Noble intentions and the Fantastic Four go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s their constant compromises in other media or the shifting appeal of the comic; the Four are always left out in the open to be manipulated. Currently, their book has ended and the members have been scattered to the winds of the Marvel Universe to satisfy an attempt to starve out FOX’s marketing interests. In the outer media world, the team has landed yet another new interpretation in the form of Josh Trank’s latest film. This is the same Josh Trank who got active on Twitter last night about his distaste for the final product. Yeah, it’s going to be one of those reviews.
The film is split in three acts that try to function as an overall origin story for the team. Equal parts aping the Ultimate Marvel team origin and the Chronicle aesthetic, we get a new team that functions as a militarized science Hogwarts A-List squad. Childhood friends Ben and Reed bond over a terrible childhood, while science superstar adopted siblings Sue and Johnny Storm help them find a place at the Baxter Building. It’s not long before Reed builds a device that allows them to be transported to another planet/dimension.
The distinction is poorly made, as calling it “The Negative Zone” would’ve just been too hard for this creative team. That is where we have the central problem of this movie. The script, the pacing, the lack of consistent direction all boil down to the fact that the creative team feels like they want nothing to do with the world that Marvel has built. At every turn, you see an attempt to say that the film is its own thing and owes nothing to the source material. I’m not saying to be a slave to the comics, but treat them with the slightest respect that is given to even the most tepid Airport novel turned movie.
From there, we get the moments that the early reviews wanted to call body horror. It’s body horror in the same way that a PG-13 movie might be called horror. The term is vague and has no basis in reality. We see the team’s powers develop and they’re portrayed as frightening. That’s not body horror. Body horror is having someone shove a Beta tape in your stomach. This is just ZOMG! Powers don’t function like I expected. Oh no! I’m on fire and he’s a rock man!
Halfway through the film, Doctor Doom is remembered and we’re introduced to the proper form of Doom. He’s been left on Reed’s miracle science discovery of ill-defined rock and it’s not long before he’s gone crazy. The four poorly defined heroes come together, while Reg Cathey keeps calling Urban Johnny Storm a disappointment and other bullet points of parental rating. You can guess how the rest goes. Inspirational death, others die pointless red shirt deaths and the team unites. All the while, forgotten friend turned villain wants to remake Earth into his temporary dimensional home. Twirl a mustache, eat some popcorn and move the hell on.
Remember a year ago where the narrative surrounding this film was over the casting of the Human Torch as a young black man. Everyone went nutty on both sides, all the while FOX got the press and discussion flow that they wanted. You were played for a fool if you fell for it. Having an African American family for the Storms is about the only thing of note in this adaptation. Everything else plays like an extended cable TV pilot or the worst of superhero adaptations circa 1995-2000.
In a time where we are seeing Wagnerian CG epics of superhero action, you don’t limp to the barn with a film that was out-of-touch in 2003. In gaming terms, this film is the Atari 7800 coming out against the NES and Sega Master System. “Fantastic Four” is a modern day relic showing that a studio would rather fight against its content creator than work out a deal for everyone to benefit. No one wins when you stand against the storyteller. Well, unless you’re Michael Bay. Michael Bay wins everytime.
“Fantastic Four” should serve as a reminder for those spoiled by the current Golden Age of Superheroics in the greater media. For every Robert Downey Jr, every WB TV adaptation and stunning video game entry…there’s always a FOX copyright rush job waiting in the wings. The film industry is still very much controlled by entities that don’t understand the public outside of recording numbers related to personal revenue and customer spend. What irritates me when a film like this stinks up theaters is how it hurts potential new fans to the Fantastic Four.
When you blow an opportunity like “Fantastic Four” has done, you push kids and others away from the comics. Their opinion becomes colored in believing that this is the only way the F4 can be and they distance themselves. Media response goes both ways and this film severs all ties for everyone. Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben deserved better. They are Marvel’s first family for a reason.
Don’t whine about Johnny being African America in this version, don’t whine about them being young and don’t whine about the loss of the Space Age origin. Focus on the lack of coherence, the plot faults and the inability to do anything that mattered with Sue and Doom. Don’t buy into the media pieces and other scuttlebutt. Focus with razor sharp intensity on the lack of basic storytelling. Then, leave the theater and demand more. When you demand less, studios think this kind of garbage is appropriate. Do the right thing, people. Give ’em the finger and close your wallet.
Release Date: 8/7/15