story for not only four superheroes at one time but also the villain. That is a tough nut to crack in the realm of giving each character enough time to get fully developed in under 2 hours while still providing all the fireworks most expect from a big budget superhero flick and is something that Trank's script comes close to solving but still falls far short of that particular goal.


Part of the problem is that this Fantastic Four reboot is so heavily focused on Reed Richards at the outset and never finds a good rhythm into spreading the limelight when introducing all the other members of the group. While Reed gets the lion's share of screen time and character development, others like Ben Grimm and Sue Storm get sidelined into two dimensional puppets who never blossom into real characters we care about (Ben gets outright robbed of any real significant screentime and feels out of place as a result). Johnny gets a minimum of backstory as we see that he likes to street race and are told (but never really shown) that he is really good at building things. The strangest omission though has to be that we never get a real scene between Sue and Johnny as siblings which feels oddly dismissive (or scared) of the idea that they are related.

The heroes aren't the only ones who get the short end of the stick though as Victor Von Doom doesn't see much better treatment. His introduction isn't handled nearly as creatively as one would hope (he is just some recluse hanging out in a shack with some neat gadgets laying around) and the character's longing for Sue is reduced to a more sinister obsession than actual love. Even with all those negatives (and the fact that the casting of both Miles Teller and Kate Mara was done without the consent of Trank which reportedly led to a lot of cold shoulders on the set) the sheer chemistry and talent of all these actors as a collective gives the film a certain personality that is hard to ignore.


Once they get together and begin working on their pet project the interplay between all the actors feels generally pleasant while not being overly cheesy. This is likely due to Trank's insistence on focusing on these characters as a sort of patched together family unit as opposed to individual people which in this case is a double edged sword. While they certainly gel as a group, much like their superhero alter egos they fall apart at the seams whenever they are forced to carry the film on their own. This is more a scripting problem than anything else and feels like the victim of last minute tampering, especially when the film hits the dreaded halfway mark.

While the first half of the film has a nice flow to it in spite of how it focuses a bit too much on the character Reed over the others, as soon as the text "One Year Later" appears on screen it all falls apart. There were a number of rumored reshoots and deleted scenes from the later half of the film that seem to suggest that whatever direction Trank's original script was heading in was not to the liking of the people at Fox who cut out a number of unfilmed action sequences leaving the finished product feeling lobotomized in the process. The characters sadly take the biggest hit as we lose what is arguably the most crucial part of any origin story, the acceptance of the power.


Just before we hit that one year later mark all of our main characters have been transformed into their superhero forms but are completely unstable mentally and in regards of controlling their new found powers. With all of them held as captives and having medical experiments being run on them, they are all clearly in torment, especially a deformed Ben Grimm who is barely able to move. As we see each of them in there individual hells with absolutely no control we suddenly cut to a year later where low and behold they are all happy as can be and working alongside with the exact same government whom we just saw poking and prodding them a second ago. You can say a year has passed all you like, the fact of the matter is we NEED to see how each of them reaches this place of acceptance and we never do. They just simply are OK with everything in a blink of an eye and that is what literally kills any of the good will that opening half of the film garnered.

Making matters worse are a number of shoddy effects (Thing looks really bad at times, especially in well lit scenes which is why we only really ever see him in the dark). Reed's stretching ability looks overly cartoonish for a film that is trying so hard to be dark and gritty. At least Johnny Storm's eternal flame looks decent enough but Sue's powers look as though a 12 year old with a computer cooked them up. Then there is Doom whose actual physical appearance is probably one of the most ill-conceived character designs in recent memory. Not only do we lose all semblance of Toby Kebbel's nuanced performance due to him being completely restrained inside this sheet metal creation, but he looks more like a burn victim than someone to be feared.


The final nail in the coffin is the grand finale where the four face off against Doom. No other single action sequence in a film this year has underwhelmed and fascinated at the same time as much as Fantastic Four. It was underwhelming due to how inept all our heroes come off and how little spectacle there was to their "fantastic" powers and it was fascinating just how boring the entire encounter was despite being filled with all sorts of CG effects and explosions. It takes a perverse sort of skill to make something this effects laden that does absolutely nothing to excite the audience at any time in any fashion.

Is the Fantastic Four reboot a bad movie? Well, it certainly isn't a good movie but labeling it as bad is perhaps being a bit too harsh. There was a good movie in there somewhere and who knows, perhaps Trank's unfilmed script was the holy grail of superhero movies. But none of that matters because we have to deal with what we got and what we got just isn't good enough in this day and age of superhero movies. While not as wince inducing as the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four movies, this one will likely go down as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but that doesn't necessarily make it the worst (have you seen Jonah Hex?). Catch it when it hits home video and discover for yourself what is sure to be the blueprint for how 'not' to make a comic book movie for years to come.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

It's difficult to know who to blame for this whole mess. Everyone seems to hold part of the blame as there are multiple aspects to how this film was pulled apart piece by piece from the moment the pen hit the paper. Perhaps it is time for The Fantastic Four to return home to Marvel and get the treatment they deserve because I don't think we can handle another cinematic abortion like this.

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