Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rambling on Fantastic Four (2015)

There is good news and bad news with the new FANTASTIC FOUR.

The  good news is that if it wasn't based on a well know commodity  and was taken on it's own terms this might have become a modest hit of bland super hero heroics. Assuming they didn't spent a mint on this and staked the next few summers on sequels this may have returned a reasonable profit and spawned the sequels it was supposed to bring forth....

...unfortunately it's based on a well known and  well loved comic book series and it was stupidly designed  to lead into the next film that they forgot to put any excitement into this one.

The simplest review is that the film is a dull mess.

I'm going to look at the film in three different ways. The first will be a stand alone film on it's own terms. The second as a representation of the fifty year old comic series. The third will be as part of comic blockbuster machine.

If you take the FANTASTIC FOUR purely on it's own terms it's an okay, if slow and a bit dull set up for a superhero film. We get to know a bunch of characters who go through a traumatic event which turns them into super powered beings. They then (finally) band together to fight a threat that is seeking to destroy the world. As the film ends they are poised to have more adventures. Its a film that tries it's best to be a purely character driven film until the characters must act.

Assuming you are seeing it in a vacuum and have never seen the comic, TV shows, movies or anything else with the characters it's an okay film that hits all of the once upon a time cliche's of super hero films and fleshes them out so nicely that you kind of realize why it's rare that super hero films ever work on the big screen. The template, which until the recent Marvel films broke it, just didn't work.

On it's own terms, in it's own world it's an okay film and it might have spawned something greater.

Sadly it's unlikely for that to ever happen.

Part of the problem is that the film is based on a best selling comic book with fifty plus years of  back story and recognition. Its so well known and the film's mangling of the origin story is so bad that it's going to leave people wondering what it was they just saw. This wasn't the Fantastic Four you know in any of it's reiterations.

The plot of the film has Reed Richards  and Ben Grimm meeting in school in Oyster Bay New York. The pair bonds when Ben helps Reed get material for his matter transmitter

Okay let me stop there and let me show how not canon the film is.  Ben and Reed didn't met until college. Ben grew up New York City and he got a college scholarship.  On top of that Oyster Bay is shown to be about where Long Island City is, facing Manhattan instead of some 20 miles away facing Connecticut.  There is more and I'll get to some of it it in a second but that's just a start.

Ben and Reed get noticed by Sue Storm and her dad at a science show when Reed makes a toy plane go into another dimension and back again.  Reed is snapped up and goes to work for and school at Baxter industries who are trying to do the same thing.  Desperate to make the matter transmitter practical the Baxter group brings back Victor Doom who started the project but walked away when he got disgusted. They build the device- then in a drunken desire to be first Reed, Johnny Storm, Doom and Ben Grimm, who is not at the school/ building but is called in by Reed. They traverse the dimensional barriers and go exploring. When a green lava like energy source goes berserk and cause an accident Doom is consigned to the new dimension, Johnny, Reed, Sue and Ben are given their comic book powers when things blow up. (In the comic they get hit by rays while in space and crash land)

I know you're asking how does Sue get the powers - well when the transmitter blows up she gets a shot of alien energy.  I know that's not her comic story line, nor is she as strong a character as in the comic (I mean  in the comic she's a mom who kicks ass and has affairs with sea kings) but I'm guessing its the only thing the writers could come up with for her to do since she doesn't do much but "sort out patterns" and be the lust object for Reed and Doom.

At this point in the film I was mildly upset. As a fan of the FF I was willing to go with things and let things slide but the dropping of Doom off a cliff after making him a genius slacker and the altering how the group gets there powers was just too much. If I wasn't in the theater on someone else's dime I would have screamed " ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!!!"  (I didn't want my friend to get banned from future screenings for my misbehavior) There were more than a couple of other times I wanted to scream " NONONONONONONO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" because it was clear the screenwriters had no fucking clue who the characters are.

As written in this film the characters have no personality, and whats worse what they have are not the ones that made the comic run for almost 55 years. Granted in the final show down with Doom the characters classic personalities assert themselves but for the first 90 minutes they are either wussy drips or some other character entirely.

Two cases in point as to changes in character areas follows- after things blow up and the group is taken to Area 57 (real freaking clever guys) Reed escapes the base and runs off hoping to find away to reverse what's happened.  Reed would never have left the others behind- especially not Ben. He would not have done it...not for over a year. Reed would not have wandered around aimless and lost for a year he would have cobbled something together and gotten them out. Reed always does things.

The other thing is there is no way- Ben Grimm would have been an assassin. I'm not saying Ben wouldn't kill but he wouldn't have allowed himself to be a killing machine killing hundreds of people for no clear reason; and its clear that's what he is for the US government. Ben has too strong a moral center for that

(I should be apoplectic about the change in Doom's character but at least he has a real character)

Its only after Doom returns to earth with plans to destroy it that the team becomes the team and the characters that have survived  for 50+ years in the comics. Its this final fight in the last 10 or 15 minutes when it was clear that someone somewhere knew what a superhero film should be- and how these characters should act. (Though Ben's "Its clobberin time could have used more passion:)

And that's the biggest problem with this film- the writers don't have any idea about the genre, or rather where it stands now. I fully appreciate the need to restart the franchise and reintroduce the characters, especially since you're going to change the ethnicity of one of them, but at the same time- the characters are more or less established after all this time. we don't need another origin(there have been how many TV shows and 3 other films in the last 20 years) , they should have just went with it and explained it in passing.  Even Sony learned that you shouldn't reintroduce known characters as they restart Spiderman- we don't need a new origin even though they are casting even younger than previous incarnations.

If you look at the recent films in both the Marvel and DC canons you find that the films move. Things happen, even in the origin stories. Look at the best ones IRONMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA and Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS, there is tons of back story, but there is also action- Tony fights to get free, Cap fights Nazi's and Bruce fights punks. We also have conflict between characters- Tony and Stane, Cap and the Red Skull, Bruce and Ras. Even in the last SUPERMAN film which I'm up and down about the plot moves and characters are in conflict with each other, not just themselves.

In this version of the FANTASTIC FOUR there is no villain until Doom reappears at the end. Until then FF is purely a drama with super powers. Hadn't the screenwriters checked out why superhero films worked? Maybe they did and wanted to go in another direction, but honestly without a villain to fight against all the way through there is no reason for this to be a superhero film.  It's all fine and good if you want to just give us characters and damn good drama- but when you are coming into a market full of super heroics and you've cut trailers making it looked like the second coming of the AVENGERS  the last thing anyone wants or needs is moping eggheads for 90 minutes- they want clobberin time. The FANTASTIC FOUR doesn't have near enough clobbering. It's so lacking that the fight seems to have been shipped in from another film.

Who did they make this film for and couldn't they have seen that this wasn't going to work at the start?

That's a serious question.

Couldn't they see way back when they had the script that the lack of action was dooming the film? The plot of the film is such its damn clear that they didn't chop out hours of epic battles. The film looks and feels like what it ended up a too talky superhero film. Didn't anyone realize that lack of action now was not going to get you the long running cash cow?

Oh god what a mess.

I mean on some level the film works, but mostly who would want to watch this? Its one of those almost films that you forget exists because its neither good enough or bad enough to bother with.

And you realize that I haven't even gotten into the weird time frame anomalies, plot errors or the low grade special effects. (on that last point - say what you will about the much maligned Roger Corman film- that film looked bad because it had no budget- whats the excuse of this film which had hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal?) There is so much wrong with this film I could be at work on this for another three hours and still not get everything in.

If you must see this wait for cable- there is too little of value for you waste your hard earned cash to see this on the big screen. (Then again if enough people suffer through this in a theater maybe we'll get the sequel the final 10 minutes promised)

(and yet another large thank you to Lesley for making this rant possible)

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