Friday, 28 August 2015

Fantastic Four (2015) - Movie Review

Say what you will about the progression of technology and whether or not the Amish have a point about certain things, but it must be said that there are three key things that the Internet provides alarmingly immense access to that print media is just unable to keep up with: Kittens, porn and diatribes lacking in any form of perspective. It has been a very long time since I heard so much vitriol being spewed out at a singular film, not to mention how loudly said spewing can be heard. Between its single digit rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this article that invokes a guilty pleasure version of Godwin’s Law, and a radio review I heard for it that said in no uncertain terms “[Fantastic Four] is not a movie. It is a piece of shit that runs for 108 minutes.”. I’m kind of at a loss for words here. How in the hell can this film not only be considered worse than the first two Fantastic Four movies, but one of the worst superhero movies of the last 20 years?

The plot: After seeing his matter transporter in action at a science fair, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is recruited by Prof. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to be part of a project to build a Quantum Gate, a device that will allow travel between dimensions. As a result of an accident during an expedition using the Gate, Reed and his colleagues Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara), as well as his childhood best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have all gained superhuman powers. As they come to grips with their abilities, and while some resolve to try and reverse them, another collaborator on the project Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) is waiting in the wings to wreak total destruction on the world.

Writer/director Josh Trank made a triumphant entry into Hollywood with his amazingly good superhero found footage movie Chronicle back in 2012. The cast is comprised of very capable actors, with rising star Miles Teller at the forefront. The soundtrack is a collaboration between horror score veteran Marco Beltrami and legendary atmospheric composer Philip Glass, along with an instrumental piece produced by hip-hop maestro El-P. 20th Century Fox, the guys who have done absolute wonders with the X-Men franchise, are backing the film along with Marvel Entertainment. Post-production powerhouse Weta Digital was brought on to help create the visual effects of the film, along with up-and-coming studio OTOY. This film has all the backing behind it to become a genuinely great film; something to tear the common conception of the team away from Roger Corman’s cheap attempt to maintain property rights, the Tim Story films and the animated cartoon that replaced the Human Torch with a quirky Johnny Five rip-off. It is with all this in mind that I rephrase my earlier question, which I wrote before initially watching the film: How, with this much talent being put into it, did they screw up this badly?

The characterisation is amazingly flat, where our main characters are only given informed attributes without anything to show them actually having those attributes: We know that Reed is an unappreciated brainbox, Johnny is a thrill-seeker and a bit hot-headed, Ben comes from a broken home and has a chip on his shoulder and Sue… likes Portishead (Seriously, that’s all we get for her). Aside from a bit of subtlety involving Reed concerning the evident scarring on his face, which actually portrays more about his character than any of his dialogue, this is about as broad as you can get in terms of character building. And that’s just when they’re on their own; their interpersonal relationships are also extremely weak. Johnny and Sue barely even act like they’re on a first-name basis with each other, let alone having been raised as siblings; Sue and Reed are supposed to have some kind of romantic connection, but we get nothing to progress that other than some awkward conversations; and Reed and Ben, who are supposed to be the strongest relationship of the team given how it explains Reed’s drive to make the experiment work again and Ben’s disconnection from everyone else due to his appearance, feel like people who occasionally wave dismissively to each other at work instead of true friends like they’re supposed to. Regardless of how you feel about thee previous efforts, you’ll be begging for Michael Chiklis before the film is done.

And then we get to the supposed ‘big bad’ of the film with Victor Von Doom, or just Doom as he’s called here. To put it simply, he is completely wasted; as soon as word got out of Doom being an "antisocial programmer", I immediately knew that something was screwy in the state of St. Louis. The move to make them teenagers, or whatever Kate Mara’s equivalent would be given the Dawson casting on her part, as per the Ultimate Marvel canon was admittedly a decent move: It distances itself from previous on-screen iterations of the characters, it goes with Josh Trank’s strengths concerning teenagers suddenly developing superpowers, and the practice has paid off excellently in the past with the portrayal of Nick Fury (His Ultimate counterpart was based on Sam Jackson, hence his casting in the MCU). However, the reclusive Assassin’s Creed playing loner who barely even factors into the plot for the most part masquerading as Doom doesn’t work out in this case. Apparently, co-writer Jeremy Slater’s original script had Doom be the calculating dictator of Latveria that he is in the original comics, something that would have definitely made for a nice change of pace, but studio interference put a stop to that and resulted in what we got here. … I think I’m starting to see where the problems came from, and if that truly is the case, then it would definitely explain the numerous problems concerning the film’s overall plot.

The pacing for this film is all over the place. It varies between going into meticulous detail with some events, like Reed’s initial experiment with the matter transporter as a kid and the Quantum Gate test that gave them their powers, to just skipping over events like working on the Gate itself and the one year developmental stage where the group learn to hone their powers. Yes, in a superhero origin story, we completely skip over the training stage; this is quite possibly the biggest misstep I’ve seen in a comic book-related film to date, and I’m including letting Zack Snyder anywhere near Superman. Because a lot of potentially important scenes are glossed over, or more accurately just edited out, there is no connection made between the characters to make the drama in any way effective, nor is one made between the characters and the audience to make us give a damn about said drama. Add on to this the finale, where Doom just appears from editorial purgatory to make for our antagonist in the last few minutes. This leads into an insultingly easy fight scene where they try desperately to enforce the whole ‘teamwork’ angle that was severely lacking in the rest of the film.

There’s also a fair amount of just plain stupid to be found here as well. The audience is forced to contend with a lot of shoehorned in-jokes like how a lot of Johnny’s possessions allude to him becoming the Human Torch (A Fire Flower hanging from his rear-view mirror, a welding helmet with flames painted on it) and Sue literally calling Victor 'Doctor Doom' like we’re supposed to find it cute; it's less tongue-in-cheek and more Spring Surprise steel bolt through the cheek. Then there’s the plot-stupid moments, like the idiotic reason why Reed’s matter transporter was disqualified at the science fair to Reed just abandoning his team for seemingly no reason (and the team subsequently being unbelievably inconsistent about how they feel concerning said abandonment). That last one is a sticking point that never ceases to confound throughout the rest of the film’s running time.

All in all, while this may be a bit over-hyped in terms of its crap factor, make no mistake: This is shockingly awful. The characters are weak beyond measure, the story feels like large swathes have been cut from it and the action is few and far between. If studio interference is to blame for all this, and there’s a flag on the play as to whether that genuinely is the case, then not only is that the only reasoning that makes sense for this to fail so utterly but I sincerely hope that this doesn’t put the nail in Josh Trank’s career nor in the hope that we get a Fantastic Four movie with a legitimately widespread appeal. Jeremy Slater's original script, judging by what notes can be found about it online, wouldn't have been perfect but it had to have been better than this. With Marvel Studios’ recent acquisition of the Spider-Man license from Sony Entertainment, I can only hope that Fox does the right thing and lets Marvel’s first family go back home into the hands of people who can fix all the damage that’s been brought upon their name.

And to think, people were worried just because they cast a black guy as the Human Torch. Hindsight’s a bitch, ain’t it?

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