Fantastic Four (2015)
Change is coming.
Okay, it’s official; maybe we’ll never get a faithful Fantastic Four film. Where to begin? Following a failed 1994 Roger Corman production that wasn’t officially released, it seemed as though Marvel’s longest-running superhero team, the Fantastic Four, would never successfully be translated to the big screen. Given the advancement in motion picture technology since then, director Tim Story had a stab at the property back in 2005 with his good-natured, cheesy but ultimately underwhelming Fantastic Four, which was followed by his slightly superior Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007). With neither picture resonating with fanboys or critics, and Fox unhappy with their box-office returns, subsequent sequels were cancelled and the series was once again put to rest. Now, with Fox’s contract stating that the Fantastic Four’s rights would revert back to Marvel if the studio failed produce a new Fantastic Four feature, it seemed like the perfect time to revive and reboot the dysfunctional superhero family. Hiring a young, promising, up-and-coming director, Josh Trank, who put an ingenious spin on the superhero genre with his 2012 found-footage debut, Chronicle, it seemed as though the Fantastic Four were finally in capable hands. Oh boy, were they wrong!
Created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist-co-plotter Jack Kirby back in 1961, the Fantastic Four got their super powers after being exposed to cosmic rays during a scientific mission into outer space. One of Marvel’s lighter titles, this unusual team consists of Reed Richards aka Mister Fantastic, a genius who can stretch and bend his body into incredible lengths and shapes; his eventual wife, Susan ‘Sue’ Storm, who can render herself invisible and create powerful force-fields, and ergo goes by the guise of The Invisible Woman; her younger brother, Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch, a cocky kid who’s able to generate flames and use their power to soar; and the grumpy but caring Ben Grimm, a former college football star and Reed’s college roommate, who’s transformed into a burly rock monster with stone like-flesh, simply named The Thing. Based largely on Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Adam Kubert’s 2004 Ultimate Fantastic Four comic books, as opposed to the early sixties incarnation of the characters, Trank has taken it upon himself to reinvent the series, distancing his picture from Tim Story’s playful flicks with a darker, grittier, real-life tone and younger protagonists.
While this reboot probably sounded fine on paper, there appeared to be one major problem; the executives at Fox had their own ideas about the film, which didn’t necessarily align with Trank’s bleak vision. This hiccup, however, formed a multitude of production issues, so much so that it almost requires a full time job to keep track of all the behind the scenes shenanigans. Comments spread, claiming that Trank was too inexperienced a director and too indecisive and uncommunicative to handle a large studio production, gossip arose stating that Trank mistreated cast and crew along with talk of damaged sets and extensive reshoots. Trank went on the defensive in May this year, denying any ‘erratic’ behavior on set, along with allegations of the $100,000 worth of damage that he allegedly caused to his rental home, claiming that the wreckage was done by his dogs during production. Sources have stated that the young director sometimes showed up late to work, if he even turned up at all, whereas others have reported that Trank looked as though he were ‘high as a kite’ when he was around, with this bad exposure ultimately leading to Trank’s departure from directing the second Star Wars stand-alone feature for Lucasfilm. It was later rumored that Trank was locked out of the editing suite with producer/filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class (2011), being called in to direct over 40 pages of re-shoots, costing Fox more cash and a cancellation of the film’s 3D conversion.
If that wasn’t enough, racist fans came out of the woodwork when Trank cast his ‘buddy’ and Chronicle star Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch — a white character in the comics previously played by Chris Evans, The Avengers (2012) — forcing Jordan to write a personal statement in Entertainment Weekly to shut down all the nontroversy. What’s more, this casting lead to further outcry as Trank changed Susan Storm’s origin story by adding an unnecessary adoption side plot into the mix, seeing as her brother and father were now both African-American. With controversy getting Trank cut from the picture’s promotion, the studio-friendly writer/producer Simon Kinberg, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), was made the face of the flick’s advertising and has oddly been quoted more times than any other person in the movie’s press tour, that’s including the excruciatingly awkward cast interview which seems to have gone viral.
So, how’s the actual film? To be fair, Fantastic Four starts out okay as viewers learn how Reed Richards and Ben Grimm became friends in the picture’s Spielberg-esque opening, but it’s all downhill from there as the pair spend way too much time discussing scientific ideas with the narrative plodding along too slowly, one boring exposition scene after the next. By the time our foursome actually gets together, it’s already about an hour into the 100-minute film! And here lies the feature’s major problem; its lack of humor or chemistry. The Fantastic Four are recognized as a superhero ‘family,’ that’s what makes them special, with their relationships working as the source of all the drama and comedy that ensues between the gang. This isn’t the case in Trank’s adaptation as, apart from the dragged-out back-story of Reed and Ben, there’s literally no rapport between any of the leads whatsoever. Reed and Sue have a couple conversations here and there — there’s no romance, no spark — The Thing doesn’t really talk to anyone other than Reed, whilst adopted brother and sister, Sue and Johnny, might as well be complete and utter strangers. Moreover, the film cheaply omits what should be the shaping period of the team’s assemblage with a lazy ‘One Year Later’ jump, skipping essential origin groundwork. There is some conflict between Reed and the others when the group return from their failed voyage — with frightening new abilities — but this tension is left unresolved as the story moves on without ever re-addressing these points.
To their credit, the cast more-or-less do a decent job in their respective roles, especially given the entire production debacle. Miles Teller, Whiplash (2014), stands out as scientist Reed Richards, adding an awkward but believable nerdiness to his character who, on paper, is probably nowhere near as interesting or stimulating as Teller’s rendering. Complications aside, Michael B. Jordan, Chronicle (2012) exhibits some charm and charisma as Johnny Storm, but melds into the background once the picture changes face; his character also appears to be lacking in pop culture understanding as he foolishly calls the European-born Victor von Doom ‘Borat’ to mock him at one point. Kate Mara, 127 Hours (2010), is sidelined for the bulk of the show as the thinly drawn Susan Storm, a victim of circumstance who’s shoehorned into the plot as some kind of patterns analyst; then again, she does manage to stand out in some scenes due to an utterly horrendous wig. In an era crying out for stronger female leads, Sue doesn’t join the boys on their initial inter-dimensional trip to Planet Zero — or the Negative Zone from the comics — and is essentially rendered useless by the flick’s conclusion. Don’t worry, at least she makes their costumes, right? Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot (2000), is passable as Ben Grimm or the naked pile of stones he’s depicting and basically just tags along with the gang for no real reason. Which brings us to the group’s chief comic book adversary, the infamous Doctor Doom, an exceptional villain who’s unfairly been botched far too many times. Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), is alright as Victor von Doom — his name in the film was originally meant to be Victor Domashev until fan backlash got it changed during reshoots — yet, the character has no story arc, no motive and no real purpose; while his introductory scenes are pretty cool, he arrives way too late in the game and severs as a clumsy third act ‘baddie’ who literally wanders in from nowhere. Don’t get me started on his terrible design!
Studio interference is at its most transparent in the flick’s truly awful third act. Plotting inconsistencies become blatantly evident, key players act against their established framework, complex interrelations between characters are not resolved, and I highly doubt that the soulless battle in the dull dimly lit CGI parallel dimension is where Trank’s original version finished off. In addition, our foursome are never referred to by their superhero names nor do they wear their traditional costumes; adding insult to injury, the idiot who decided that Ben Grimm’s catchphrase, ‘It’s Clobberin’ time,’ should be attributed to something his abusive brother would say to him before a beating, should be fired; disgusting! The picture concludes with one of the most embarrassing scenes of the year and some of the clunkiest dialogue exchanges ever scripted. In the end, Fantastic Four exists as a prime example of what happens when a studio and a director are obviously not working in sync; for instance, early drafts suggested that Trank wanted Doom to attain his powers from crystals, the very same crystals that gave the kids their abilities in Chronicle, making it canon with the aforestated and not Fox’s X-Men series, go figure! This raises the speculative question: were both sides at odds, working toward conflicting and contradictory goals?
I think someone at Fox must have missed the memo explaining that the terms ‘grounded’ and ‘gritty’ are not the same as ‘tedious’ and ‘boring,’ or ‘humorless’ and ‘slow,’ as this new Fantastic Four stands to be a fantastic bore. As a sci-fi flick, it goes alright for the first two thirds, that is, until the feature turns pear shaped when the quartet return to Planet Zero a second time, now without their space suits. Following last year’s shameless franchise reset that was X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and now the broody, poo-faced Festering Four, I’m certain many viewers may have lost some confidence in Fox and their Marvel comic book adaptations, so excuse me while I re-watch the Deadpool (2016) trailer to restore my faith in the thwarting studio.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Fantastic Four is released through 20th Century Fox Australia