Reviews

Andrea and Mike take on Fantastic Four!


In Marvel Comics’ universe-shattering epic Secret Wars, Doctor Doom is God.

Yet you wouldn’t know it from his portrayal in director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, the latest attempt at re-imagining the comic book icons on the big screen. Victor von Doom is instead given a most discourteous treatment, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Topher Grace’s Venom in Spider-Man 3. Doom’s treatment is just the tip of the iceberg in the mishandling of Marvel’s First Family, in what is undoubtedly one of the worst comic-to-film adaptations since X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The film starts with a young Reed Richards (played in adulthood by Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) befriending each other over Reed’s early aptitude for science. The pair work as a sort of “odd couple” throughout their adolescence, when they’re recruited at their high school science fair (seemingly at random) by Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). Their mission? To traverse the boundaries of space-time and enter a parallel dimension because Earth desperately needs saving (from lack of resources? Pollution? Communism? Who can say.)

Further on in the film we see the recruitment of Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) – a hot-headed (get it?) young upstart who would rather spend his time drag racing than following his work-obsessed father into quantum physics, but gets talked into being a part of the team because of reasons. Finally we are introduced to the aforementioned Doom (Toby Kebbell), an angry genius/anarchist who allegedly incepted the trans-dimensional project that Reed and his cohorts have been hired to finish. As the government attempts to usurp their work, an attempt is made by the scientists to visit the alternate dimension before Uncle Sam can get his greedy mitts on the technology, and that’s where everything goes downhill for our plucky young heroes…

whoever this is, it's not doctor doom

whoever this is, it’s not doctor doom

Mike’s take

There’s something to be said for Trank’s hyper-realistic approach to interpreting the Fantastic Four, a far cry from 2005’s admittedly dated interpretation. And while the previous incarnation wasn’t particularly well-received either, the decision to create a more cartoonish world for our heroes was better suited to the characters themselves. By envisioning the new film as heavily grounded in reality, we’re instead shown the Four as inexperienced, struggling youth who are virtually traumatized by their powers – a trauma that is resolved off-screen after a convenient time jump.

Despite Reed more or less being treated as the protagonist of the story, the film meanders in expressing his goals or interests (besides one part where he implicitly tells us what he wants – remember kids, it’s “show don’t tell”), or developing his relationships with other characters. Apart from Ben, who acts as his quasi-motivation for the latter half of the film, his relation to Sue and Johnny is peripheral at best, yet a closeness is implied that we’re supposed to assume took place off-screen and during montages. This lack of indelible characteristics plagues the entire film, as every member of the cast fails to make any lasting impression. The Four simply have no agency, as they instead are reactionary throughout the movie while Franklin Storm takes charge of everything.

Of course, this movie being the latest in the ongoing trend of reboots, Fantastic Four frames itself as an origin story. In the 100 minutes of content the film presents, the narrative offers very little in terms of a driving force. The stakes and goals are unclear from the start, and the film tries so desperately to create a sense of urgency that just isn’t there. The introduction of Doom and the ensuing conflict isn’t even broached until deep into the third act, and is ultimately treated as an afterthought moreso than anything else. By now, Hollywood must realize that the necessity for origins on well-known properties is growing smaller; even the most comic-phobic audiences are going to have a general idea of who the X-Men are, where Spider-Man got his powers, and why the Fantastic Four are as important as they are. One can only imagine the kind of film we could have gotten if more than half of the film wasn’t wasted on getting the Four to become who they are.

Andrea’s take

Let me begin by saying there are too many things wrong with this movie, and I couldn’t possibly cover them all.  That said, I’ll start by revisiting the problem of Doctor Doom. As Mike said, in Secret Wars, Jonathan Hickman has made Doom into a god. While he has always been a formidable villain in the Marvel universe, not to mention a personal favourite character, he now has the power to create and destroy entire worlds and his word is law. To contrast, in Trank’s Fantastic Four, Doom is as effective an enemy as a house fly. How did Hollywood manage to boil down a megalomaniacal nemesis with control over both science and sorcery into an emo teenage cynic with delusions of grandeur? This problem is just a small symptom of what is wrong with this movie. The issues with characterization do not end with Doom, in fact, there is barely any character development throughout. The script leverages personal traumas like abuse, and hobbies like an affection for music and tries to build them into personalities. Sadly, none of the Fantastic Four are fantastic in any way as they are all relegated to simply existing in a dull, personality-less void. The character with the most personality was Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) who was a cliche archetypal mentor figure and whose performance conjured memories of Morgan Freeman as opposed to a brilliant scientist.

doom doesn't make mistakes, but fox does

doom doesn’t make mistakes, but fox does

As the movie progressed, the visual cues for character development (and I use that term very loosely) aggravated me to no end. Sue Storm begins the story with a fresh face and barely any makeup; a little mascara and gloss is all she needs to look glamourous. Evidently, she has a makeup bag in her super suit because the minute she and her team mates are facing Doctor Doom, she is magically sporting dramatic dark and smokey eye makeup. Was that really necessary? Her invisibility and force fields should define her as an up and coming hero and a force to be reckoned with, she really didn’t need a makeover. There is also the matter of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) who is set up as an obstacle to Franklin Storm and the Fantastic Four from the beginning. His character is an antagonist, but is also benign until they gain their powers when he inexplicably begins to visibly chew gum! And he just kept chewing in every shot after that; I can’t remember the last time I was so distracted or annoyed by a visual cue. The character was already annoying without the benefit of his obnoxious habit. Unlike most comics which have mastered the art of visual storytelling, these choices clearly show that the creative team had little to no faith in the script or performances and use hamfisted tropes to tell their story.

Ultimately in the comics, the Fantastic Four are comprised of their characters; Reed’s immersive obsession with science, Johnny’s devil-may-care ways, those contrasts create interesting stories and what have driven them to become Marvel’s first family. They cannot have survived as a banner title without the benefit of their family dynamic and the complex animosity between Reed and Doom. Sadly, every single element that makes the Fantastic Four interesting (as well as every element that makes a movie interesting) are conspicuously missing. The most positive things I can say about this 100 minute horror is that their first space suits looked kind of like the Future Foundation suits, although I can’t tell if that was intentional or not. Also, there was a charming split second cameo by a series of Nintendo 64’s and a green 64 controller that made me reminisce of simpler times when you could enjoy a comic franchise without wondering whether or not Hollywood would butcher it next summer.

A few days ago, director Josh Trank sent a tweet (that was quickly deleted) heavily alluding to studio interference as being the main reason for the final product that is Fantastic Four, going even further as to state that his original vision would have received “great reviews”. As convenient (and narcissistic) as it is talk about a film that was never made so positively, Trank’s relative inexperience (with only one other feature – 2012’s Chronicle – under his belt) combined with numerous reports of behavioural problems on set would instead suggest that he is equally to blame for the film’s failings. While there’s a certain precedent for studio interference compromising the quality of a big budget film, Trank’s troubled involvement with Fantastic Four has cost him some big opportunities, including a directing job on an upcoming Star Wars film, which he was famously removed from back in April of this year.

bruh

bruh

It’s no secret that Fox made this film out of necessity – in the petty rights squabble between them and Marvel Studios, Fox needs to continue to make regular use of the few franchises it has in order to prevent the rights from reverting to Marvel. The casualties in the rights war are the fans, and the characters themselves. Comic fans and movie fans alike deserve something more than this rushed, unfeeling, uninspired mess. Collectively, we have no dog in the fight when it comes to the legalities between two juggernaut movie studios. But perhaps in the long run, it’ll be for the best that Marvel eventually get the monopoly on its properties that it’s sought after for so long, so that we get movies that are a little less careless and a little more fantastic.

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