Friday, August 7, 2015

Movie Review: Fant4stic

Normally I wouldn't utilize moronic stylization such as what FOX saw fit to apply to the title of their new Fantastic Four movie, but I find that the more I can distance this abysmal turd from the actual Fantastic Four, the better I feel about our universe.

I don't usually like to give my sentiments away quite so thoroughly in the opening paragraph, but this movie earned it.



Let me set the stage for where I'm coming from as a guy watching this movie. I've read Fantastic Four comic books - Ultimate and 616 - and while I love the concept of a superhero family, I've never been particularly fond of the way the characters were written; though I do love Ben Grimm. But I dig the FF and like it when they show up in comics. I enjoyed the last two FF flicks. They're not high points in superhero cinema, but they're fun and inoffensive fluff. To me, the worst crime they committed was getting Doom so wrong. There are plenty of little missteps, but to me they're covered by the all-important, "everything else is so much fun that I don't care".

Again - I don't have an emotional stake in the Fantastic Four beyond recognizing their significance in comic book history. It's not like the X-Men where I get personally offended when they get them wrong.


As far as this new movie goes, I went from dubious to supportive to dubious again. Early peeks did not look Fantastic. None of the characters looked right and the tone seemed much more dour than what the Marvel films have made us come to expect.


Then they released the first full trailer and it looked like a hard sci-fi flick, almost reminiscent of something from Cronenberg. It still didn't look Fantastic, but I was intrigued by the idea of treating the Four concept as serious science fiction rather than a superhero flick. I saw potential and decided to get on the side of those few that were hopeful about the movie.


Finally, the "mainstream" trailers hit and I went back to being dubious. They looked uninspired and oddly awkward. And nothing is going to suck credibility away more in my eyes than using Kanye West's music. That's like begging the masses to like you - "Look how cool we are!"


So last night I took my son to see Fant4stic hoping for the best and expecting the worst. I can't say for sure that I got the worst because I suppose it could have been worse, but it sure wasn't good.


I'll give you a quick spoiler-free summary, then dissect it as much as I can bear to.


The only member of the core cast that I was familiar with prior to seeing the movie was Kate Mara. I knew her from her role in the first season of American Horror Story, which I thought she played incredibly well. I thought she was a great choice for Sue and was interested to see how she handled the role.


Miles Teller seemed fine for a young Reed, but neither Jamie Bell nor Michael B. Jordan looked right for their roles. I was definitely more bothered by Bell being tiny and not-jockish than I was by Jordan not being white.


Which I suppose I have to discuss.


Having seen the movie, I can state with certainty that there are two possible reasons for casting Jordan as the usually Caucasian Johnny Storm - it was either a calculated attention-grabber or they decided they absolutely, positively had to have Reg. E. Cathey play Franklin Storm and needed a way to anchor him a bit more since he isn't traditionally non-white, either. I say this because there is no compelling story reason whatsoever  for the male Storms to be black. If there had been any kind of backstory or subplot or highlighting of the Storm family dynamic it could have been interesting and a great opportunity to forward discourse about race and diversity.


Instead, the Storms get barely more narrative depth or attention than would have appeared in a pitch for a shitty ABC sitcom.


The first option is dumb and a symptom of the current cultural climate in America. The second option is totally understandable and I support it 1000 percent, as Cathey was awesome until the material he was given caused his character to crumble. 


For his part, Jordan was fine as Johnny Storm. Any shortcomings in his character - or any of the others - come from the script, not the actors.


Miles Teller was a fine Reed Richards. He wore super genius well. The only issue I had is that he didn't possess the unaware arrogance that I attribute to Reed. Not the asshole variety, but the sort where it's just someone that knows they're the smartest person in the room. It's a subtle thing, but it didn't come across here. Teller was far too sweet. Again, I blame the script.


Much to my surprise I liked Jamie Bell quite a bit as Ben. He had a rugged charm that I didn't expect, and from the first time he showed up I wanted to see more of him. I bought him as Ben Grimm, which is quite a feat given that he's 5'7". But as Hugh Jackman has so thoroughly proven, size doesn't matter.


I felt like Sue was the most interesting character in the movie. She actually possessed that matter-of-fact genius that I would normally attribute to Reed. Mara played her as self-possessed and confident without making it off-putting. Her brilliance almost came off as mild autism, which was a fascinating choice to make. She also had a great look - they didn't paint her up like a supermodel or put her in ridiculous outfits. She felt very present and real in her role.


Tim Blake Nelson was wasted in his role as a poorly-defined government bad guy who never really got to be a bad guy. His character might be the most representative of the directionless, bland pointlessness of the movie.


Which brings me to the bland, directionless performance of Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom. No, he is not a blogger. But he might as well have been. Aside from a mention of him setting fire to Franklin Storm's servers at one point, we never get a real idea of Doom's evil, arrogance, or menace. He's just some snarky guy that a document identifies as Latverian. There is nothing special about him. Like almost every other character in the movie, we are given a vague idea of who he is and what he's about. I'm not saying Doom has to have some over-the-top Eastern European accent, but he at the bare minimum needs to be dynamic and charismatic.


I do not think that the cast can be held accountable for this movie being terrible. They were all - with the exception of Kebbell - good at the very least and in a couple of cases quite compelling.


Visually this thing looks like a FOX comic book movie. Not as grey as a DC flick, but not as kinetic and vibrant as what Marvel does. The effects are serviceable, though they fall apart a bit at the end (as does everything else - it's like entropy hit Fant4stic with a sledgehammer about halfway through). Through much of the movie they almost feel unfinished. Not bad, but like the final, perfecting touch was left out. Thing looks incredible through almost all of it, but he, too suffers during the climax. The Thing effects were clearly the centerpiece of the movie and I have to say that they pretty much nailed it. 


The biggest flaw in the visual department was Planet Zero - the alternate dimension seen in the trailers. It feels fake. Worse, it's fucking dull. Nothing about the appearance of that world makes me want to explore it or find out more about it. It's a crusty, monochromatic desert with some green goo underneath. The worlds that the Fantastic Four explore need to inspire wonder and curiosity. They don't need to be teeming with life or anything, but they need to be visually stimulating. This place looked like a dog crapped on a glow stick.


The score by Marco Beltrami and Phillip Glass was, obviously, excellent. The worst crime this movie commits is the waste of a magnificent score.


And now to the story; spoiler-free version - it starts off strong. The first fifteen minutes or so filled me with hope. I think it might have taken half an hour or so for me to realize something was wrong. And what I realized was how far along the movie seemed to have gotten without really doing anything. Sure, these characters were interesting, but nothing seemed to be happening. By the time we got to any post-transformation action, I realized the movie was almost over. This thing clocks in at 100 minutes. The events of the first 80 minutes should have been the first act of the movie. And this isn't a Godzilla situation, where the filmmakers were building up suspense and anticipation to a satisfying climax. Every plot point just felt like, "Well, here's this thing that has to happen to get to the next thing that has to happen". But in slow motion right up until the super time-compressed climax where we get the ultimate example of THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY.


Don't bother. Don't waste your time. The filmmakers didn't care and neither should you. There's no wonder or inspiration here. No love for the source material. Someone gave someone else a checklist and each box was ticked off in the least interesting way possible. 


I know some of you will still want to see this thing, and I understand that. But the only way we stop garbage like this is to stop giving it our hard-earned dollars. Go and buy some old Fantastic Four comics from your Local Comic Book Shop instead.


Now it's time to really take this sucker apart.


From here on out, be warned. There will be 


*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*SPOILERS*


Here's how compelling Fant4stic was - the couple beside me were having conversations. Like, just a bit louder than whispering. Not constantly, but several times throughout the movie. Normally this would enrage me and I would have said something. But I kind of just didn't care. The movie wasn't worth me defending it in that way. I'm sure their conversation was way more interesting than what was happening on-screen.


The movie opens with Reed and Ben meeting as children. It's established that Reed is an awkward super genius and we actually see more of that self-assuredness from the young actor portraying him than we ever do from Miles Teller. Considering the unwieldy bulk of the middle of this movie, it's odd that their relationship gets the shorthand that it does. They both have shitty family situations, though Ben's is more clearly illustrated than Reed's.


In what I thought was a pretty clever scene, Reed announces that his career goal is to build a teleporter. On the surface this is hilarious coming from a ten(?)-year-old, but the actor sells it. You buy that he is going to make it happen, which is a critical point of the movie. That's where the audience accepts what and who Reed is and is along for the ride. Ben's moment doesn't come until Jamie Bell takes over. There's nothing overt here, just the way that he acts towards Reed and the chemistry that the two have. I'm surprised that we didn't get any heavy-handed "Ben saves Reed from bullies" scenes, but at this point the movie is chugging right along, so the plot seems to have other needs.


Ten years later Ben and Reed are at the science fair with Reed's teleporter. Stuff happens and Franklin and Sue show up to recruit Reed to the Baxter Foundation, a think-tank of young minds focused on science stuff. We discover they're working on a Quantum Gate - a way to travel between dimensions. And it turns out that Reed hasn't been teleporting things, he's been sending them to one of those alternate dimensions. 


So Reed joins the project and leaves ol' Benji behind in New York or wherever it is they're from.


Oh, and Franklin goes and asks Doom to come back, who has been let go for… whatever. This scene feels like the culmination of something that we missed and that wasn't important enough for the filmmakers to show us. 


In retrospect, I think the story would have been much better served by going straight to Sue, Franklin, and Doom after Ben and Reed's childhood meeting. Not only would that have established that trio as important characters, it would have set up the Quantum Gate much more firmly as the central element of the story. We should have gotten scenes establishing that the Quantum Gate was the BIG project for Franklin Storm and the Baxter Foundation and that Victor Von Doom was a necessary evil. He was never adversarial enough. Doom should have been fleshed out and portrayed as the smartest man in the room that doesn't just know it, but lords it over everyone else. 


This movie seriously needed more Doom. Just not the one that it gave us.


I'd go so far as to say that Doom should have been the actual leader on the project and that Franklin should have been less directly involved, only bringing Reed in when all other options had been exhausted. Then Reed does what he did and figures out the critical problem, usurping Doom's genius. That happened, but it had no impact whatsoever. Doom's chagrin was communicated exclusively via a series of slightly frustrated facial expressions. Since those expressions were established as Doom's sole means of communicating displeasure, it really kind of fucked things up when they put them behind a plastic mask and gave him stupid glow stick eyes.


Once Doom, Sue, and Reed are working on the project, we get a series of scenes that aren't quite a montage, but also utterly fail to communicate the weight of that triangle. Everything in this movie is suggested in only the vaguest of ways. 


Side Note: There is one absolutely baffling scene where Doom and Tim Blake Nelson's character exchange Meaningful Glances. I sat there waiting for it to pay off for the next thirty minutes or so, and then realized that it never would because who cares. Fant4stic Doom and his fucking facial expressions.


 Doom clearly has a thing for Sue, but it isn't developed beyond him getting jealous when he sees Reed talking to her. He summons Reed and tells him he's wasting project time and Reed's like, "We're done" and Doom is like, "Oh, okay". Like the rest of Fant4stic, it is so fucking weak.


And it's not like Reed and Sue ever really develop any kind of relationship. There are a couple of cute moments, but heck, he doesn't even invite her on the maiden voyage through the Quantum Gate.


Oh, yeah - Sue doesn't even go through the fucking gate. She is not part of the expedition that gives everyone their superpowers. She gets hers from the blast of energy that comes through the gate when everyone else returns. It's so lame. But I'll get there.


Once the Quantum Gate is ready to operate, Tim Blake Nelson shows up in his poorly-defined role and says that they'll be sending some astronauts or something through. Doom gets all anti-government and sulky (Fant4stic Doom should have been named Victor Von Dissatisfied). He and Reed and Johnny - who has been introduced by this point as Franklin's no-good but mechanically-inclined son) retire to a room to share liquor and whine about their project. Once again I attributed a nefarious purpose to Doom's actions. I assumed he was going to sedate Reed and Johnny and take off through the Quantum Gate in order to be the first man to cross dimensions. There could have been trouble and Sue could have organized the effort to rescue him and Reed could have called his buddy and protector, Ben, to go along since they knew there was some sort of trouble. 


Once they crossed they could have found Doom - alone but okay - and then the Incident could have occurred, bestowing their powers and doing whatever it did to Doom (or nothing, which leads to a more interesting and narratively satisfying possibility). Doom blames Richards for whatever failures happened and there you go.


Instead, Reed just calls Ben and tells him to come on over and go to another dimension. The four guys suit up and… just go. And when they arrive, they're just as underwhelmed by Planet Zero as I was. There's no sense of importance, wonder, or gravitas. They're just four dum-dums on poop planet. And again we get mischievous looks from Doom that mean nothing. He literally does nothing wrong or evil. He just wants to explore. He sticks his hand in the glow stick pool (which is, admittedly, kind of dumb) and then shit goes crazy and everyone has to leave. Doom gets sucked into the glow stick void and the other three get back into the Quantum Gate vehicle thing. Ben's door opens for no good reason and for an equally insubstantial reason rocks start filling up his capsule. Flame bursts through Johnny's window (are you seeing the theme?). And Reed… I guess some rubber bands fell on him? I dunno. The filmmakers don't seem to have come up with an explanation for his elasticity (or time displacement or whatever their thing was that isn't even explained in the movie anyway), and if they don't care then I certainly don't.


Oh, and it's not like Sue was out of town or busy or even washing her hair when the guys left. She was in the facility, in one of the labs. So, despite the fact that she was one of the four people responsible for the success of the Quantum Gate, the guys were just like, "Later, bitch". They didn't even discuss whether or not she deserved to go along. It would have been super sexist for them to pull a "It's not safe for a girl" thing, but at least that would have shown some kind of acknowledgement of Sue as a human being. In the filmmaker's scenario she might as well have not even existed. Like she was invisible.


OH.


Just kidding - this was absolutely not a consideration when leaving Sue out of this critical scene.


So she does show up in time to bring the guys back and get blasted with Inviso-Rays or whatever. 


After that Reed comes to and hears Ben calling for him. He crawls over to the big pile of rocks that Ben seems to be buried under, then realizes his feet are stuck under something and also TWENTY YARDS AWAY. He faints and the scene got a huge laugh from the theater I was in. And I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to.


Okay, as bad as some of that stuff was, there was still an opportunity for this to be a solid flick. But this is where everything fell apart and I realized "Oh, this is it. It isn't getting good". Kind of like when Professor X just kept fucking crying all the time in Days of Future Past.


The kids have been whisked away to Area 57 (really?) where they are locked up, naked, in various sinister-looking cells that look like prison/hospital combos. It's sort of suggested that they might be being experimented on, but just like an eighteen-year-old guy, this movie doesn't want to commit to anything. Tim Blake Nelson's character turns out to be the one responsible for kidnapping them and seems to have nefarious intentions, but then just sort of doesn't.


When Reed wakes up he doesn't seem to be able to control his elasticity. He hears Ben calling out to him and crawls through some vents. Naked. He sees that Ben is all covered in rock, promises he'll fix him, and then escapes the facility. Naked.


So Reed just takes off, leaving his friends behind. Naked.


At no point during the movie did I really see Reed bear the weight of what happened to Ben. He never sold that he felt responsible. He said it, but I never felt it. At the end of the movie, Johnny makes a totally unearned joke about Ben's appearance and they all laugh and the credits roll. It's is so tonally divergent from the rest of the movie that it dropped my jaw. A much more appropriate scene would have had Reed putting a hand on Ben's shoulder and telling him no matter what he had to do or how much of his life he had to devote to it, he would find a cure for Ben.


Okay, so Reed ran off for a year. In the meantime, it turns out Tim Blake Nelson isn't totally bad. He wants to trains the kids to fight bad guys, which maybe isn't all that noble, but he's not doing anything against anyone's will. Franklin is there helping out, Sue doesn't; want to fight and isn't, Ben is having a great time clobbering, and Johnny is on the verge of controlling his powers on a level that would allow him to join Ben in battling evildoers around the world, which he totally wants to do. Life isn't so bad for these guys, all things considered.


It is suggested that Nelson might not be as interested in curing the kids as he promised, but of course it is only the vaguest of notions because motivations in this movie are as hard to see as Sue Storm's left titty.


Reed has been living in the woods, working on a subplot that never pans out because Ben and some army guys just show up and grab him to take him back to Area 57. It's just as well, because this movie can't even sustain the main plot in a satisfying manner. That subplot was doomed (not in a good way) from the start.


They get the Quantum Gate working and prove that they are all dumber than the audience watching the movie because they have the unbelievable gall to act surprised when Doom shows up on Planet Zero. The army people bring him back to Earth and Doom wakes up and decides to destroy the Earth because this fucking movie is a piece of shit and nothing is satisfying about it.


You might think that Doom hates everything because the glow stick goo fused his space suit with his body, making him look dumb:



But he doesn't even seem to care about that.

Also, he has magic powers. Somehow.


Doom gets all mad because reasons and this is where the movie becomes incredibly inappropriate for kids. Up until now everything has been fairly kid-friendly other than the fact that kids don't generally like things that are boring. But all of a sudden Doom starts making everybody's heads explode. Like, Scanners-style, with blood and brains splatting on the wall and everything. It's utterly unnecessary gore and was extremely off-putting in the context of this otherwise non-visceral movie. And that's coming from a guy that considers Evil Dead 2 to be on of the greatest movies of all time.


Side Note: An edited version of the trailer for Deadpool  played before Fant4stic with all of the gore from the red band version cut out. Way to go, FOXtards.


After blowing up everyone's heads except for Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben, Doom goes back to Planet Zero to enact his plan to destroy Earth by making some kind of beam of  ight b ack ho e porta  thing that we've seen in so many movies that somehow eats up the Earth or something.


Lost again? 


“FUCK YOU”, says Fant4stic.


The Four follow Doom back to Planet Zero, everybody looks at their scripts and goes, "So, this is the part where we fight, I guess?" and proceed to have the most basic, predictable, and unexciting fight they could have possibly had. Reed used rubber punchy powers, Johnny shot flames, and Ben stomped around and punched Doom-related objects. Sue used force fields until Doom (using his unexplained Ultimate Magic Powers) started shrinking one around her and said, "I foresaw a different destiny for us, Susan" and the whole theater went, "Huh?"


And then Reed gained control of his rubber powers and turned into a giant slingshot and shot Doom into the sun.


Okay, that's not what happened, but it is, sort of.


I almost laughed when they threw Doom into his own beam of black hole light or whatever and vaporized him because of course that's how it ended. I would have been pissed that they killed the bad guy, because I hate when they kill the bad guy, except that I hope to never see another Fantastic Four movie for the rest of my life, so I don't care if Doom is dead or not.


This movie was just awful. It didn't represent the Fantastic Four, it didn't represent Doctor Doom, and it was just lazy and a drag to watch. Outside of the actors, nobody cared about this and you shouldn't, either.


The end result is going to be everyone wanting the FF with Marvel. But I didn't want that. I wanted the FF and the X-Men to have their own universe without being crowded by all of those damned Avengers. See, to me the Marvel hierarchy is Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. The Avengers show up from time to time to ruin things, but I grew up in the other side of the Marvel Universe. 


I'd like to keep the cinematic worlds separate, but FOX is just such a disaster. Deadpool looks promising, but that's one movie. With any luck, Deadpool will set crazy records and FOX will learn the value of staying true to source material and valuing the input of people that know the source material.


Personally, I don't recommend you bother with this movie, even if you're a fan of the Fantastic Four.


Especially if you're a fan of the Fantastic Four.






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