Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Very Curious Comic Book Movie: Our Review of "Fantastic Four" (2015)

Directed By: Josh Trank (Chronicle

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Tony Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey

Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Synopsis: A group of young scientists invent a trans-dimensional teleportation device and gain superpowers following a catastrophic trip to another dimension's planet. These scientists and their civilian friend who was roped into the trip must then band together to save the planet from one of their own group.


Andrew: Hello dear readers! Sarah and I have been on an extended blogging hiatus due to a fairly busy summer with some weird work schedules for the both of us, but we were drawn out of said hiatus thanks to a film that we were morbidly curious to check out: Fox's new Fantastic Four reboot.

It's directed by Josh Trank, who made a name for himself with 2012's Chronicle - a superhero film that we reviewed positively back in the first year we did this blog - and stars Miles Teller (Whiplash), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle) and Jamie Bell (AMC's Turn) as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing, respectively.  Oh, and Tony Kebbell, who played Koba the chimp in last year's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, plays Victor von Doom/Dr. Doom this time around.

So Sarah, let's get to it. This reboot has been critically panned and it's already a box-office flop, having earned only $26 million in its first weekend. Just for comparison, the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four films that starred Jessica Alba and a pre-Captain America Chris Evans earned $52 million and $58 million in their respective opening weekends.

Fox needs to contractually make a new Fantastic Four movie every few years or so in order to keep the film rights, lest those rights revert back to Marvel...

Sarah: Really?

A: Yeah. That's one of the primary reasons this new film even got made, as Fox waited until virtually the last minute to put it into production to hold onto their rights, and there's an unreleased, incredibly low-budget Fantastic Four movie from the 90's that was made for the same reason.

S: That's crazy.

A: Right? Well with the new film there were plenty of production problems which you can read about on all sorts of websites now…

S: Entertainment Weekly has a good breakdown of it all on their site, including how Trank has distanced himself from this final product, tweeting last Thursday that he had a better version of the film a year ago but we'll never get to see it because of the studio…it's juicy stuff.

A: It really is. So now that we've actually seen the movie, Sarah, what did you think of Fantastic Four?

We wanted to find a picture showing the Fantastic Four's faces all together, but this is the best we could do. So that's saying something. (From left to right: Jamie Bell as a CGI The Thing, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller and Kate Mara)

S: I kinda feel the way about it that I felt about the original versions they did ten years ago: "Eh." I didn't leave the theatre feeling super pumped like I normally do for a Marvel movie. This one was just…eh? I was a disappointment is what it really boils down to.

We've come to expect such high expectations from our Marvel films and I don't get why Fox can't get it together to put together a good Marvel movie.

A: Well, okay, to be fair Fox does the X-Men movies which have generally been good…

S: But even those in comparison to what Disney is doing with their Marvel movies, they don't compare.

A: That's fine, but we're talking about two separate things then. You're saying Fox's Marvel films aren't up to the snuff of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that Disney is doing…

S: Right.

A: But they do make good Marvel movies on occasion, specifically the X-Men movies.

But I agree with you, this Fantastic Four movie was just meh. I don't think it's as bad as other people have reviewed it to be and that I was expecting it to be, though. I don't think it was a complete train wreck. But it's not good either, so it's kind of mediocre.

S: Mediocre is a perfect word for it. That's what I would say. And it's a shame because it has a great cast.

A: It really does, and that's probably the biggest strength of the whole film. It has a really great cast.

S: Cast members that are proven actors and up-and-coming stars from other films and TV shows. The star of the movie, Miles Teller, was just the star of an Academy Award-winning movie and has proven to be a very good actor in other films including The Spectacular Now, and he was given hardly anything to do here. He's supposed to be the leader of the group and - to me at least - he never felt like the leader of the group once.

Kate Mara is really good on Netflix's House of Cards and she's pretty much wasted here as she doesn't even get to go on the exploration trip! Also her constantly changing hair and obvious wig for the scenes that were re-shot were very distracting.

Michael B. Jordan doesn't get a whole lot to do and neither does Jamie Bell as Ben. There had to have been tons of footage cut from the movie because those guys had scenes in the trailers that definitely weren't in the movie.

A: That's a very good point. I can think of at least five off the top of my head, including two where Ben is playing baseball or using a baseball bat, which would have made much better origins for his "It's Clobberin' Time!" catchphrase than what they ultimately go with here.

S: Yes! When I think about the movie as a whole, it's just…I didn't feel convinced, I guess. I wasn't convinced of this movie's authenticity, of its drive, of its logic, it's villain... I mean, look at how Victor von Doom turned bad. Yeah, he was left for dead on the new planet they go to, but all the stuff leading up to it? And did the planet make him go crazy? I don't know, he just wasn't convincing, it was a lackluster villain… like all these other superhero villains. And that's actually something I will compare it to the MCU films, it's a weakly established villain here. I'd hold him in line with Obadiah Stane from Iron Man and really any of the Iron Man villains…

A: Or Malekith the Dark Elf in Thor: The Dark World

S: Right. I just wasn't convinced. There didn't seem to be a lot of passion behind this film.

A: Now there's something I will disagree with you on a bit, on that part about the passion. I actually thought for about the first hour or so - basically everything leading up to the characters actually gaining their powers - I thought was actually well-done for the most part. It was interesting to me, it was acted well by the main actors (even though they're not given much to do).

I enjoyed the science of it all, watching them make this teleportation device that gets them to Planet Zero in the other dimension. I liked that Victor von Doom was a part of their team and had a previous relationship with Sue, instead of just being an investor in their studies like the older films.  All of that worked for me.

I liked the characters' motivation for going to the other dimension - the financiers were going to have NASA people make the first trip after the teleporter was finished. And Victor makes a good point to Reed and Johnny: you don't remember who built the Apollo space shuttles but you remember Neil Amstrong and Buzz Aldrin's names. That's a great point and for these young, slightly drunk scientists who are about to have their work/credit taken away from them I think that's a totally realistic rationalization.

Then post-trip the movie briefly turns into a "body horror movie." I've seen some people compare that section of the film to David Cronenberg's The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum and I think that's a very appropriate comparison. It's filmed in such a way that you're kind of horrified to see the transformations the characters are going through, you see how frightened they are, and it can be scary if you're new to this whole story…

S: But scary in the loosest sense of the word…

A: Fair, but it's something different and it's interesting. And then the movie jumps forward one year and completely jumps off the rails.

S: All of a sudden the team members can control their powers and know what to do with them and we completely miss the origin!

A: Right!

S: It's an origin movie but not at the same time. They spend the entire first half of the film leading up to the moment of their origin and then go, "Oh, you don't need to see that part." They also seemingly cut out a big action sequence for The Thing that's in the trailer and replaced it with something smaller scale.

This cool shot from the Fantastic Four trailer isn't in the finished film.

It just didn't have a great flow to it for me. Was it abysmal? No. But it just wasn't good.

A: Right, the movie as a whole isn't abysmal, it's just not good. But the third act? The climax, big battle between the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom?

S: Which made absolutely zero sense to me, I was so confused…

A: That part was abysmal. The science of it, the logic of it doesn't follow what was previously established in the film; Doom himself… he's got no facial expressions because of how they've designed the character…

S: Yes! I know the character has generally always had a mask for a face, but they hired this guy who was so good as a motion-capture chimp… I felt he went toe-to-toe with Andy Serkis, honestly… and when he actually becomes the villain they completely take a way his ability to emote.

A: Huge misstep there. And you compared his villainy to MCU villains…

S: Like Obediah Stane, Doom has like zero motivation for what he's doing. He's trying to save this new planet he's adopted but I don't understand… we don't know why. Why this planet? What's on this planet that's so necessary to save?

A: He spends a year there and the planet keeps him alive, I get that, but beyond that he's all about Planet Zero now.

S: Yeah, and he's destroying Earth in order to do it.

A: But the whole final battle is very reminiscent of MCU movies where the bad guy has some power source and wants to use it to destroy things and the good guys have to join up to defeat him. It's reminiscent of The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy but not nearly done as well. And it's incredibly rushed. Doom is found on the planet during a second exploration trip, he's brought back, he starts to go all Scanners on people at the facility, then has a quick fight with the foursome and he's gone. It takes all of maybe 10-15 minutes, if that.

S: It definitely happened way too fast, and was laughably bad.

A: Agreed. So, on the whole I didn't not enjoy Fantastic Four. There were parts that I did enjoy and I really liked the relationships between, like between Reed and Ben. I thought the parts of that we saw, they did well. I actually got a little verklmept when Reed sends a selfie to Ben to show that they've finished making the teleporter and saying "Couldn't have done it without you, buddy." I enjoyed that and I wish they had more of that.

S: Agreed. And it's not even until the very end of the movie that they start to go into the whole Johnny and Ben rivalry thing, but it's barely touched on until that point.

Speaking of The Thing, this scene from the trailer isn't in the movie either.

Overall, I think it's just a weak film. If this is correct and all Fox had to do was make a new movie to keep the rights, I can totally see that as the only reason this was made. It's like it was made as an obligation, like, "Dammit, we're not going to let Disney have another Marvel film property!" It was ridiculous.

A: I don't think these characters can't work in a movie, I just don't think they've been done well yet. I think if Fox is serious about making a X-Men TV show - and they need Marvel's okay to do that since Fox only owns the rights to make X-Men movies - I think Marvel should play hardball and take the Fantastic Four back. Because then at least they'll be able to do something.

But I like the cast, I like where they're headed, I'd like to see these actors as these characters again just in a better movie.

S: Mmhmm.

A: So, yeah. Fantastic Four isn't bad, it's not great, but I'd say worth checking out to see the small flickers of what could've been hiding in there. Your final thoughts?

S: Not great, Bob.

FINAL VERDICT: Worth a matinee if you're curious, otherwise wait for Netflix.

(Individual Scores - S: 2/5  A: 2/5)

Photo Courtesies: 20th Century Fox


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