At the Movies 2015: Fantastic Four

Fantastic FourFantastic Four
USA 2015
Written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank
Directed by Josh Trank
Watched on 21.08.2015

Sometimes, movie fans like myself can be just as stupid, ill-behaved and unteachable as little kids. You can tell us hundred times to steer clear of certain movies, but do we ever listen? Like the small kid that can barely reach up to the hotplate and that got warned repeatedly that it shouldn’t touch it, because otherwise it will get burned, we – naturally – touch it, and more often than not, get burned. Which is my experience with “Fantastic Four” in a nutshell. Granted, I usually don’t let myself be influenced by critics too much. If I want to see a movie, I’ll watch it, critics be damned. However, this was actually one of those cases where the abysmal reviews had the opposite effect: Before they came out, I had very little interest of watching this in the cinema. But those terrible reviews actually piqued my interest, and I knew that I just had to see it. Not because I expected them to be wrong, but because sometimes, it’s not enough to just hear about a filmic disaster – you have to see for yourself. Unfortunately, unlike “Terminator: Genisys” that I ended up liking quite a bit, in this case, the critics got it absolutely right, I’m afraid.

This is one of those movies where I don’t even know where to start. Of course, I’ve heard about the problems surrounding this production, and the last-minute re-shoots to fix it (even though I think that those might have done more harm than good – but we’ll come to that later), but to be honest, I got the feeling that this was set to fail from the start, because of some script and/or conceptual issues. First of all: How the fuck could they let Sue Storm stay back? As great as it is that they brought in a little diversity with Johnny Storm, when it comes to gender equality, they totally dropped the ball. I mean, yes, at least she’s not standing at the stove cooking a meal for when the men get home, but come on. If they at least would have mentioned a good reason why she’s not coming with them, but they didn’t even ask her, let alone consider asking her. Instead, when the topic of a fourth team member comes up (why, anyway?), Reed rather calls his old buddy Ben Grimm, who actually had nothing to do with the project, and it seems that Johnny and Victor are perfectly fine with that. Talking about Victor: “Fantastic Four” unfortunately repeats one of the biggest mistakes of the 2005′ one, in having him transformed in the exact same accident that also makes the “Four” fantastic. And as if that wouldn’t have already been enough, they also felt that they needed to add a drama of jealousy to the proceedings. Definitely one of this movies’ worst ideas. Furthermore, it suffers from “Prometheus-Syndrome”, meaning that these scientists act totally irresponsibly and stupid. I mean, sure, when I find an unknown green substance on an interdimensional planet, of course I’d stick my hand into it! What could possibly go wrong?!

What’s even more damning though is that the pacing and/or the structure of the movie is completely off. For example, “Fantastic Four” takes far too long to finally get going. They spend a vast amount of time for setup – but neglect the payoff. I didn’t time it exactly, but it was my impression that by the time they finally got into that apparatus to go where that little toy car has gone before (and seriously, am I the only one who expected them to stumble upon it after their arrival in the other dimension?), half of the movie was already over. The problem with that should be obvious: Like with all superhero origin stories, the point where they finally get their powers usually is when things get interesting. “Fantastic Four” not only takes far too long to reach that point, but they also don’t do anything with it. Say about the Tim Story-“Fantastic Four”-movies what you want, and I’d agree that the first one was mediocre and the second one rather bad, but they really made something out of the characters getting their superpowers, and how they react to, and deal with, that. Especially with The Thing and his transformation, the previous movies did a splendid job. Here, however, they get their powers, get tested a little bit in the lab – and then, exactly when things would get interesting, instead of showing us how they learn to control – and live with – their powers, we jump ahead to “one year later”. Dudes, seriously? What came before already was rather weak, and I had a hard enough time with Sue staying behind – but that’s where the movie finally, and utterly, lost me. We didn’t see the hard work they put into learning to control their powers, didn’t see their struggle to accept their transformation. Thus, when they finally reunite again in the end to save the world, working together as a team – which should be the payoff for all the hardships that they endured before – there’s no meaning to it whatsoever.

That whole last stretch of the movie (I can’t really call it a third act; I’ll get to that in a minute) is a complete and utter mess, and extremely disappointing. Seriously, Kate Mara’s ridiculously obvious wig is the least of its problems – and that’s saying something. It starts with the idea of having the Thing work for the US military in warzones – an idea that might be interesting if it wouldn’t be a little too reminiscent of Dr. Manhattan in “Watchmen”. I constantly waited for the “Ride of the Valkyries” to start playing. Then they finally catch Reed Richards (using Sue’s “pattern recognition”-abilities, from which you just KNEW as soon they were mentioned that they’d come in handy later on), and shortly afterwards, Doom shows up. Not because it feels logical, not because they kinda built to that, but because he had to, obviously. Why is he standing there (did he wait there all the frickin’ time until someone finally appeared?), what does he want, and what’s his motivation? No idea. He’s just there, without any real buildup, because our heroes need a villain, a reason to work together and a chance to save the world. It’s one of the sloppiest bad guy-arcs that I’ve ever seen committed to screen. Then, finally, the showdown comes around, and it’s extremely disappointing. They fight a little bit, then the Fantastic Four have this epiphany that they can’t beat him alone, but that they can do so together, and before you know it, it’s over. And with that, so is the movie, pretty much. After this far too long introduction, to have this extremely short payoff – well, it’s simply a farce.

It also makes “Fantastic Four” feel incomplete, like a movie without a third act. That short brawl with Doom is what you expect during act two, where the heroes get their asses kicked (to emphasize the danger that the bad guy represents). Which again brings me back to the fact that structurally, this movie is a complete and utter mess. It’s like 1-1/2 hour of foreplay without ever getting down to business. It’s all teasing and introducing and preparing, but without any payoff. It’s not just the structure of the overall movie, though. The editing during the whole thing feels off somehow, like there are bits and pieces missing. I guess 20th Century Fox tried their best to save this mess, but as I said at the beginning, it’s possible that they did more harm than good, because the end result is neither fish nor fowl. There’s no flow to it, and the independent acts of the movie hardly go together at all. Instead of tinkering with the movie in the editing room, they would have been better advised to spend some more money on the Special Effects. Granted, the stretching effects of Reed Richards look extremely well, and there’s not much that you can do wrong with an invisible lady. The Thing, however, is a different matter entirely. His animation feels unfinished, and reminded me of some of the shots in “X-Men – Origins: Wolverine” – another Fox movie where they arguably decided to not spend too much money on it anymore, because they already knew that they had a turd on their hands. It’s not embarrassingly bad – but compared to other current CGI-creatures, it falls short, and can never really hide its artificial origins. That said, it still looks a lot better than the Human Torch. Seriously, what was that? It’s just a flaming mass of fire with a couple of black holes in it to represent the eyes and the mouth. Terrible!

A review of this movie (as long as it already is) would not be complete without mentioning this one weird military dude (sorry, I forgot his name) whose only character trait seems to be that he chews gum all the time. Loudly. It was so annoying that I would have loved nothing more than to reach into the screen and smack him. It also was extremely distracting, and took me out of the movie repeatedly. Whoever made this decision should not be allowed to work in the movie business any more. Then again, that’s something that should be considered for pretty much everyone involved in this mess. Everyone, that is, but the actors. The titular foursome – Teller, Mara, Jordan and Bell – all ranged from decent to pretty good. They tried – but if you only got crap to work with, you’re screwed. I’m a little more torn on Kebbell. Yes, Julian MacMahon was incredibly disappointing as Victor von Doom, mostly because we knew from previous roles how captivating, mesmerizing and menacing he can be – but on “Fantastic Four”, he seemed to phone it in. Still, even this muted version of him oozed more charm and charisma than Kebbell does during the entire picture. That said, I can’t rule out this possibility that I simply couldn’t look behind the annoying way his role was written. And even though I liked the performances of the others individually, the last huge problem of the movie is that none of them had any chemistry whatsoever. Neither did I feel the long-lasting friendship between Reed and Ben, nor any sort of sparks between Reed and Sue, and the four of them never really gelled as a team. The only fantastic thing about the movie were the end credits, because then, it was finally over. Other than that, it was an almost complete disaster. “Craptastic Four” would have been a far more apt title for this shitfest. Please don’t repeat my mistake, and steer clear – or you will get burned.


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