Commentary on myriad subjects, ranging from pop-culture, movies, music, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu/MMA (that's Mixed Martial Arts for you uninitiated out there), books, and the personal.
13 September 2015
The Fantastic Four: A Brunch Review.
What it should have looked like.
Directed by Josh Trank
Starring: Who cares
Here watch the deceptive trailer:
Like most Marvel fans, I keep waiting for a good
Fantastic Four movie. At this point, I'd settle for merely okay.
The requirements to be good, or even great relative to other action films, are
actually not many, nor are they out of reach of most competent directors.
1.The adaptation! There must be a commitment to hew
at least to the spirit of the characters and adapt them as faithfully is possible
in film. Any added characters must serve the basic vision of the source
2.There must be some plausible or at least
interesting science in the film. Reed, Sue and Doom are some of the most
brilliant people on the planet, and are always getting up to science-y hijinks.
They can go cosmic, or sub-atomic.
3.Compelling Action. Ben Grimm is easily one of the
most capable Marvel heroes in a scrap. Dooms, Reed, Sue and Johnny aren’t
slouches either, nor are their various enemies. Give them some interesting,
intelligent action to engage in.
4.And most importantly sound filmmaking. This is
Examining the Adaptation.
Going into Trank’s Fantastic Four the previews led me to
believe the direction would be the more low key, pseudo-realism of Bryan
Singer’s X-Men franchise, and less the comic book glory of the Marvel Cinematic
Universe produced by Marvel/Disney. In that spirit I expected the character
essences and traits and somewhat powered down versions of the characters. I
love most of Singer’s X-Men movies so I would have been cool with such a direction
in Fantastic Four. Was this Josh
dismisses almost every part of the 54 year history of the Fantastic Four,
(involving comic book, prose novel, film and cartoon) with the exception of the
powers of the four and the number 4 itself. Seriously, that is about all he
chose to draw on. Well, that, and maybe some of the hot-headedness of Johnny
Storm/the Human Torch, but even that misses the mark, and by a wide margin.
The Title that essentially birthed the Marvel Universe.
For the past 54 years of
story, the Fantastic Four has had
roster changes, and gone through many ups and downs, but it is essentially the
story of a highly intelligent family that doesn’t always know how to interact
with one another because of their diverse and not always complimentary personality
traits. Their cutting edge work also puts them in danger. Reed Richards is
clearly brilliant, but also on the Autism Spectrum, and often preoccupied. Sue,
is his brilliant wife, the not always happy with Reed and his obssessions, but
also an independent woman with her own interests. There is Johnny Storm, not a
man rebelling against his own brilliance wanting get our from under the shadow
of his father (the Josh Trank vision and a tired cliché). He is a gifted
athlete, with something of an inferiority complex that causes him to show off,
consistently trying to demonstrate his usefulness, importance and general
coolness all of which are, he thinks, huge assets to the team. Ben Grimm,
Reed’s best friend had a different experience of life than Reed, Sue or Johnny.
As a kid he was street thug, gang member. Athletics took him out of that life
and to college and then the military, becoming a skilled test pilot. Not nearly
as brilliant as Reed or Sue, Ben is nevertheless a sharp guy. Anyway, the core
of the FF, is the Richards family, Grimm included and the way the deal with
Reed’s brilliance as it takes them all through the galaxy and often into
adventure or trouble, which can amount to the same thing. Firing on all
cylinders the FF should read like some mad combination of Star Trek, and Dr. Who.
Trank opted to make Victor Von Doom, the film’s main villain. And, like the
previous two attempts to bring the FF to the big screen, he also managed to
fail in adapting the character. Doom has no powers in the source material. He
is simply brilliant and being a bit of a despot, in a rich and prosperous, natural
resource rich country, has no trouble funding his pet projects. Trank,
essentially recapitulates the origin story of the 2005 film, arguably another
nod to the past 54 years of source material, but instead of taking all five
leads into space and exposing them to cosmic rays, he takes them to another
dimension (via a scenario that could only work in a comedy) and exposes them
to, uh, well, who knows? More importantly who cares?
Anyway, Trank gave Stan
Lee, Jack Kirby and the fans the finger along the adaptation axis. His
fantastic foursome is fresh out of high school. Doom is a 30 something obsessed
with Sue (apparently has been for years—make of that what you will), and is some
kind of wealthy guy. Whatever. Doom and Reed are brilliant sure, but
catastrophically arrogant, and cavalier with the technology they have invented,
and after one trial of their tech decide to take the whole team to a different
dimension. They even take Ben, not part of the project at all in this film but
a high school grad with no aspirations beyond his parents’ junkyard.
Fucking ridiculous. One wonders if the arrogance of its protagonists wasn't mirroring that of the director.
The Science-y bits.
Crossing dimensions in
any other film might be interesting. Not. Fucking. Here. Its one badly lit and
deeply, perilously uninteresting set, mostly CGI over and over again.
This is sad too, because
the idea was really rich with potential mystery and possibility. Where does
their dimension-hopping machine take them? Why not discuss the very real
Multiverse hypothesis, currently a hot topic in cosmology? Why is travelling to
the parallel dimensions useful? What is the project? Have they really made a
device that can travel to parallel dimensions or have they created something
more surprising? Maybe the desolation they see isn’t some place else, but their
very own Earth in the future? Whoa? Right? Rich possibilities. But nope,
desolate rock world with green lava, with absolutely nothing inhabiting it.
YET! Yet, Doom will be trapped there for a year -subsisting on what you ask?
Who cares? Not Josh Trank- and late in the third act will return to our world,
viewing earth and its people as a threat to his adopted world. Why would he think this?
It doesn’t matter, and in any event Doom never really articulates a sound
rationale for deciding to annihilate Earth, which is very, very un-canon Doom
behavior. Doom wants to rule earth, because he thinks he can do it better than
anyone else. I mean the trains do run on time in Latveria after all. All we
know is Doom is very worried about his barren, green lava infused world.
Is there any exploration
of the FF’s powers? Any fun attempts to explain what has happened to our
heroes. Nah. Move along. There are just more Trank middle fingers here.
Obviously no. Play
fighting super-heroes with my three-year-old son is vastly more compelling than
anything Trank offers us in Fantastic
Four. Well, there is one notable exception. There is an awesome sequence in
which Doom walks through the halls of a military base, popping peoples heads
like balloons filled red syrup with his telekinetic powers (which he has never
ever had in the comic book) that is totally badass and would have been a very
compelling scene in almost any other movie. In this movie though the scene just
makes you wonder why he doesn’t pop the heads of the Fantastic Four when they
have their final dust up. Instead he exchanges punches and kicks with them
until they beat him, after the startling realization that Doom, “is stronger
than each one of us individually, but together…”
Why does Doom want to
live in green lava world again….?
My goodness this movie
But Max, what about the filmmaking itself?
Maybe, just maybe, when
the adaption goes to shit it is possible, you might suggest, that viewed as a
just a low-key super hero movie it could work. Pretend not to be a fan Max.
Pretend you don’t know anything about the Sue, Reed, Johnny, Ben or Doctor
Doom, as a film, is it okay?
No. As a film it
functions not at all. It is, in point of very serious fact, absolutely terrible
as a standard action fiction film. Most of the films of Jean Claude Van Damme
are more finely crafted than Josh Trank’s Fantastic
Four. The infamous Roger Corman version is vastly more worthy of fan love
than this film, and that movie probably had a tenth the budget of this one if
not less. It did have a script written by someone who had at least read a ten
issue run of FF though.
There is a romantic
dialogue between Reed and Sue seems as if George Lucas wrote it after he had
watched season one of Bones. Why is
it, Constant Reader, that when a screenwriter is developing a brilliant woman,
they try to turn them into Spock. Love is alien to them and they delight in
describing the evolutionary biology and chemistry of the emotions –which, I
admit could be interesting- but seem to be committed to more shallow couplings.
This pops up so often now as to have become a trope. It pops up in the
aforementioned Bones, it was in the
equally bad, G.I. Joe where Scarlet
is brilliant, cold and only interested in sex as a mode of entertainment. We
see the trope at work in all the flashy crime shows too, notably NCIS, but also a bit in CSI (pick the city). It fucking abounds.
My problem isn’t with the
idea that a brilliant female scientist would excise emotions and be interested
only in the sex as a thing to do for one’s own gratification. My problem is
with the laziness of screenwriters and the inaccuracy of the trope. I actually
do know a lot of female scientists, some really brilliant, and they behave a
lot more like humans than the nerdy sex bots that seem to fever the
imaginations of bad science fiction writers.
Anyway, this trope is out
in full force in the character of Sue Storm. It goes without saying that it
isn’t even done very well in this film, which gives us one scene of
“flirtation” between Reed and Sue. They have one scene of terrible dialogue, so
bad in fact I actually tuned it out, which is supposed to demonstrate their
extreme chemistry and hint at their romantic destiny. It fails. Sue seems to be
channeling Ally Sheedy’s shy awkward heroine from The Breakfast Club. And Reed can barely bring himself to look
interested. These are two actors reciting lines hoping a single film can’t sink
And cue the librarian
with the clichéd “Shhhhh.”
In addition to terrible
dialogue writing, the script betrays the confusion of its writers in that it
can’t figure out what its through-lines are. The writer(s) have given us a
script that indicates they had absolutely no idea what to do with these
characters. It has no sense of place, the script doesn’t understand young
people, it doesn’t understand adults.
At least a year of time
passes from the moment the characters get their powers and the film’s denouement
and the script engages with the character arcs of the protagonists in no
meaningful way whatsoever. Ben Grimm, the enormously powerful Thing, has become
a hammer used by the US military to solve tough issues of “diplomacy.” Could be
interesting, but we see this only in the form of newscasts and shaky cam
footage. There is no reflection, no exploration. Reed escapes from the lab and
spends the year working on a way to help fix his “friends.” That is to say, he
spent a year of story time on the run from several government agencies.
Potentially interesting, correct? Well, not to whoever wrote this movie. Sue is
in a coma for much of the film and exists sort of to recap a few plot elements
with Johnny who gets about as much character development as Ben. Dr. Doom as I
mentioned is just gone, assumed dead by the characters, if by no one else
They are supposed to be a
bit of a team, and friends. None of that gets developed.
Obviously there is a
government bureaucrat so venal, greedy and self-absorbed in the film. And in a
good, if forumlaic film, would use McGreedy to seriously upset the goals of a
film’s protagonists. In this instantiation of the Fantastic Four he exists to eat up screen time, and to get his
comeuppance in a grisly way.
I could continue to list
things that are wrong with the film but there would be no point. Go see it if
you feel like you must bear witness to a train wreck. But it won’t be fun.
My advice would be to see
nearly anything else. Seriously a Fantastic Four porn parody, which I am sure
has to exist, would be a marked improvement.
A biologist trapped in the mental health field. I am interested in Evolutionary biology, ecology and conservation. In addition to that, I am an active competitor in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (I am a purple belt under Marcello Monteiro, a third degree black belt under Ricardo De La Riva). I like hikeing, birdwatching, camping and all things outdoors.