August 16, 2015

Movie Multiverse: Fantastic Four (2015)

FF15 B
Lookin' pretty dark

Lookin’ pretty dark

Title: Fantastic Four
Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank (based on Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and Ultimate Fantastic Four created by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Millar
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Release Date: August 7, 2015

Welcome to another installment of MOVIE MULTIVERSE! Ordinarily, with a movie review about a Marvel Comic Book, I start things off by quoting Stan Lee, saying “face front, true believers!” Not today though as this week we’ll be taking a look at Fantastic Four, not to be confused with the 2005 movie with the same name. However, I don’t want to quote Stan Lee, because this movie quite frankly doesn’t deserve to be paired with such awesomeness. Is it absolutely terrible? No, not really. But is it good by any standard? Well, let’s break it down shall we?

2015 brings us our fourth (that’s right FOURTH) Fantastic Four movie (more on that at the end of the article) by way of a darker, angst-ridden, grittier, bloodier reboot. When the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four movies came along, the two biggest complaints from detractors were: 1) the deviations from the source material AND 2) they were too family-friendly and not serious enough. Well this movie strips away ALL of the family-friendly qualities and gives fans an adaptation less like the comics than any previous adaptations (movies or shows) combined.

I know a lot of you reading this already know the source material, but we can assume some folks checking this out won’t be as familiar, so let’s start by explaining the comics, because some of my summary and explanation of the film works better if we get this out of the way first. There are two versions of the Fantastic Four comics:

Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing

Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing

In the regular version, our four heroes have known each other for a while before they ever get their powers. The leader, Reed Richards is basically the smartest guy in the world. He’s best friends with Ben Grimm, a lovable bruiser from the mean streets of Brooklyn. Reed’s sweetheart is Sue, a nurturing if not somewhat overly protective who proves to be just as resourceful as her eventual husband Reed. Then there’s Sue’s brother Johnny, a hot-headed, brash, impulsive adrenaline-junkie who generally speaking isn’t afraid of anything. They take a rocket ship into outer space and during a freak cosmic storm they all gain superpowers. Sue gains invisible force-fields; Johnny can combust into flames; Reed gains super-durable skin that can stretch to any length and shape; Ben gains a new rock-body and super-strength.

Chilling flame effects look more eerie than fanciful

Chilling flame effects look more eerie than fanciful

In the alternate version, our heroes are all teenagers. Reed and Ben are childhood friends. Reed and Sue have only just met shortly before the fateful experiment, and are mildly flirtatious with each other. Johnny is the same hot-headed adrenaline-junkie. The four are mentored by Sue and Johnny’s father Franklin, who is to this incarnation of the FF what Professor Xavier is to The X-Men. This time around Doom is with them when the experiment goes horribly wrong, gaining a new metal body and goat legs. Instead of taking a rocket ship into outer space, the sci-fi accident comes by way of building a teleporter to move from one spot on the Earth to another.

This adaptation more closely resembles the secondary version of the comics, insofar as they’re all teenagers experimenting on a teleportation device. Oh, and Dr. Franklin Storm acts as their mentor for a while. Aside from the surface level similarities, the Fantastic Four’s powers and Doom’s metal skin, there isn’t much else connecting this adaptation to the source material.

Uncharted unstable planet? What's the worst that could happen?

Uncharted unstable planet? What’s the worst that could happen?

Here we have the story of five teens (all played by people nearly or over 30 and who all look like they’re in their late 20s) who worked together on a mission to create a teleportation device in order to explore another planet in an alternate dimension. Of course, something goes horribly wrong, and the five youths gain superpowers. A lot of teen angst later, four of those youths; Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny eventually decide to use their powers for good. While the fifth, Victor Von Doom, decides to destroy the Earth.

This leads me to my first point of contention with this film: the utter lack of logic showcased by most characters. Reed and Doom are scientists, yet throw caution to the wind to explore an uncharted, observably volatile planet. The first thing Doom does when he gets there is stick his hand in what is apparently living, glowing, green electric lava. During this sequence we get our first real taste of inaccurate character portrayals. Reed and Doom are analytical thinkers while Johnny is the hot-head. Yet in this movie, Johnny is overly cautious and the science-guys are the impulsive idiots.

These inaccurate portrayals combined with illogical characterizations continue throughout the movie. For instance, when the government captures the newly mutated teens, telling them that they’ll find a cure, but first they’ll be repurposed into weapons for the military, Ben and Johnny go along with it. One could continue to detail other numerous moments of illogic, but that would require a summary of practically the entire film.

While on the subject of logic, I found myself questioning the logic of the team gaining their superpowers, and I’ll tell you why.  Three of the five characters were given brief on-screen explanations for their powers.  Reed’s teleportation pod won’t close so he’s stretching and straining trying to close the door when the green explosion hits him.  Johnny’s pod has an electrical short and catches fire as the explosion hits him.  Ben’s pod is filled with space rocks from the other-dimensional planet as the explosion hits.  Doom gets weird telekinesis  and the ability to make peoples heads explode (more on that later) for some reason. And Sue gains force-field powers because the force-fields on the teleportation pods interact with the weird dimensional explosion and hit her. But this force-field explosion is immediately shown hitting all of New York, so why is she the only person affected.  Suspension of disbelief is necessary for a crazy sci-fi flick, but it helps when the movie at least tries to explain something… anything… ever.

Another major problem with the movie is its generally unrelenting dark tone. The movie is dark, unwelcomingly dark. The film begins when our heroes are around age 10. We’re shown that Reed is ostracized by his classmates and even his teacher, and his father can’t stand his constant science-project antics. Ben works at his family’s junkyard while trying to do his schoolwork to pick up the slack of his older brother, who likes to smack young Ben around while using the character’s catch-phrase “It’s clobberin’ time!” After Ben grows up and turns into superhero alter-ego, he utilizes his classic catch-phrase during the climactic battle against Dr. Doom, but now it’s tainted and sullied. Now he’s just echoing his jerk brother, using the “battle cry” of a bully. It’s also stated in the movie, that while working as a military stooge, Ben has accrued a kill-sheet numbering 43 known kills.

I got ahead of myself. Before Ben transforms, we’re introduced to Sue, Johnny, and Doom. Sue, instead of her usual nurturing ways, acts cold and condescendingly toward Reed. Johnny, no longer an impulsive thrill-seeker, is now an engineering whiz-kid who resents his father and rebels by way of illegal street races. Doom is a loner who hates pretty much everyone and everything, except Sue of course.

If I got turned into a metal glow-stick I'd go on a killing spree too

If I got turned into a metal glow-stick I’d go on a killing spree too

This movie, on top of being grim and dark, is also fairly bloody. It should also be noted that while none of the action starts until the last 20 minutes of the film, once the action does start, it is some of the bloodiest action you’ve seen in a Marvel adaptation this side of Blade or Punisher movies. Now, I’m no prude and I’m all for a good bit of bloody violence, but only when it fits tonally within the confines of the rest of the film. And the bloody action (and I’m talking exploding-heads Scanners action) comes completely out of left-field and feels like a totally different movie. After about five minutes of this, the bloodshed ends as abruptly as it begins. It just feels like a different movie took over for about five minutes right in the middle of the third act.

For all of my complaining, the film isn’t absolutely awful, unless you judge it as an adaptation of what it’s based on. As a generic sci-fi melodrama, it’s more or less kind of average. It has good visual effects, especially when it comes to the transformed Ben Grimm, as his new rock-skin shifts and scrapes even when he barely moves his lips, the minute details are impressive. The film has a solid plot and good acting from everyone, the few times they’re given decent material. Reg E. Cathey steals the show as the concerned father and every time he appears on-screen he lifts this movie up and makes it better than it has any business being.

I found the visuals surprisingly compelling

I found the visuals surprisingly compelling

As a generic sci-fi flick, I’d say Fantastic Four is average at best and earns a score of 5 out of 10. As an adaptation of the source material, this movie gets a couple things kind of right, but screws up way too much for it to matter, earning a score of 2 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger



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