Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: 4 Reasons Fantastic Four Is Anything But

Sunday, August 9, 2015

4 Reasons Fantastic Four Is Anything But

by Tony Dayoub

I take no pleasure in piling on a bad movie, but a lot of us who grew up reading "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine," as Fantastic Four was sub-titled for many years, are mystified by the fact that not one of its movie iterations has been successful. It shouldn't take rocket science to re-calibrate the property to reflect what made the Marvel Comics' flagship title and a template for the superheroes that would follow. Take one look at director Josh Trank's version, though, and one starts to wonder if even the team's gifted scientist, Reed Richards (Miles Teller), could work out the formula needed to make Fantastic Four truly live up to its name. Here are four reasons Fantastic Four was anything but:

1. Where are the team's family dynamics? Say what you will about the ill-conceived 2005 version, the one part it did get right was the close, family-like interaction between the members of its team. The Fantastic Four was one of (if not) the first superhero teams to literalize the familial dysfunction inherent in a close-knit group, pairing off Richards' stretchy Mr. Fantastic with the Invisible Woman, Sue Storm (Kate Mara); making the flammable Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) her bad-boy little brother; and assigning the rock-encrusted Thing, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), as the team's lovable, short-tempered "older brother." The 2005 movie emphasized the playful competitiveness between Storm's Human Torch and the Thing, with Storm constantly in pursuit of ways to punk his sensitive teammate. It also underlined the effects the sudden attainment of misunderstood cosmic powers might have on Reed and Sue's fledgling relationship. Trank's new film sabotages this right away, going a little too far afield in establishing the relationships between the characters. An inordinate amount of time is spent on demonstrating why a bruiser like Grimm would befriend a nerd like Reed, only to have the movie cut Grimm out entirely at the critical moment it seems like he should establish rapport with the rest of the team. Undue focus is placed on Sue and Johnny's interactions by re-framing their family as an interracial one [the white Sue is adopted by the African American Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey)], an admirable way of instilling diversity into the film that nonetheless distracts because of all of the tangential sibling rivalry issues it stirs up between the two teammates in a way it might not have if the both Storms were simply cast with black actors, eliminating a backstory that never goes anywhere. Reed and Sue just barely get a moment to establish their mutual attraction. And Sue is cut out altogether from the misguided escapade that transforms the team, relegated to a passive metamorphosis that occurs as a byproduct of her monitoring the team from afar. Instead, Sue's transformative opportunity to join the family never happens because someone else replaces her on the pivotal expedition...

2. ...Victor von Doom. One thing the 2005 movie did get wrong, a mistake inexplicably repeated again in the newest version of Fantastic Four, is the closeness with which Reed's rival Victor (Toby Kebbell) and his frightening mutation into the villainous Doctor Doom is linked to the rest of the team and their respective alterations. Here, Victor is some kind of egomaniacal hacker who is jealous of Reed's easy relationship with Sue. When convenient to the story, however, he's just one of the guys, joining them on the drunken interdimensional jaunt that grants all of them their horrific powers. Victor replaces Sue and is left for dead after the alien world they all end up in seems to come alive and swallow him up in some energy field. It isn't until their return many years later that the team discovers a twisted Victor, still alive but insane, fused with his spacesuit and boasting tremendous telekinetic powers of his own. The grandiose scale of his abilities is effectively demonstrated as terrifying. Doctor Doom's murders are indiscriminate and bloodily swift. His inability to overcome his four rivals' not-as-fantastic talents in short order is somewhat surprising then. It neuters what is one of the most powerful and threatening villain in all of Marvel Comics. The big final battle in Fantastic Four lasts maybe all of 10 minutes, only a few minutes after the movie's big baddie is first introduced. And it skews the comic book's formula all wrong, choosing to...

3. ...emphasize the horror over the cosmic. One cynical government agent's head explodes inside his hazmat suit. Another more sympathetic character is seemingly burned alive in nearly an instant. Other anonymous operatives are shot through the brain as if by invisible bullets, their brain matter splattering on the walls behind them. How did a comic book known for its soaring cosmic vistas and easy humor become mired in the marshy darkness afflicting Trank's version? Trank cleverly gives each of the four heroes their own Cronenbergian moment in which they must come to grips with their disturbing abilities. But he never really elevates the movie past that into the kind of adventure punctuated by comedy that once made the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation so exciting. Some have speculated whether it's in the property's DNA, whether the charms of Fantastic Four are just not translatable onto the screen. Anyone who has seen and appreciated Lee and Kirby's influence on Brad Bird's Pixar animated film, The Incredibles, knows this is ridiculous. More likely the culprit is...

4. interference. Trank has been making the promotional rounds for the film. Or anti-promotional considering how strongly he is defending himself as Fantastic Four tanks at the box office. Trank is pushing back the usual way, blaming the studio for stealing the film away from him during editing and producing an incoherent product. One look at the film by even a casual observer shows that he is likely telling the truth. How else to explain how more than two-thirds of the movie is devoted just to the team's origins? What else would justify the precious few minutes the villain appears after the movie has carefully spent so much time building up to his debut? And the movie's jokey denouement is more of a piece with a film like Guardians of the Galaxy than it is with the preceding pitch-black storyline of Trank's Fantastic Four. At 100 minutes Fantastic Four feels like a movie that has been gutted by a studio that panicked after seeing the rough cut turned in by the independent, maverick director they obviously sought in Josh Trank. We'll all have to wait for the inevitable release of the Fantastic Four director's cut before we can really judge what went wrong.

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