Fantastic 4 Review: Now with random outbursts of anger!

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OPENING RANT

There’s no emoticon for what I’m feeling!

What’s the opposite of “Excelsior”? That’s probably what poor Stan Lee is thinking, as his first family of heroes is, once again, given the shaft on the big screen. In an era where Thor–THOR!–is made into a viable movie franchise, with barely any compromise in what made him a great comic character, Fox still struggles to make Reed Richards into a viable hero. Forget Thor…

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…these guys starred in the number one movie of last year, in a film that proudly embraced the insanity.

But here’s Fox, still living in the 90’s, thinking that comic book movies should be stupid movies first, badly made movies second, and barely resembling the source material third.

This movie is a dour, plot-hole ridden mess of a film, having none of the whimsy, none of the zany universe and none of the pure fun that comes with the comic book franchise of the same name.

I don’t even know if I have the grammatical capability to describe how horribly made  this movie is!

Literally two-thirds of the film is set-up, too much of the film occurs in a single indoor location (and not in the cool, “Reservoir Dogs” sort of way), and it ruined (again) the best villain in all of Marvel’s roster.

I can’t even shift gears to talk about what worked, because absolutely everything that worked at some point in the movie ended up failing to work later on in such a remarkable fashion that it undid any goodwill it may have built up for itself. I mean, honestly, the first hour of the film was shaping up to be, potentially, a very good superhero movie. It was on track to even be a pretty good Fantastic 4 movie. Sure, it was still too gritty, too muted compared to Marvel Studios’ “embrace the comics” approach, but it was not a trainwreck. It was something.

An hour into the film, however, there is a (MINOR SPOILER) “one year later” tag and essentially from then until the end this sucker just goes off the rails.

It was gloomy! The most whimsical and light-hearted franchise in the Marvel universe was more downbeat than The Dark Knight!

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SO LETS BACK UP

In the mid-80’s Marvel was on the brink of bankruptcy. Comic sales were down across the board and the company was faced with either closing its doors, making some serious cuts to its business or taking drastic steps to stay afloat. They decided to sell off the motion picture rights to every major character they could get rid of. Most of these ended up being unused and reverted back to Marvel, a few of them were never able to be sold (which is why we get to enjoy The Avengers in cinemas every year), and some of them—the heavy-hitters—were scooped up by production companies with the intent to do something with them. Sony ended up with Spider-Man and Fox (eventually) landed Fantastic Four (along with X-Men, DareDevil, the Silver Surfer, and a few other tangential properties).

Not long after a little movie called “Batman” opened in theaters and even though it was very different from the source material it was a huge hit. Studios immediately started looking through their arsenals for comic book movies they could release. Spider-Man sat in “developmental hell” for a decade, until Sony finally released it in the early 2000’s to great box office numbers and good reviews. Fox’s X-Men also got off the ground with good box office numbers and great reviews.

In 2005 Fox released their next Marvel franchise: Fantastic Four. Directed by Tim Story, the movie was not as warmly received as Bryan Singer’s two X-Men movies. It had problems in tone and with the acting, but it made over $300 million and was considering enough of a hit for Fox to release a sequel, hoping to right the wrongs from the previous outing. The result was Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It was…just as bad. Most notably was the decision to change the main villain, Galactus. Instead of portraying him as he is in the comics (an awesome god-like tyrant who basically drains whole planets of their energy for breakfast), the decision was made to turn him into a giant cloud thingy. They made him a cloud.

They made him a cloud!

The movie bombed in theaters and Fox shelved the property (they had planned on a third movie and a spinoff featuring the Silver Surfer). A few years later Marvel launched their own film-making studio with a little movie called Iron Man. With it came the promise of a shared universe that would lead to an epic crossover event: The Avengers. Unlike Fox’s franchises, which always seemed embarrassed of their comic book roots, Marvel was embracing the color and fun and making big money. Fox pressed on with X-Men movies, but when they saw that the rights to Fantastic 4 were soon to revert to Marvel, they scrambled to make another film.

You see, if Fox doesn’t make a Fantastic 4 film within seven years, then the property switches back home to Marvel. Not wanting to see a good movie they can ruin go to waste, Fox quickly announced production of a new F4 movie. Josh Trank, a one-hit wonder if ever there was one, was given the nod to direct. His only other movie was the low budget but highly acclaimed film “Chronicle” that was basically a take on what would happen if ordinary teenagers (from stoner to emo) developed superpowers. It was a great film with a tight screenplay, the final draft of which was written by Max Landis (and if you believe the reports, the movie was pretty much ghost-directed by him too).

Landis deserved the credit for Chronicle’s success but it fell to Trank, and with it he was given the reigns of Fantastic 4, and soon after was announced as the director of an upcoming Star Wars film. Production of this movie, however, was a disaster from the word “go.”

To start with, it is blatantly obvious that Fox has no clue-

I mean I could just stop right there, but I’ll continue.

Fox has no clue why Marvel Studios’ movies are working like gangbusters and why all their attempts to make a comic book movie have failed with the exception of the Singer-directed X-Men movies, and the Matthew Vaughn-directed X-Men First Class. Singer’s movies succeeded on the strength of the screenplays, the popularity of Wolverine and a pretty stellar casting job across the spectrum. Vaughn’s First Class succeeded due to some great acting and a bright, comic-bookey look that Marvel is using to great success.

On the other hand Fox’s DareDevil was pathetic. Their X-Men origin movies have been horrid. Electra was a bad joke. Their (bright and colorful) F4 movies were not “fun” but instead were “hammy” and “cheap.” Their non-Singer directed X3 (helmed by Bret Ratner the hack) was one of the most insulting comic book adaptations I’d ever seen up until a couple nights ago when I watched the newest Fantastic 4 movie.

Fox has no clue what to do with this property. They don’t respect comic books (despite all the GOBS of money that Disney is making right now doing just that), they don’t respect comic book stories, and they don’t respect comic book fans. They are still living in the 90’s, in an era where comic book movies were either dark and gritty with little association to the source material, or were campy and stupid with little association to the source material. They are in the stone age while Disney/Marvel is living in the future.

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MISC BURSTS OF ANGER WITH SPOILERS!

I’ll come back to Fox and the production of this movie in a bit, but I want to actually take a minute to discuss what is wrong with this movie itself. A lot went on behind the scenes but there still was produced a 90+ minute movie. Is it really that bad? Let’s run through it, quick-hits style:

Fox did that thing where they flashed the “F” in “FOX” during the opening fanfare, like they do with the “X” in X-Men movies. That’s cute.

I hate this company.

“My hero Eli Manning” is one of the first lines spoken in the film.

My hero Eli Manning
–Said no one ever.

The rumors were true, The Thing’s famous loveable catchphrase “It’s clobbering time!” was, in this abomination of a movie, taught to young Ben Grimm by his brother, who used to say it before beating him up. That’s good. That sends a great message. Way to go Fox.

I hate you so much.

Young Richard Reed’s teleporting(?) prototype is a sophisticated, dimensional warping device that is powered by spare parts from a car junk yard, a Macintosh 6100 and an N64. That thing couldn’t even handle Final Fantasy VII but it’s going to warp you to the Negative Zone?

I gotta be honest, the first half of this movie is not horrible. The acting is good, there’s good chemistry between the characters, it’s well-shot. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was sitting through “not a bad movie” with just a few minor quibbles here and there.

Victor Von Doom is his actual name. We had been told leading up to the release of the film that the characters name would be Victor Domashev, and that he would be a computer hacker with the code name “Doom.” Lookit, if you’re going to do anything, changing the name is one thing I’m cool with. I mean, you don’t name your kid “Ralphie McBadGuy” and expect him to just stumble into a life of crime. I’m cool with “Doom” being a nickname or something. But did they really have to change his character so much? This being Fox I guess the answer is I hate this company.

What’s worse is they apparently wrote and filmed him as the hacker Victor Domashev and then edited all of that out, dubbed in the characters calling him “Victor Von Doom” and took out all mention of his being a hacker. So now, Fox didn’t just change him, they changed him, then cut the changes and replaced it with nothing, leaving him an empty shell of a nothing character. He has nothing to his name. No real motivation. No purpose. He’s just there. He’s nothing.

He’s just an angsty World of Warcraft player with angst and angst and stuff.

There’s a weird chronology going on in this movie that I don’t get. Like the movie starts with Reed and Ben as kids, say around 10 years old, then jumps “seven years” into the future, and they are at a science fair…with a bunch of other kids…looking like adults. I don’t know how old anyone is. Are they like teenagers played by adults or are they adults who are treated like teenagers? I mean Reed still has acne for crying out loud. I have no idea.

I can’t get over the fact that the goober from O Brother Where Art Thou is featured (heavily) in this movie as the sniveling, cliched military man looking to exploit the scientist for wars and stuff. I can totally buy that this movie would lean on that horrible cliche, but having freaking Delmar from the Soggy Bottom Boys playing the role is just a bridge too far for me.

The monkey they send into the negative zone is so horribly CGI’d. They couldn’t use a real monkey? Was Andy Serkis not available?

Ben Grimm, in this movie, is a nice guy who has no real talent other than handing Reed things as a kid. Reed goes off to be brilliant and such and Ben is left home on the junk yard doing nothing. But when it’s time to go into an inter-dimensional transport, well why not call him up! There is literally NO logical reason he should have been on that mission, other than plot contrivance in order for him to transform into The Thing.

What the unholy heck kind of a Fantastic 4 movie is this where you need a plot contrivance in order to get Ben Grimm to turn into The Thing?!

And then there’s Sue, who doesn’t even GO into the Negative Zone (which was inexplicably overdubbed to be called “Planet Zero” in post-production), but she ends up superpowered anyway. The whole thing is such a betrayal of half the team’s backstory.

It is so typical of Americans though, to land on foreign soil and immediately plant our flag.

The scene where the four discover their powers is like a great scene from a cool movie that got accidentally inserted into this travesty. And yet…we’re three movies in and Fox STILL can’t give us a Thing that has the big unibrow.

AND WHERE ARE HIS PANTS?!

Reed Richards is the “dad” in this makeshift family of heroes. He’s the brilliant guy with a heart just a big as his brain. He’s the true blue hero. But in this movie he abandons his friends and goes into hiding for a year while they get experimented on and turned into pawns of the evil government. Great job. Great characterization. Really nailing the whole “hero” part of the “superhero.”

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Everything up until this point has been “not a bad but not a great” superhero movie. There are a lot of little problems I mentioned but it wouldn’t have killed the movie as long as it was able to stick the landing. Everything after they get their powers, and we jump forward to “one year later” is where the movie fails. It doesn’t just not stick the landing, it crashes and burns in a field somewhere over Nebraska, killing hundreds of baby deer.

Seriously, I repeat: 70% of this movie is in a bunker. This is like that Breaking Bad episode where Walt and Jesse spend an hour in the lab trying to kill that one fly. Except that episode was awesome and I will fight you if you disagree. This is just…

So they’ve been looking for Reed for a year and Sue is able to do it in ten minutes. lolokay.

Who made the decision and why was it made to just CUT the entire middle of this movie out? They took the opening act, which should have covered the introductions of Reed and Grim all the way up until they discover their powers, and stretched it from a reasonable 30 minutes to an hour. They then removed the entire second act, which would have seen them learning their powers, struggling as a team, getting their first taste of defeat, and jumped straight to the third act, which blazed through a final thirty minutes and just ended without any learning or growth or development of any kind.  The second act IS the movie, in every movie. That’s screenwriting/filmmaking 101. And they just…cut it out. The mind. It boggles.

Also this is the saddest, most gloomy and uninspiring superhero movie I’ve ever seen.

I can’t even finish that one sentence a few lines up.

At one point in the final battle (which takes place right after the movie well and truly begins), Thing cracks his knuckles and says “This is what I do.” But…we’ve not seen that. Apart from tiny TV screens showing news reports, we’ve never seen him do anything. The trailers and commericals had him jumping out of planes and the heroes doing hero stuff. But nerp: Fox just cut that right out. We don’t need heroics clogging up our hero movie.

On the plus side, the musical score is wonderful. Philip Glass is a maestro.

Dr. Doom is just a Buffy the Vampire Slayer freak of the week. He came, he saw, and he was conquered all in less time than it will take you to read this review. Way less time.

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CLOSING RANT

Fox has killed Fantastic 4.

Again. This time for real.

This is not like Sony/Spider-Man. In that case the franchise still had 2 good movies, one of which is still one of the best ever, plus a third that was not liked by fans but made a ton of money. It did well enough with casual movie goers. Yes Sony rebooted the franchise too soon, and yes they weren’t as good as they could have been, but at least Spidey fans had something positive to fall back on. They knew the character could work on the big screen, it just needed another chance. Spidey is getting a crazy third chance within the span of a decade because fans know it can work and want to see it work.

Fox already failed to make F4 work a decade ago. The Tim Story movies were cheesy, not fun. The effects were hokey the casting was bad, and the movie never really found its groove. It died but they brought back because they are greedy savages. And now they’ve just killed it again.

There is no one, apart from the die hard F4/Marvel fans out there, who have any reason to see even a Marvel Studios rereboot of this franchise. No one will believe it can be done because Fox has so spectacularly failed to even do a mediocre job of it.

I don’t even want to touch any more on all the rumors that have floated around this production. But it is obvious that some major rework was done on this thing in post. After the “one year later” happens, from there to the end of the movie (about half an hour later) it’s like a totally different film. You can see and feel exactly where the studio stepped in and took over the production. Actors appear with wigs, lines are obviously dubbed over, entire motivations for characters change or are dropped entirely.

And that’s not to let Josh Trank off the hook. He’s just as guilty as Fox in this mess. Rumors of him showing up to shoots high/drunk, trashing his trailer, getting into arguments with fans online and talking about the production on message boards. He has totally crashed and burned worse than his movie’s third act. He’s pretty much done for. He didn’t lose his job directing a Star Wars film because Fox was too hands-on. He lost Star Wars because he was pulling a Dan Harmon/Community 2012 (without the vision or talent to keep his prospects alive).

His vision of this movie was to ignore the entire F4 mythos and just make the movie he really wanted to do: Chronicle 2. This movie was supposed to have been set entirely in the bunker, with the team discovering their powers and eventually fighting Doom in a quasi- superhero/horror setting. You can see exactly where the Chronicle 2 script would have been adapted: Trank just changed the names and powers and tweaked it here and there to make it work. It actually sounds like a great idea for a Chronicle sequel. But it’s a horrible idea for Fantastic Four. No wonder Fox stepped in. And yet, they hired him after he specifically told him he wanted to do something different. Everyone’s at fault for different reasons and everyone involved in making this movie had a special role in its incredible destruction. It’s staggering to think about how many people contributed so successfully to killing this franchise.

What I hated the most while watching it was how it could have been good. This was a good cast. The effects work was there. It needed a stable director, a respect for the source material, and for the studio to get out of the way. Instead Fox went with an unproven director and meddled and meddled until they meddled it to mush. They rushed the movie into production just to avoid losing the rights. They mocked the fans of F4, told the actors not to read the comics, and took a huge steaming ten minute dump on not just the villain of this movie, and not just the villain of the franchise, but one of the Marvel family’s greatest bad guys.

In the comics Victor Von Doom is the kid from a tiny country who sees his mother killed in front of him. He vows to help the helpless, only instead of doing it the Superman way, he dabbles in science and magic and the occult and gets a major superiority complex, desiring to rule over the country like a god, protecting them by his laws and rules. He’s a tragic character like Magneto. He’s not a emo jealous wannabe boyfriend to Sue Storm.

Other iterations of the character have him display an intense rivalry with Reed Richards. He’s working on a experiment and Reed notices that his calculations are off. Doom scoffs at Reed’s warning, assuming he is the smarter of the two, but when the experiment fails and Doom is horribly scarred, he blames Reed, never accepting the fact that he’s not as smart as him. That leads him to embrace magic and psuedo science as a way to gain the upper hand, turning himself into a bitter villain. That’s an awesome backstory with plenty of motivation. Instead we get this nothing character who is presented at least as Reed’s equal and in some ways his superior. Reed never gets the better of him and any anger he has is against anyone is totally out of left field.

When it’s time for their showdown, nothing is earned. It happens suddenly and its over just as quickly. This has to be the single worst final boss fight in any comic book movie I’ve ever seen and I have seen them all. It neutered Doom, and it didn’t just neuter him in terms of what he COULD have been, he was ruined also in terms of the way this movie itself used him. It’s not like you can say “well they used him wrong, but at least it was effective in terms of what they were trying to accomplish (like with Bane in Dark Knight Rises for an example).” No. They wasted him as a character in this movie. Grimm/Thing too.

But I guess using the comic origin would be too crazy right. I mean we can’t have crazy comic book stuff in a movie. It’ll never work.

Right?

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I keep asking myself “Why does Fox keep making these movies? To hold on to the rights to make them?” But they don’t even want to make a Fantastic 4 movie. This movie shows it. It’s nothing like the comics in any way. Heck, the screenplay itself is an adaptation of Trank’s Chronicle 2 script. So if they don’t want to make F4 why do they keep churning out garbage in order to hold on to the rights?

Just let it go.

Stop killing it Fox. It’s already dead.

SCORE

2/10 –

Avoid like the plague, unless you just feel like a good hate-watch. I hate-watched the snot out of this movie.

~~~~~

BONUS

The new Goosebumps movie looks like the spiritual sequel to Jumanji I have wanted for twenty years. Those books were my jam in elementary school and the TV show was required viewing after school. Also the Deadpool trailer was pitch perfect. Fox may finally have done a comic character justice, especially after they already ruined him a few years ago.

Come to think of it, all of the trailers before this movie literally lasted longer than Dr. Doom’s screentime in the film. By a fair amount.Best case scenaro, Fox dumps the franchise back to Marvel in exchange for the right to make an X-Men TV show (which they want to do but need permission). Marvel slowly re-introduces the first family into the MCU and maybe someday, we get a Fantastic 4 movie done right. Until then.
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RIP

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