Fantastic Four, 2015.
Directed by Josh Trank.
Starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson.
Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
There is something undeniable rotten at the heart of this film. A $120 million production from 20th Century Fox designed, planned, and released for no other reason simply other than that it can be made. The rights to characters have been bought, percentage of profits decided and sequel release dates set in motion before a key is hit on the keyboard used to write the first draft. Of course, every film is made to make a profit but the chasm between setting out to make a solid piece of entertainment and caring only about the financial gains has so rarely been as apparent as it is here.
This, as it happens, turns out to be a huge disappointment because the film making is certainly not without its merits. I’m no fanatic supporter of the films based on Marvel and DC characters in the seven years since Iron Man was released but I genuinely liked the naturalistic tone to the proceedings (even if it’s pure science fiction), far more suited to my personal sensibilities than many recent comic book stories. Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm and Victor Doom are presented as grounded young men and women whose intelligence and determination define them as interesting people rather than the cadence of their voice or how well they can crack jokes – something which is thankfully sporadic for this, for the most part, is a serious film. The relationships between these principal characters and the circumstances in which they bond is organic, no one character feels brought in to appease various demographics or for prestige, the usual checklists which bore me so with their predictability; furthermore Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara act their roles without any pretence of star power, no one is clamoring for the spotlight or overacting, which enforces the naturalist feel to what could so easily have been another big, brash and bloated set-up.
The cold, steely tone to Matthew Jensen’s cinematography and director Josh Trank’s mature, assured direction feels oddly unlike the typical approach to similar material. The look of The Human Torch in this film remains one of my favourite realisations of a comic book character in this era, and the stretched limbs of Mister Fantastic have an unseemly quality to them. These powers may have their uses but I got a feeling they were not without their pain, either. Moreover, there aren’t any meaningless scenes where each character showcases their powers for the audience for the CGI wizards to ‘wow’ us, and on the hand the film doesn’t shy away from on-screen death either. There is nothing fantastical to the film in the first two-thirds, and I could sense myself warming to a film where any preconceived notions I may have had of a two-hour noise-fest crammed with cameos and excruciatingly dull, visually uninspired action scenes were fading fast.
The problem comes when the film decides it needs to fall in line with all the others, that being soon after the four get their superpowers. So rarely have I seen a film which rushes to be over just as it gets going, undoing any good work achieved up until that point. I wasn’t aware of the relatively brief running time (100 minutes is the official run time, but it’s closer to 95 before the credits roll) but the story shifts to a place in the final third where all creativity, intelligence and willingness to be different is ripped from the very heart of it. The production is soon presented to us as a series of reshoots, last-minute script changes (apparently reshoots were done as recently as April of this year, which can well be believed based on footage here), and barely finished digital effects; The Thing’s eyes and mouth in particularly bad, as does the stretching effects of Mister Fantastic when used in action. If it weren’t for the fact that I watched a digital projection, I’d have thought a reel was missing; there’s precious little time devoted to the four getting used to their changes, instead we get a ‘One Year Later’ title card and all the interesting character work is swept away and similarly Victor Doom becomes the evil Doctor Doom without as much as an explanation as to why he now wants to destroy the world for reasons which stretch no further than ‘people don’t treat Earth very well so they don’t deserve it’. There is one action scene in the film and that’s also the film’s limp finale where the four take on Doctor Doom on a planet so poorly constructed it looks as though the actors are anywhere but against a green screen the entire time; there is no threat and nothing is at stake when Doctor Doom appears (some shots of a woodland and a few cars being sucked up does not count as a tangible threat to an audience who have seen this countless times before) because the conflict comes and goes and that is that. Done. Over. Move on to the sequel.
I had no hopes for the film before I sat down to watch it but I left feeling cheated. Fantastic Four has nothing to say about its characters or its environment, so the origins story ends once they get powers, nor does it even offer big action set-pieces in an attempt to plug the gaps like so many other films do, so it can’t even claim to be ‘a fun popcorn movie’. It offers audience nothing new once it gets in comic book movie territory, but what frustrates me the most is how this apparently passes as good enough from two major studios in the movies today. Just keep pumping them out, slap ‘Marvel’ on the poster somewhere and the paying public will come running because who needs complete story arcs, and third acts which have any reason for being told when the sequel already has a release date planned? It was made because it could be, not because it necessarily should be and those who wrote and/or tinkered with the script essentially killed the film before it had a chance to live. This is a true non-event and the epitome of production made without the audience in mind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter
Listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of the movie using the player below:
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