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In the current mold of superhero film-making, it’s difficult to escape the prevailing wisdom of how studios formulate their respective franchises. There’s the Marvel method, which embraces the colorful comic tones and inherent silliness of the medium, but at its worst can lead to tedium. The efforts of other studios (Fox, WB, Sony) in recent years have been more on the side of grounding everything in reality, which has an even worse success rate, particularly when its lesser attempts lead to self-parody.

Josh Trank, before taking over the Fantastic Four series, surely had a good deal to learn from, including the missteps of the Tim Story directed 2005 effort, which treated the material in an almost camp fashion. The filmmaker known for the found-footage critical darling Chronicle clearly had an original approach he wanted to imbue the material with. His idea: highlight the sci-fi and body horror aspects at the core of the FF, a la David Cronenberg.  While this isn’t my ideal version of the Fantastic Four,  it’s an approach that could work if the studio was on board.

As it turns out, Fox probably wasn’t. Whether Trank lacked the support or the skill to execute that vision (or both) – it’s easy to see that something went wrong.

For the FF experts in the house, Fantastic Four pulls significantly from the “Ultimate” take by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, and Adam Kubert. In the film, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) are life-long friends with varying interest in scientific pursuits. Reed eventually attracts the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who recruits the young genius to join his efforts to explore another dimension. In short order he’s joined by Dr. Storm’s daughter Sue (Kate Mara), rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and because he needs him for some reason that’s only somewhat explained, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).

For its first 45 minutes or so, Trank’s instincts prove fairly intuitive. While the characters aren’t really defined well (or at all), there’s at least an energy there that feels like he may just pull it off. In the opening act, Trank and team pay homage to the FF as “challengers of the unknown” (pun intended), centering their goal as being the first people to step foot in this new dimension. The air of dread is pretty palpable, and when the worst happens, Trank frames what is probably my favorite scene of the film, with Reed looking over the fruits of his hubris, his new friends irrevocably changed. It’s effective enough, provided you go in with an open mind in regard to significant canon changes, and the point gets across, even if it’s perhaps slightly rocky (pun NOT intended) getting there.

Then the rest of the film happens.

I’m not sure the extent to which rewrites occurred on the set, though I understand a number of screenwriters were involved, and Fox itself has always been known as most “hands-on” studio, to put it kindly. It’s at this point, that basically all pretense of Trank’s take is tossed aside for a much more generic superhero origin story. You see, Fantastic Four is fairly dark in terms of palette already, but for the earlier instances of the film, that works. When it leaves the “experiment gone wrong” elements behind and skips a year ahead, you’re just left with a dark, and strangely claustrophobic movie about the Government wanting to turn the team into their tools for combat. In my recollection, there may have only been two scenes that don’t take place on a sound-stage. If you aim to make a superhero adventure, showcasing your heroes flying around a bit and/or interacting with the larger world around them is probably advisable. In truth, I saw this film a week ago, and I can barely remember what happens between our heroes receiving their powers and a painfully arbitrary third act scuffle. Between Dr. Storm’s hammering exposition about how the four should be a team-unit, and terrifically dull search for a missing teammate, my mind was beginning to race towards other subjects.

To speak of the third act specifically, this is where Fantastic Four is at its most hampered, hobbled by the demands of producers who surely have certain expectations for how these types of films should end. Yes, there is a third act macguffin, and yes, the central villain opts to threaten the world, this time for reasons more nebulous than usual, and yes, this is where poor Dr. Storm’s lessons are supposed to pay off and the team has to come together. But, this big world-changing moment ends before it even begins. I sat in disbelief at how tossed aside the final conflict was, which may have lasted about 10 minutes in duration. And while Doctor Doom earlier in the film is passable, if a little anonymous (and no, he’s not a hacker), by this point he becomes a walking death machine devoid of any defining characteristics at all. Unless you consider a power-set akin to Electro-Man from Ernest Goes To Jail as a worthwhile development for the iconic villain.

In truth, the movie you probably want to see gets started just before the credits roll while the movie the filmmaker set out to make lasts a little longer than that, but everything in between is something no one is going to want. Sadly, that much more repelling portion makes up the majority of what’s on screen. There had to be a better way to bridge the two, and perhaps if a more forceful personality was behind the camera, that may have happened in a more satisfying fashion. As it stands, Fantastic Four, the reboot, is a bit of course correction taken wholly in the wrong direction. But, it might at least be the best Fantastic Four movie yet, as sad as that is to say.

Oh and before I forget, as good as Miles Teller is as introvert Reed Richards, he is undeniably awful as superhero Reed. I don’t think I’d follow that guy to a bar, much less across a poorly rendered CGI battlefield.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 8%, which I think makes it the worst reviewed superhero flick since the modern era began with the first X-Men.

    As contrast the 1994 film that wasn’t even made to be released gets a 34%

  2. I want to stick up for the first two Fantastic Four flicks. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both pretty terrible and butcher Dr. Doom and Galactus about as bad as anything in genre history. I will say they both have a sense of fun that I enjoyed in contrast to the EVERYTHING MUST BE SERIOUS Nolan Bat-films of the same era, even though Nolan’s movies are vastly superior.

    I’ll go see the new FF because I am an idiot but it sure looks like they lost any sense of fun while simultaneously getting everything even wronger than any of the three previous attempts.

    Mike

  3. I refuse to go see this film. Everything I’ve read about it bears no resemblance to the characters and comic that I’ve loved since I was a kid. The people making excuses say that it leans more on the Ultimate version (enough to make me not want to see it) but based on what I’ve read that’s not even true. The earlier two movies (I can’t really count the Corman version which sadly is the most faithful to the FF comic) were not great. A bumbling Reed. An miscast Sue. A really poor take on Dr. Doom, who they preferred to call “Victor” mostly in both films. But there were elements that felt like the FF: Chiklis and Evans were both pretty good in there roles and there was at least some heart to the story. For some reason, people in Hollywood think that they can do it better than Jack and Stan. They haven’t proven it yet. You can tweak some of the things that Jack and Stan did but stay faithful to what they created and make a pretty awesome movie.

  4. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen them, but I like the story fantastic four movies too. They have lots of faults, but at least I could recognize them as comic book characters. They were fun. I have no interest in seeing this one

  5. I saw “Fantastic4″ last night, and Sucktastic4ever was not worth it…

    Isn’t that a mark of today’s anti-culture, as we are consumers that pretend to be ‘Americans’ / ‘humans’, saying “…You’ll probably never see it. Thant’s reality though”? Here we are as everything is made to break down and take our money, instead of work and last, while we sit in traffic, and have our dignity chipped away so we can push ‘corporate policy’ for a paycheck that has diminishing returns on purchasing power, and the concept of making even a great movie for something like LEE/KIRBY’S Fantastic Four is more about “consumer” disappointment and wasting our money, than it is about entertainment that inspires the imagination, incites intelligent conversation, and urges the viewer to want to go out and learn more about science, being around a group of people who are different and working together to have fun and adventure, and of course -the Fantastic Four.

    This goes for everyone from the people who walk around high school tracks and football fields for some charity cause to gain money and recognition for curing cancer (while companies like Monsanto have patents on genetic sequences, but will not use them as it is more profitable to treat than cure diseases, along with the congressmen they have in their pockets), to the lame corporate tools like us as we just sit in traffic, and have the nerve just to tell ourselves success is based on attitude, and ‘think positive’ (while we have no urge or idea as to how to enable cooperation and tolerance at work or in our neighborhoods, have no idea how to tell someone how to meet their city council members, how to have a peaceful non-violent protest against things like how we use gerrymandering or out-sourcing jobs instead of training Americans, or how to be involved in town hall meetings), to the ‘consumer’ that is willing to pay over $2.00 for a “comic book” that is mainly about “super heroes” band names (instead of cutting edge, and just plain quality sequential art / story telling) -Remember this when you make a decision fellow ‘Americans’, and overall Fantastic4 ticket buyers / ‘consumers’ / chumps :

    Live like a consumer, then get treated like a ‘consumer’.
    Yuuu-p, thaz riiii-ite, I said it and I’z says it agains, cuz it’s time to DRAXX THEM SKOUNST, as we treat these mammajamaz from Fox like sum kinda “terries” onz’tha wallet n $h!+ -I mean is get’n waaay too froggy, and we’z gotta be prepared to blast up on these wallet-terries know’msaynz… (youtube Key & Peele – Prepared for Terries):
    Live like a consumer, then get treated like a ‘consumer’.

  6. The buzz I’m hearing on this movie is that it’s a bad imitation of a Chris Nolan film: dark, grim, humorless and ponderous. That’s not what I want from an FF movie. As mediocre as the 2005 and 2007 movies were, they did convey a sense that having super powers could be fun. I’d like to see some of that Silver Age wackiness on the screen.

  7. @ABB I only get half of what you wrote but “live like a consumer, then get treated like a consumer” it´s absolutely right. Lately “consumer rights” have been treated the same as “human rights”.

    I wonder if somebody is already considering to accuse this film as some sort of “crime against humanity”?

  8. “I wonder if somebody is already considering to accuse this film as some sort of “crime against humanity”?”

    Wouldn’t surprise me. When fanboys feel they’ve been screwed, their rage knows no bounds. Witness their fury over BATMAN AND ROBIN and CATWOMAN.

    Fortunately, Chris Nolan began directing Batman movies, so fans had movies they could rank above THE GODFATHER, CITIZEN KANE, and anything from Hitchcock or Kubrick or Scorsese.

  9. “Witness their fury over BATMAN AND ROBIN and CATWOMAN.”

    You can mock fanboys for a lot but for being upset about those two movies? You’re kind of making a mockery of yourself.

    Mike

  10. They were just bad movies, Mike, and bad movies come out every week. Just like bad comic books come out every week. Fanboys make idiots of themselves acting like a bad superhero movie is the end of the world, or the equivalent of the Holocaust.

    Of course, there are some bad movies that fanboys love. Four of them have the word TRANSFORMERS in the title.

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