Monday, August 10, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

On August 6th Josh Trank, director of the new reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, tweeted something that I think speaks volumes about the finished film…
The reviews are all trashing the film furiously. Some of the ones I read are spitting such venom that it’s as if the film killed these critic's first born children. It’s a little out of hand and is bordering on the ridiculous. Sadly they are all right. This film has problems. Lots of them. But I cannot fully blame Josh Trank for this. Why? Because the film I saw reeks of studio meddling. You could smell it from space. Through a space suit. In a vacuum.

The story is a somewhat more interesting retelling of the origin story of the first family of Marvel. We get to watch a young Reed Richards befriend Ben Grimm as they experiment with teleportation, see Reed’s ideas get noticed by those at the Baxter Institute where he works alongside Sue and Johnny Storm as well as Victor von Doom. And ultimately they are mutated when a freak accident during a trip to Planet Zero grants them all superpowers.

Then things get sketchy. Real sketchy.
But first, let’s talk about what is good about the film. The casting is pretty spot on. Sure the actors are in their mid/late 20s and are playing 18-year olds, but they are a likable bunch. I loved the interplay between Reed Richards, played by Miles Teller (Divergent, Whiplash), and Ben Grimm, played by Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tintin, King Kong). You feel just how proud Ben is of Reed getting accepted to study at the Baxter Institute which will allow him to further develop his teleportation technology. I also liked the awkward beginnings of a possible romance between Reed and Sue Storm, played by Kate Mara (Shooter, House of Cards). I really enjoyed the sibling rivalry between Sue and Johnny, played by Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, Creed). The cast gelled well and Trank really took his time developing all the characters, including Toby Kebbell’s (Wrath of the Titans, Alexander) Victor von Doom who fits right into the core group seamlessly.

And damn is Reg E. Cathey (The Mask, House of Cards) awesome! He’s a poor man’s Morgan Freeman in that he gives mundane dialogue some much needed gravitas with little effort. He’s the heart of the film and for good reason.
The set-up is, dare I say, fantastic! Trank paces the build up in such a way that you really get a good feel for the characters so that when the big moment happens you actually care about them. And he pulled it off! The scene where the accident happens is absolutely horrifying and made me audibly gasp. And he keeps the events grounded in reality as much as he can, so that the abilities these people are blessed/cursed with look painful when in use (seeing Ben/Thing attempting to rip himself out of a sheet of rock while screaming “Help me, Reed!” is more than a little disturbing) and not as glorified as most films make superpowers out to be. It’s comparable to a David Cronenberg body horror film. That, in my humble opinion, put this flick into a whole other category due to it being a superhero movie set in the real world. Awesome.

And Trank isn’t afraid to show the dark side of these powers. Some of Doom’s abilities (which are vague… I’ll talk about it later) are right out of Scanners. Right. Out. Of. Scanners. And its kind of rad to see such carnage in a PG-13 “family” film.
But once the main characters receive these powers everything goes downhill fast. Once “One Year Later” appears superimposed on the screen we find out that Ben is now participating in black ops for the government with Johnny eager to join him. Sue is honing her powers as if she plans on doing some shady wetworks, but she’s opposed to it completely. It’s confusing as to why she’s constantly demonstrating to the suits what she can do when she wants no part in what they would like to use her for. And Reed is off in Mexico using his powers to change his face so he can buy junk for some unknown reason without getting noticed. It’s a jarring tonal shift that skips over the most interesting part of the origin story – these people learning to adjust to their new powers and growing together as a family. Instead we see them doing stupid shit that the characters we had gotten to know in the first hour would never do in a million years.

And then Victor von Doom shows up out of nowhere and makes things even worse. He’s shoehorned into the story just so there is a threat for the main characters to fight. While his look is cool and he has weird telekinetic powers that aren’t explained at all, his motivations are unclear (he has roundabout 10 lines of dialogue total) and he seems to want to destroy the Earth just because he’s expected to. Julian McMahon’s lame ass Doctor Doom from the double dosage of dookie Fantastic 4/Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer is better than this joke of a villain. The finale is a rushed mess that makes zero sense, and while showcasing some rad CGI is completely devoid of any fun or the heart from the first half of the flick. It’s almost as if it was made up on the spot.

Probably because it was.
So what I’ve read is that Josh Trank was promised many things to make the movie his own, and mere days before principal photography was to begin it was all taken away from him. He had massive action scenes ready to shoot and the budget to make it happen, but those plans were unceremoniously cancelled and studio mandated changes were made to the script without his input. When he did turn in his rough cut of the movie to the studio it wasn’t liked by the suits. They wanted an FX filled action fest and he gave them a character piece that just so happened to have some action scenes to keep things lively. Isn’t that what they wanted?! So 20th Century Fox took the movie away from him, ordered some reshoots and sliced up the movie in the editing room to not only cut the runtime down, but to get to the action scenes sooner. It was a big mistake. You can instantly tell when the reshot scenes begin due to the aforementioned tonal shift and also by Kate Mara’s horrible wig. It doesn’t even look like its attached to her head. And when I say “rushed mess” of a finale I mean that once Doom reappears in the story the big finale ends 10 minutes later. It feels so tacked on and half assed that I’m surprised it was left in. And it’s confusing as all hell to boot. And then the movie just ends. Major characters have died and no one seems to care or notice, but damn skippy if that finale wasn’t as flashy as can be. WTF.

There are a number of scenes in the trailer that aren’t in the finished film. Most notably when The Thing drops from a stealth bomber onto a Humvee. Unimaginably hokey dialogue pops up, like the gem “There is no Victor, only Doom!” that’s ripped right out of Ghostbusters. And I almost went into a violent fit of laughter once I realized that The Thing walks around naked for the entire film but has no manhood and a ginormous ass crack. Whose bright idea was it to not give him pants?!
I’ll tell you who - the penny pushers who think that because they run a studio they know what makes a movie worth watching. I’m sorry, but when will these people learn that they aren’t filmmakers? That’s why you hire a filmmaker in the first place! Every time a movie is taken from the director’s hands in this manner the outcome is always a schizophrenic mess. Let the filmmakers do what they do, and if the film fails it will fall squarely on their shoulders. That’s the risk you take in this business. Thankfully Trank addressed this up front. If this film bombs I’m pretty sure it will affect his career somewhat (dropping out of that Star Wars spin-off was a bad idea), but I hope it doesn’t kill it completely. I really liked his previous film, Chronicle, which was a found footage superhero movie that was all the things Fantastic Four should have been.

This had the potential to be a great take on these classic characters. The form we received goes on to prove that maybe these characters aren’t as film friendly as some would like them to be. I have yet to see a completely watchable version of the Fantastic Four on the big screen. I’d say that the uber cheap and unreleased Roger Corman version was better than this misfire that suffers from having too many cooks in the kitchen. This is half of a good movie and half of one made by a committee.

2 out of 5

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