Saturday, August 15, 2015

'Fantastic Four' review

You can't talk about Josh Trank's Fantastic Four without discussing all of the crazy backstage drama that has occurred since this film went into production. Early reports said that Trank's erratic behavior caused problems on the set and many believed that Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn came in for reshoots. After that, Trank mysteriously left the Star Wars Anthology film that he was set to direct, and more bad buzz grew for Fantastic Four. And then, the night before the film was released, Trank sent out a damning tweet, saying that he had a great version of the film a year ago, and that Fox took it away from him. The tweet was quickly taken down, but Trank had already sent the final crippling blow.

But the saga of Trank vs. Fox didn't end there. In the days after, Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican chronicled the entire history of the dispute and included some new information that surprised people. Screenwriter Max Landis threw his two cents in, the film began to bomb at the Friday box office and Hollywood sharpened their knives for the slaughter that was about to ensue. As the weekend began, reports flew in that the studio had removed three action scenes right before production, that Fox didn't like the first cut and that there was a mutual agreement about the film's direction, but Fox changed halfway through. Blame was pointed at both parties, but we can all agree on one thing- Fantastic Four is an unmitigated disaster, both artistically and financially. The only good thing about this whole mess is that the rights will probably go back to Marvel Studios in the end (even though Fox says that they're still moving forward with the sequel, currently set for a 2017 release date).

So what is this giant fiasco about? Well, it's the origin story of Marvel's first family- Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). This dark 'n' gritty take on the Fantastic Four starts in childhood with Reed creating a teleportation device with Ben in his garage. Jump forward to high school and Reed his perfected the device, with Ben essentially throwing in little helpful bits of information at times. Reed is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to join the Baxter Foundation to create his invention on a much larger scale. Reed has to leave Ben behind, but he teams up with Dr. Storm's adopted daughter Sue and reckless son Johnny to work on the device. They also have to recruit the help of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the slightly demented, but brilliant scientist who previously worked under Dr. Storm.

The team eventually cracks inter-dimensional travel, but unfortunately, evil government guy (Tim Blake Nelson) decides to get NASA to help with the mission. Reed, Johnny and Victor get super drunk and they ultimately choose to go on their own (but not before they get Ben in on the mission). The four head over to the negative zone, things go wrong, Victor is presumed dead, Sue tries to help, and all four end up getting their powers. With their new powers, the four must team up to fight a threat to all of humanity.

About halfway through writing that synopsis, I realize just how futile it was. There really is no avoiding the fact that this movie absolutely sucks, even though there's promise in the first half. And that's the sad thing- there is a lot of promise with this film. The initial hour sets up a world that is interesting, and it sets up story threads where you can see the payoff coming, but it just never happens. The characters are never developed, the villain is ridiculous and ultimately, this isn't even a movie. But beneath all of that awfulness, there's something fascinating about how utterly catastrophic this thing is.

I enjoyed the first hour of Fantastic Four. That's a weird way to start off what will ultimately amount to an extremely negative review, but it's the truth. I had a good bit of fun with the universe that was set up by.....well, whoever directed this mess. I think that Miles Teller's performance as Reed Richards is endearing and Michael B. Jordan is solid as well. There are some weird editing cuts, sure, but the unavoidable fact is- this movie doesn't start off that bad. It's a lot of exposition and a lot of world-building, but for a reboot that is supposed to connect these new characters with the X-Men and more, a lot of world-building isn't such a bad thing.

However, the set-up keeps going. And going. And going. By the end of the film's first hour, we haven't even reached the negative zone yet. Keep in mind that this is only a 100 minute film. There's not much time for Trank and company to set up an expansive universe. Then, the plot suddenly shifts into gear. The Fantastic Four get their powers, they begin working for the government, Reed goes on the run, people get into fights, Dr. Doom comes back, there's something at stake, a fight ensues and then the movie finishes. It's a rushed climax in a movie that feels extremely dull and drawn out at times. But what I've listed seems like a pretty standard superhero plot, doesn't it? Yet when all of that is crammed into the span of about a half hour, and there is literally no breathing room for character development, motivations or even the slightest hint of emotional involvement, that just doesn't work.

In all honesty, I find it difficult to even call Fantastic Four a movie. For the first half, you can see the shape of a movie forming. Relationships develop, you can see rivalries starting to occur, and the potential is there for a really good second act. After the body horror section of the film (which occurs quickly after the four get their powers), Fantastic Four becomes something else entirely. Everything is rushed and borderline incomprehensible. The effects are awful (some of the worst in a major motion picture this year), and we're supposed to just accept that these guys are working as a team now. There is no emotion, no energy. The final half of this movie is as soulless as you can get.

Fantastic Four feels like a movie that was butchered mercilessly, with the hope of finding something, no, ANYTHING that would work as a complete story. Josh Trank obviously wanted to start with a character-based premise, but they forgot to actually develop the characters. It's difficult to dissect the current form of Fantastic Four and find out what belongs to Fox and what Trank actually did, but in all honesty, I think that it's clear- Trank started the darker, grittier and more complex first half, and Fox put together the abomination that is the second half of the film after they realized what Trank's vision was. The end result is a film that doesn't work in the slightest.

By now, people have realized the magnitude of the disaster behind Fantastic Four. The movie flopped at the box office last weekend, audiences gave it a putrid "C-" Cinemascore, and the fans are rabid with calls for Fox to give the characters back to Marvel. While all of this is going on, I'm still baffled by everything that happened. It's easy to blame Fox for this catastrophe, but Trank obviously has some blame here as well. Fantastic Four feels like the ultimate studio film gone wrong- when too many people are involved with too much money, trying to make a four quadrant hit that just isn't there. I don't know what Fox will do with these characters now, but it's clear that the "Reset" button needs to be hit. Despite some fine moments, this film is one of the year's biggest and most perplexing failures.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.6/10)

Image Credits: Screen Rant, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Forbes, Space

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