Sunday, August 9, 2015

Movie Reviews: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four
directed by Josh Trank
When the director tweets out (and later deletes) that the final film product is not what he originally intended or indeed created it's not the best sign. This could be a good old fashioned case of CYA and blamestorming. Or it could be God's honest truth. The best thing one can say about this film is that it is indeed quite not as bad as some of the more vitriolic responses have indicated. Nevertheless it is a bad film. It is not emotionally engaging in the slightest bit. It is a summer blockbuster based on a comic book which was never one of my favorites. But even by the low standards of "comic book" movies this film was flat. It was so flat that I don't want to spend a huge number of paragraphs explaining why. It's not worth my time, which has lately become scarce. And you would be bored before you got halfway through. If films like The Dark Knight, Sin City and 300 show that the best comic books or graphic novels can reflect timeless myths that come to amazing life on the big screen and compare favorably with literary prose, films like Fantastic Four show that weak source material combined with bad casting and worse direction can produce a film that is going to have to peddle itself furiously overseas to have even a remote chance of making its production budget back.

The Good (this will be short)
Some of the special effects were good, particularly Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing). They actually looked real. You could feel the horror in being a rocky malformed well...thing, who will never know the ability to physically love a woman again. Sue's initial inability to control her access to the visible spectrum actually had pathos.
Reg Cathey's work as Dr. Franklin Storm, father of Johnny and Sue Storm, is worthy of note. Cathey brought an admirable intensity to a role that was more than a bit hackneyed. I remember him from The Wire. Unfortunately in Fantastic Four he had little chemistry with either of his children but I blame that more on the writing than on him. And that's about it for the good that I saw in this film.

The Bad
Where to begin? Well I could go on for a while here but as mentioned I want to be concise. 
I know this is supposed to be an origin story/reboot but the whole point of the Fantastic Four is that it's a family. Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are feuding frenemies. Reed and Ben are best friends. Reed and Sue are a romantic item. Sue and Johnny are siblings who are extremely protective of each other. None of that came across in this film. Maybe all the acting in front of the green screen has limited some actors' abilities? I don't know but none of the four leads evinced any real chemistry with each other. You could see them trying sometimes but it just never came across. They looked and sounded like they were on lithium drips throughout the film. That was the film's biggest flaw. I was never ever ever ever able to lose myself in the film's reality. So if the actors didn't care, why should I? I know that Michael B. Jordan can provide better acting than he did here as Johnny Storm. Kate Mara can as well, for that matter. If Jessica Alba's Sue Storm was too brassy and offkey then Kate Mara's version too often fades into the background. I don't need to see another so called strong woman who beats up 30 men who are twice her size but in this film Sue Storm didn't have a whole lot to do. I suspect that much of that has to do with the source material but there are still things the writers and producers could have done to make the actress' story a bit more engaging. For example, a few "remember whens" between the Storm siblings might have helped.
Again I understand the origin story. I get that this film was based on a slightly different version of the Fantastic Four but dorky or not, Reed Richards is still supposed to be a leader of men. I couldn't buy the baby faced Miles Teller as any sort of leader of anyone. If he got into anyone's face it would probably just be to beg them to give his lunch money back.
Doom(Toby Kebbell) had the arrogance and analytical nature of Victor Von Doom down pat but his reasons for turning to the Dark Side as it were were hackneyed at best and downright dumb if you want to be frank. I'm not a Fantastic Four comic book geek. Perhaps this is how it went down in the original source material but if so then they should have changed it for the big screen. Jamie Bell does ok as Ben Grimm but it's nothing to write home about. Basically there are no characters you care about. The story is one you've seen a million times before. And the film doesn't even try to hid the fact that monetary considerations were infinitely more important than any story it was trying to tell. This is a film you can safely skip seeing in the theaters. I wouldn't even advise seeing it on VOD or DVD. Wait until it's on for free and you have nothing better to do. There are one or two scenes of violence that would be more appropriate for a horror movie but most of the violence is well, comic book like. No sex and no cleavage IIRC. But it's not that any of that would have changed my opinion on this film. With the miscast Teller and bad chemistry among the cast, this film just didn't do much for me. I think the Fantastic Four story which was relatable in the sixties doesn't resonate today as it did then. Tim Blake Nelson slums as a oleaginous government doctor with a hidden agenda. Are there any other kinds? The ending is rushed and the big battle feels well, fake from beginning to end. Fantastic Four, with a few exceptions, was subdued and almost lifeless. Too much time was spent with heroes in the lab and not enough of them doing heroic things.
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