Fantastic Four (2015)

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Fantastic Four (2015)

So, as you may have heard, Fantastic Four has bombed pretty damn hard and received a critical mauling in the press. Naturally, I felt the need to check it out. So I did. Incredible story, I know.

Fantastic Four tells the story of a gang of young scientists who crack the secret of interdimensional travel. Genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend/muscle Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), weirdo loner Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and tearaway Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) end up teleporting across dimensions to a new and dangerous planet. Bad science stuff happens and Victor doesn’t make it back. The accident gives Richards, Grimm and both Storms (Kate Mara’s Susan Storm is caught in the explosion when our heroes return) superhuman abilities.

It’s tempting to stop the review there and mention all the problems I have with the whole direction of the film. They’re big goddamn problems too. However, this is the product that’s been delivered to cinemas, so I won’t shit up good ol’ criticism with my lacklustre fan fiction-y ideas of what I wanted the film to be. Whilst an origin story, especially one that takes as long as this one does, is definitely not needed, I can appreciate it on some level. I had a problem with the Muppet Babies version of the team, but the cast did enough to convince me it wasn’t the worst idea. I liked Miles Teller as Reed Richards. He’s not the old-school father figure that he is in the comics, but he’s affable enough. The narrative concentrates on him and he’s actually fleshed out rather well. I was sceptical about Jamie Bell’s apparent miscasting as The Thing, but he does decent work as Ben Grimm. Again, he’s not the comic book version, but I could get on board with him as Reed’s designated protector. Less of a success is the rest of the cast. As you may have gleaned from the plot summary, Sue Storm is largely pushed to the side. She’s not even part of the expedition, which is baffling to me. I think Kate Mara did alright with what little we saw of her, but the film isn’t interested in her, so her impact on the film is minimal. Fuck, the Jessica Alba version of Sue Storm was better sketched than this AND had a more convincing wig.

I really expected Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm to be the breakout character. Disappointingly, he was weirdly subdued. Jordan is a great actor but it feels like the film hasn’t got time for much fun with him and his powers. He doesn’t strike me as the impulsive hothead he should be. Doom is another story. I could dig where they went with him. I rolled my eyes just as hard as everyone else did when leaked info pointed to Von Doom being an angry bedroom hacker. In practice, I could appreciate the idea of taking an angry computer nerd with strong opinions on the government and corporations and giving him a scary amount of power. Kebbell even manages to be fairly effective in the face of slapdash writing and leaden dialogue.

My problems with the characters sum up my opinion on the film as a whole. I can see what they’re doing and can appreciate it to a point but the whole thing is schizophrenic. It’s like a PG-13 edgy science-fiction film that has to be a superhero film under duress. Up until the gang get their powers, there is some solid characterisation on display. After the incident, it just becomes a jumble of hackneyed bullshit and rudderless CGI. There were bits past this point I enjoyed, but I liked them in a vacuum, free from the incoherent mess around them. For instance, I liked the weird body horror elements when the four wake up and find themselves in terrifying personal predicaments. I loved the hell out of a horror-like segment where the enraged Doom wakes up and starts exploding peoples’ heads Scanners style whilst walking down a corridor. These feel like glimmers of better and rougher drafts that somehow made it into the finished film.

I don’t have a problem with origin stories. When people say they do, I feel it’s akin to saying you don’t like books because you read some bad ones once. Some of the greatest and most enduring stories in human history are about the birth of heroes, so it seems weird to me that they’re usually the least compelling in a series. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are ways to ensure your precious franchise starter doesn’t suck straight out of the gate. Fantastic Four unfortunately ignores all of them and as such has to be chucked on the ever growing pile of shitty reboots with overambitious sequel plans. The film is a stapled-together mess. There are some genuinely inventive and decent ideas in the script, but it’s all neutralised thanks to having to conform to the superhero norms. Josh Trank was probably the wrong man for the job. He’s talented as hell, but this one reeks of studio interference and meddling. That’s not to say he’s completely blameless but the fact of the matter is that I don’t know what went down behind the scenes. However, it seems likely that Fox execs saw the darker, more interesting scenes like the David Cronenberg-esque awakenings and freaked out, beating the creative team over the head with demographic charts until it was deemed “safe” enough for public consumption.

I really wish I could punch this film’s third act in the face. It’s honestly like the film has stopped trying. It’s all just colours and noise. For valiantly hanging on in there, all the remaining audience are treated to is cringeworthy dialogue and a complete pixelfuck of a conclusion that threatens more terrible films. By the end I was pissed off. It’s not because I saw a bad film –  I see ’em all the time. What angered me was the fact that this version of Fantastic Four could have conceivably worked. It wasn’t a great adaptation, but it had a fresh angle of attack. it just failed at knowing what to do when it got there.

Fantastic Four is pretty damn bad. It definitely doesn’t deserve the horrifying 8% it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes though. It’s more of an interesting failure than a full-on trainwreck. However, I can’t recommend it in good conscience. It’s a mostly banal retread of the same old shit we’ve seen before and we should and do expect more from our superhero epics. Here’s hoping this causes a massive rethink at Fox HQ and we get an actual F4 film next time.

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