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Monday, February 8, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015) Review

The Fantastic Four haven't had much success on the big screen. The two major film adaptions are usually in any "top ten worst comic book films" list. "How difficult is it to make a film about a family of superheroes?" is often the question. Apparently very, since FOX laid the series dormant for eight years. In this case, it was wise to reboot it. Last year saw the release of the revamp. Marketing was rather poor leading up to it, releasing perhaps the most generic trailer of all time and "hyping up" characters, such as Doom being a blogger. (Which thankfully was pretty much cut.) I've always enjoyed the Fantastic Four because of the family dynamic, which is really at the core of every FF story. This is something director Josh Frank's reboot didn't seem to understand. While not the worst comic book movie out there, it definitely deserves its razzie. Still, unlike the first origin story, it's certainly not boring and provides a rather bizarre experience for a longtime comic fan.

Transported to an alternate universe, four young outsiders gain superhuman powers as they alter their physical form in shocking ways. Reed Richards becomes Mr. Fantastic, able to stretch and twist his body at will, while pal Ben Grimm gains immense strength as the Thing. Johnny Storm becomes the Human Torch, able to control and project fire, while his sister Sue becomes the Invisible Woman. Together, the team must harness their new abilities to prevent Doctor Doom from destroying the Earth.
The beginning played it very good, showcasing how Reed Richards and Ben Grimm met as kids. It's interesting to see the dynamic back then since the comics haven't really explored it all too much. Fast forward to modern day when they're at college. This is where the problems begin. At the science fair the teacher literally witnesses something get teleported away, yet dismisses it as if it wasn't anything extraordinary. There's no indication that this is a world in which stuff like this happens, so the reaction was incredibly strange. The action really begins when Franklin Storm asks Reed and Ben to join up at Baxter Foundation to complete a device which Victor Von Doom had started.

It'd be good to go over each individual character, which accounts for a good chunk of the negatives. The blatant one at first is Susan Storm. (Kate Mara.) She literally smiled about three or four times in the two hour run-time. She showcased virtually no emotion and her face pretty much had the same expression throughout the whole film. In the comics Sue is one of the most caring individuals in the Marvel Universe. Here...nothing. I'm not sure if the writing forced her to act like a statue or Mara just can't bring emotion into her role. A primary example is when she finds out that Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Victor are in great danger. Her statement "I'm trying" and her completely stiff face expression was just sad. I'm tempted to say she's just as emotion-less as Bella in the Twilight movie series. (If that were even possible.)

You're going to see a pattern here with the acting. One of the most laughable scenes was in "the other dimension" (which in itself wasn't explained at all) with Victor grasping the hand of Reed before plummeting below. There's yelling but it looks and sounds fake. The point of peril in films is for the viewer to feel the character's anguish and danger. One doesn't get the feeling here. It watches like the actors are just reading lines off the script and yelling when necessary. The film often feels like a low budget college project in this regard, which leads us to our next negative. While as terrible as the last two Fantastic Four movies were, they at least retained the feel of the classic comic books. What the writing and directing tries to do here is make it a gritty (generic word, but it's the only one that fits) almost alternate history type of story. There's unnecessary language being thrown around just to have some edginess for example. Even worse, there's a scene where some of the characters get drunk. (Basically, the opposite of stuff you find in the comics.) Take away the name, switch around the powers and this wouldn't resemble an FF movie in the slightest.

Back to characters, Milles Teller as Reed is often a mixed bag. Sometimes he's good, but the acting is so lousy sometimes it's hard to say anything positive. In the climax for example, his one-liners to Doom such as "Victor don't do this" was so terribly acted one has to imagine how this got pass the green screen. Michael B. Jorden as Johnny Storm wasn't bad. He definitely got the humor down which the character is known for. Perhaps the film's biggest positive is Ben Grimm. When Jamie Bell becomes the Thing, he completely nails the character.

As they say, a story is as good as its villain. Unfortunately for the previous two films, they didn't pass the test with their depiction of Dr. Doom. With a reboot, FOX had another chance. Did they succeed? It's an interesting answer. The problem I have is not with Toby Kebbell specifically, but before transforming into the antagonist the writing should have tried to develop the hate relationship between him and Reed. Later in the climax Doom states to Reed,"You always thought you were smarter than me." This makes no sense, since the two had only known each other for about...a few days, weeks maybe?" There's no buildup to such a statement. With that said, when Doom becomes Doom, he was a very enjoyable antagonist to watch. He commanded the screen, something the old Dr. Doom never quite achieved. Sadly, the writing strikes again since his goals and motivations are poorly explained.

If it isn't evident yet, the writing is pretty bad most of the time. Not only in the lines spoken by the characters, but on the plotlines themselves. There are two primary examples. Remember the laughable scene when Victor seemingly plummets to his doom? (Unintentional pun, I promise.) This wasn't mentioned by anyone afterward. It's almost as if the writing forgot about it until later. Another thing is that Ben blames Reed for his condition. When Grimm captures Richards, he makes the bold statement of "I'm not your friend." Yet about 20 minutes later they're pretty much back to being buddies, and by the end that line is completely rendered irrelevant. Despite there not being too much action, the film thankfully manages to move at a solid place. The climax isn't terrible, and there are some nice effects utilized. In retrospect however, it's probably the worst action film climax of 2015. Nothing really "big" happens, and looks low budget when compared to say Age of Ultron or Jurassic World. (Even tiny characters in Ant-Man provide a more grand climax, though to be fair few can beat Thomas the Tank Engine.)

Overall, Fantastic Four is one of the strangest comic book movies out there. It doesn't necessarily deserve its 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, but also doesn't really deserve anything above 30% either. The problem first from a comic book fan's perspective is that it doesn't look or feel like an FF movie. At least the previous two movies kept the family dynamic; here it's as if the goal was to make a sci-fi film with the characters in name only. It's truly bizarre, and an example that the "gritty reboot" isn't always the right call. I will however give credit for it having virtually no romance. But the language, the tone, the drunk scene, this is not the Fantastic Four. From a non-comic book fan's perspective, the writing is just bad a lot of the time. There is no great acting to be found here. The best FF film is still the unreleased Roger Corman one from the 90's.


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