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Fantastic Four (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jaime Bell, Reg E. Cathey, Tony Kebbell

Written By: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank

Directed By: Josh Trank

The Shot

Someone at the studio appears to have hated the third feature film attempt at Fantastic Four long before any audience ever had the chance to, with results that are, unfortunately, predictable enough.  Call it fantastically wasted potential that’s already in line for the bargain bin.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

E-Z CHEEZ.

The studio interfered way too much with this stuff.  It’s certainly not real cheese.


Pairs Well With...

SPECIAL EXPORT.

Looks like a hipster; tastes like skunked-up, watered down studio interference.  Who’s up for using some ethanol to kill some brain cells?

“Pattern recognition.”


Just over twenty years ago, a quick and dirty low budget version of The Fantastic Four was made (but never legally released), primarily to prevent rights to Marvel’s First Family of comic book heroes from reverting back to Marvel.

Ten years ago, a big budget take on Fantastic Four hit theatres.  This one was a serious (though horribly executed) go, though the timing was also in part to make sure that the rights to the characters didn’t revert back to Marvel.

So, here we are again.  Anyone guessed the pattern yet?  (Whether or not the studio’s admitting anything?)

This newest take on Fantastic Four has got to be the single least eagerly anticipated comic book hero flick I can think of this century.  (It even beats out Elektra for that dubious distinction, by my count.)  Critics and fans took to trashing it sight unseen even months before its release, and the studio (Fox) that’s allegedly so keen on retaining the rights to the title heroes did next to nothing to refute the negative mojo.  (Insert your favorite conspiracy theory about making a profit over the frequently-noted character rights after a box office failure here.)  As for me, misgivings though I had (the trailers had all the sense of fun and adventure of a Soviet gulag), I walked into the theatre on premiere night with an open mind.

I left the theatre a shockingly short time later (Fantastic Four is very pointedly Not A Long Movie) having come to four conclusions:


1 – Fantastic Four isn’t horrible, and certainly not the totally irredeemable wreck that pre-release hype would have suggested it be.

2 – Fantastic Four isn’t good, either, by any stretch of Mr. Fantastic’s arms or imagination.

3 – It’s not the cast’s fault.  (And probably not the director’s, either.)

4 – Someone at the studio hated Fantastic Four long before any audience ever had the chance to.


Let’s start at the beginning.

Once upon a time, someone decided that this take on Marvel’s First Family needed something to set it apart from other superhero flicks, and so a risk was taken: Josh Trank was hired to direct, with an obvious nudge toward a final result that would end up looking something like his one and only other big screen feature, Chronicle.  In other words, the studio’s gamble was to go for a low budget indie vibe while still providing an uncertain butt-ton of money for special effects.  Ideally, this is when the executives sit back and allow their chosen director to get on with his work.

Ha.

None the less, the first (and one could reasonably suggest only) act of the finished film does follow the formula of the above-noted risk.  Fantastic Four starts out feeling nothing like a superhero flick; instead, it’s the story of a nerd who builds teleportation devices in his garage and his unlikely buddy who lives at a junkyard (and whose parents are abusive a-holes, just to add flavor).  Their teacher (they will apparently keep the same teacher for eight years or so, by the way), who hates them both, is played by the guy who does the voice for Homer Simpson.

Don’t get your hopes up; he’s not funny.  In fact, nothing about this extended look into the childhoods of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm is funny or fun.  At all.  But it’s definitely got an indie vibe to it.

Eventually, our boys get disqualified from their last high school science fair, but not before catching the eye of a fabulously wealthy scientist named Franklin Storm, who immediately offers a scholarship to his amazing scientific institution… to the nerd.  The kid who lives at the junkyard gets to go back to his junkyard.

Like I said, it’s all very indie.  This may be why the classic Fantastic Four origin story – which we’ve apparently been in the middle of – gets changed from being an outer space adventure to some brooding thing about opening dimensional portals, and why Dr. Doom turns out to be a neckbearded hipster douchebag living in a teched-up shack, and why Johnny Storm turns out to be a brilliant delinquent who joins the science team as a punishment for street racing, and why Sue Storm turns out to have been adopted as a Kosovo refugee baby.  Because who wants things to play out like they did in the comic books, right?

To be fair, it’s not as though most other comic book flicks aren’t as irreverent to the source material as this Fantastic Four is.  And I think it’s totally cool that the Storms are a mixed race family.  (Spoiler alert: Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are the best things about this movie, so I’m especially grateful for their being cast as the Storm siblings.)  But as things progress through the first act, one can’t help but feel as though Fantastic Four is trying way too hard to hit the indie film vibe.

Then the government characters show up, and what had been a tenuously interesting movie that I was still perfectly willing to go along with goes straight to Hell.  Indeed, one can argue that it ceases to be a real movie not too long after that, because as soon as our heroes (and our eventual villain) gain their “fantastic” powers, the concept of coherent storytelling completely falls apart in favor of half-baked notions that may or may not include an unfinished Whedon-style “can’t trust the hero” thing  and some “outsider” crap and “government stooge” bits and holy crap what the hell did they do to Dr. Doom and why does that planet look like one of the lousy parts of Draenor?! Wait, is he a Scanner?!

To say that it’s all a mess doesn’t even begin to describe the last hour and change of Fantastic Four… but it’s not the cast’s fault.  I honestly think Kate Mara is a perfect choice for Sue Storm, and as noted, I like how Michael B. Jordan handles Johnny, even if I’m dubious about the script he’s reading from.  The same holds true for what Miles Teller does with the Reed Richards he’s given.  I’d compliment Jaime Bell as Ben Grimm, but frankly, another way in which this film diverges from its predecessors is that Grimm – a highlight before – is totally given the shaft here (thus giving Bell next to no impactful screen time), and the CGI poo pile that the effects department offers up as The Thing is about as one-dimensional a punch thug as they come.  This is usually the point when one turns around and starts to blame the director, but…

…but, that last hour and change doesn’t look like it actually had a director, and if one is to believe Josh Trank and other behind-the-scenes sources who have supported his claims, it didn’t.  Apparently, the studio got cold feet about Trank’s work even before filming started, and began to overrule and second guess his decisions almost immediately.  Rewrites were demanded, money was withheld, action pieces – you know, the very heart of most superhero flicks – were taken out of the movie (over Trank’s objections), the ending was changed, and when production was over, the director wasn’t even allowed to sit in editing room.  Having seen the results of studio interference in other movies and recognizing the telltale signs of it in this one, I have no reason at all to doubt Mr. Trank’s cries of “foul.”  I can’t say that I’m convinced that whatever movie he might have made if actually allowed to carry out his intended vision would have been good, but it certainly would have been better than the Fantastic Four that Fox did churn out.

For example, I’m pretty sure that I would have known the climax for what it was when I saw it, whereas in this flick, after it was over I literally did a double take and thought to myself “Wait a minute! That was the climax?  And this now is the wrap-up and ending?  WTF?”

Like I said, I’m quite certain that someone at the studio hated Fantastic Four long before any audience had the chance to hate it.

And yet, bad though the end result may be, there’s just enough potential on display here to keep Fantastic Four from being a complete and utter train wreck, and I’d say that Fox can thank Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, and Reg E. Cathey for that.  (You know; the people who were cast over the studio’s objections.)  Primarily because of them, this Fantastic Four is at least less abominable than the one that came ten years before it, and as such, can be considered watchable when it hits the streaming service… or the cheap blu ray bin at your local big box retailer, which I expect to happen very, very quickly.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2015


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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