Action Movie Fanatix Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

Action Movie Fanatix review banner for Fantastic Four (2015)Change Is Coming

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson

Director: Josh Trank

2015 | 100 Minutes | PG-13

“I think you’ve cracked inter-dimensional travel.” – Dr. Franklin Storm

I’m never one to be the first to get a review out for any given movie. If I review a movie within the first month of its release, I see that as me being really awesome! With Fantastic Four, it is starting to feel like movie reviewers are simply beating a dead horse.   But really… can it be that bad?

After teleporting to an alternate dimension, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) become endowed with supernatural abilities. The four must learn to work together and use their powers to defeat Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a former friend turned enemy.

Fantastic Four 2015 - Mr Fantastic stretchy armFantastic Four really is a mess of a movie. There are some things that are done right and a lot of different areas where it falls right down on its face. I’ll try to be fair and simply call it as I see it. Fantastic Four is a rare case where I don’t have a big, preexisting love for the characters so I can actually just look at a comic book movie and have fun… or not.

The first problem becomes evident within the first 10 minutes of watching the movie. The vision is all over the place. It seemingly doesn’t know whether it wants to be Super 8, Chronicle, Interstellar, The Fly or The Avengers, when in reality it should be aiming to be none of the above.

On the plus side, the first 30-40 minutes are entertaining and feel like they are starting to go somewhere, even if that somewhere isn’t a proper Fantastic Four movie. Then all of a sudden, the group gets drunk, hops over to another dimension, gets powers and then the movie flashes “1 Year Later” like we didn’t want to see them all learning to use their powers and dealing with what it means to be a super hero. If you’re going to tell an origin story, tell it! If not, leave it all alone.

The biggest thing this movie has going for it is the cast. The actors are far and away the highlights of the movie but they are given so little to work with we have scenes where they are interacting quite well and then we have scenes where they appear to be completely bored with the whole thing. When they ARE interacting with each other they are often quite douchey to each other but I don’t really feel I can blame the actors for bad decisions by writers and directors.

Fantastic Four 2015 - Victor Von DoomThe script never attempts to build believable bonds between any of the characters. Heck… Ben Grimm completely disappears for a 20+ minute chunk of the movie as we “get to know” Sue and Johnny Storm and “grow” their relationships with Reed, meaning we watch Reed be nerdy, Sue be ambivalent and Johnny be a rebel.

Just the idea that five 30-something high school students create an inter-dimensional teleportation device is a bit of a stretch. And before you go on about how this is a comic book movie I will point to the fact that in the original comics the Fantastic Four were considerably older before they went to space. And before you say that this was based on the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four I will point to the fact that the Ultimate line of comics is dumb. ‘Nuff said.

All of the movie’s characters have fatal flaws, keeping them from being believable in any way while at the same time keeping them from being true to their comic book counterparts.

After years of being discredited by his science teacher, evidently the same one from elementary school all the way through high school, Reed is discovered by Franklin and Sue Storm at a high school science fair. How did they even know about him? His own science teacher thought he was full of crap!

Sue Storm doesn’t even go to planet zero and somehow she gets powers because of the blast coming through the portal. It’s really not even explained any further than that and it probably doesn’t need to be but it’s just another instance of the Fox movie machine ripping apart the origin of Marvel comic book characters. It might not seem like much but just think about it for a minute… Sue Storm wasn’t even on the mission/trip that created the Fantastic Four. She was an afterthought, similar to her part in the movie. And because of the reshoots she has two different hairstyles and colors throughout the movie…

Fantastic Four 2015 - Sue Storm hairBen is shown to be little more than a scrap yard worker, who essentially lucked out in meeting Reed Richards. In the comics he is a master pilot, having flown in WWII and being the essential pilot of the spacecraft which took the four into space.Fantastic Four 2015 - The Thing

There was a lot of controversy around Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm based almost solely on his race. I don’t completely disagree with the controversy. I tend to be in favor of staying as true to comic book characters as possible but this was obviously a very different take on the Fantastic Four. The reason we were given was that Michael B. Jordan was the perfect actor to portray Johnny’s particular brand of attitude. Well… there’s really only 1-2 short blips of that attitude before he completely falls in line helping the team.

Victor Von Doom was originally Victor Domeshev in the script prior to comic fans justifiably freaking out. He’s shown to be a bad guy by showing that he is a bit more broody than the rest of the group, he wears a leather jacket for a second and has facial hair. Oh, and he has a secret crush on Sue. That can’t be good.  He must be pure evil. Once he gets his powers and goes all – “There is no Victor. There is only Doom!” – he’s very clearly a powerful dude but what those powers are is a complete mystery. He just seems to be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He’s also never shown to be the megalomaniac dictator type that he is in the comics.

Another important thing to point out is the reasoning behind the four guys jump into the device to explore the other dimension. They were drunk and Doom gets all preachy about how they should get the credit for this, not the astronauts that would follow. That’s pretty much it.  I’m just saying it would probably take more convincing than that for me to jump to another dimension.

There is some fan service shoe-horned in throughout the movie. Johnny Storm says “Flame on!” The Thing says “It’s clobberin’ time!” There’s some cheese at the end with them deciding on the Fantastic Four name. It would not shock me to find out that Trank had left all this kind of stuff out, since it didn’t fit his vision, and Fox demanded it really late in the game, causing all of it to just feel so forced.

Fantastic Four 2015 - Human TorchThe CGI is really hit and miss throughout the movie. Sometimes it’s because of bad CGI and sometimes it is because of bad CGI design. For the most part The Thing looks pretty cool but when we get a closeup of his face he looks really dopey. Plus he doesn’t have pants… Human Torch’s face looks odd while in flame-on mode and Reed’s stretchy powers never look quite right. The Invisible Woman’s invisible force field powers are represented by some not-so-invisible blue effects.

Many elements from the trailers are nowhere to be seen in the actual movie, including what looked to be a pretty cool shot of The Thing jumping from an airplane without a parachute, crashing to the earth below.

So, where does the blame for this mess lie? Is it director Josh Trank’s fault or Fox’s? Many people seem to be pointing the blame at Fox for supposedly meddling in Trank’s vision. Trank himself tweeted (then deleted) about how amazing his vision was.

Fantastic Four - Josh Trank tweetOn the flip side, some seem to question Trank’s vision from the very get go. Was this dark, gritty look the correct approach for the Fantastic Four? His only previous experience was Chronicle, a pseudo super hero movie which had a very similar feel. Could that initial success have been a fluke? Plus there are reports of his (and his dogs’) erratic behavior on set.

In classic Fox comic book movie fashion, it seems like they have come up with an idea for a story before deciding on the property to use it on. The Fantastic Four characters have been dropped into a story. The proper approach, of course, is to take those existing characters and craft a story that makes sense around them, their individual personalities and their pre-existing relationships. I’m not someone who demands that everything adhere 100% to the way it was in the comics. I don’t need a scene for scene remake of something I’ve already read but I’m also not a fan of someone looking at a group of characters and, before putting pen to paper, starting to decide on what they want to change. Even the tag line “Change is Coming” is a sign of how Fox looked at the property. Change for change’s sake is rarely, if ever, a good thing.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the reigning king in terms of continuity and flow from one movie / franchise to the next. DC seems to be getting their act together, albeit with a dark & gritty filter applied to every property.

Fox seems to ebb and flow, constantly flying by the seat of their pants from one movie to the next, rarely considering how events in one movie could affect past or future movies. If you need further proof, check out the trailer for the upcoming Deadpool movie. Obviously I haven’t seen it yet but it looks pretty sweet. Deadpool, Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus have all been shown in comic accurate costumes. Flip over to X-Men: Days of Future Past or what we have seen from X-Men: Apocalypse (aside from Psylocke & Jubilee) and we are barely out of the black leather era of 2000.

Ultimately Fantastic Four is a movie about Reed Richards. Everyone else is a side character. Sue is Reed’s love interest. Ben is his friend. Victor his rival. Johnny… little more than Reed’s love interest’s brother. The Fantastic Four comic books are all about family. Families have ups and downs and so do the Fantastic Four but this movie treats everyone but Reed as an unimportant blip on his radar. THAT is the biggest problem in a movie filled with a lot of problems to begin with.  I blame both Fox and Trank for this huge misstep.

Many are pointing at Fantastic Four as one of the worst comic book movies of all time. That’s a bit harsh… there’s been some real crap created in this genre. By today’s standards, it’s just not a good super hero movie and is a really bad Fantastic Four movie, seemingly made worse by a whole lot of backstage drama. But worst ever? Not even close.

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