FILM: Fantastic Four [2015]

Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 100 mins
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell
Genre: Superhero, Sci-Fi
Country: USA

20th Century Fox have had various degrees of success with the Marvel titles they have owned or own over the last fifteen years.  X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men: Days of Futures Past and most recently Deadpool have all done serious box office while at the same time received a warm reception from the critics while Daredevil, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Fantastic Four (2005) have managed to highlight that Executive management can often lead the suits out of their depth.
What's got two thumbs and is rock hard right now?  This guy!

Cinema’s relationship with the Fantastic Four has been particularly difficult as no less than three previous instalments have failed to create a viable jumping off point to create a successful cinematic franchise.  Josh Trank (Chronicle) takes control of the lens in an effort to change that with his updated take on the origin of the Fantastic Four.

There’s no shock left in this movie if you come to it and are reading a bad review.  Fantastic Four was not only dropkicked by the fans but hung by its neck and had its genitals exposed (and laughed at) by the critics.  Coming into this one I was ready for a diarrhoea hot-tub party that would make Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer look like 2001: A Space Odyssey and without Jessica Alba in skin-tight blue spandex.  What I got was something else.  The reason why there have been so many failed attempts at Fantastic Four is largely due to the quartet’s origin.  When the comic was created we had a pre-moon-landing understanding or science, space and the greater universe.  On paper (now) it can only really be appreciated through the prism of nostalgia; so on screen it’s hokey at best and laughably ridiculous at worst.  Whether the fans want to hear it or not, the only way the Fantastic Four stand a chance of being done to comic origin is as a period piece.  This is never going to happen.  Comic book movies are big business, and no studio is going to want to have an FF movie set in the 1960s when the rest of their properties operate in present day, or in the case of X-Men: First Class the 1970s.

To create a Fantastic Four film that’s present day requires a degree of adaptation, an overhaul of the “science” behind their abilities and a more delicate touch.  Trank brings this to the table as rather than going off into space in “a rocket ship”, the FF are transported inter-dimensionally using a Quantum gate.  Let it be put on the record, that despite pot-shots taken at this movie in the past I actually liked it.  Like Watchmen before it, I have changed my mind.  Trank’s vision (though mangled by Studio involvement) is clear.  He’s aiming for more than the broad stroke characterisation that used to be enough.  His Reed Richards comes from a broken home, and is very much “the loner” as neither his mum nor stepdad understand his mind.  Sue Storm is (assumedly) orphaned having been adopted by Franklin Storm.  Ben Grimm’s family is a step down the evolutionary ladder from Lizard Lick Towing, and Victor Von Doom is a monochromatic rubix cube of emotion.  The only one from a stable background is Johnny and he’s rebellious against his old man for all the “strays” he has taken in over the years.

The look to Fantastic Four is dark.  Where Tim Story’s FF films had the aesthetic gloss of a Latin American soap opera, Trank’s film serves up a cold realism.  Everything is metal, or leather, or glass.  Cold to the touch and lacking in comfort.  In more than one way it resembles a Christopher Nolan movie.  In fact, had Nolan not made Interstellar and opted for another comic book adaptation he would have delivered a film with this look.  This is the long way round to say that Trank’s Marvel movie looks like a DC movie and it is this that might explain the venomous backlash.
Stay away from the light, Johnny Storm!

Miles Teller is a good Reed Richards.  Long before he was the stable hand of the fantastic family, he was a science nerd.  As such he would have been introspective, perhaps even awkward and of course he’s going to fall in love with the first girl who really understands him.  That’s not to say his love (assuming it as we’re never given the chance to get there via sequels) isn’t real, it’s just obvious.  Johnny is more than just the angry teen.  It wore thin in the comics very quickly.  He rebelliously wants to be anything other than smart; because if he’s smart then he’s just like the rest of his dad’s pseudo-adopted kids.  Sue is the most level-headed (read boring), and Victor has enough intelligence and ego that he’s the natural “problem” without coming across as the pantomime bad guy.

I do have problems with the film.  Sue (Mara) is left behind, and therefore contaminated upon re-entry.  This makes her less in the origin.  Each of the others made the choice to open the Quantum gate and go across to the other side; in an argument that makes perfect sense.  Even knowing what is about to happen I defy anyone to listen to the impassioned speech and not yell yeah!  But Sue is not there.  Yes this film has her as “the sensible one” but first and foremost she is a scientist and her curiosity would be Kong-sized.  The fact she’s left behind is a little macho-male bullshit.  Another issue is Doom himself.  I like the update they have done to the character and I like the first appearance of him in his cloak, walking across the plains of the zero-planet but his look his terrible.  He looks like a glow-in-the-dark sex doll has been in a house fire.  I mean WTF?!  Would it have killed them to give him a mask?  The last issue is with the team’s use of powers.  Yeah, Ben is deployed as a weapon by the U.S. military and Johnny is on his way to becoming one too but all their team work is done on the zero-planet.  The initial set-pieces in which they discover their powers is terrifying.  Mr. Fantastic’s realisation in particular has traces of the brilliance that was The Outer Limits.  As an audience member, prior to having them battle Doom on zero I’m waiting to see them do it in a context I’m familiar with.
Point me in the direction of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.

As an audience member I wanted to see Doombots coming through the Quantum gate, attacking New York and then the Fantastic Four having to figure out how to use their body’s new abilities to save the city before taking the fight to Doom.  Saying that though, the fight on zero-planet is excellent.  I never got how Mr. Fantastic could be formidable in a fight but Trank made him a champ.

There’s a worrying trend in the land of geekdom at the moment.  We saw it with Fantastic Four, we saw it with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and most visibly we saw it with Ghostbusters.  With regards to the superhero movies it seems to be that if a film deviates from the “Marvel method” it’s instantly slated with armies of internet trolls seizing on the star ratings in an attempt to tank reception and thus prove they’re right.  We saw this with Ghostbusters with the film opening with a 3.6 star rating on IMDB.  No movie opens that cold, and yet the organised troll mafia has made sure that their opinions were heard before the film was even released.  At the end of BvS I heard one person moan that there “wasn’t even a post credit scene”.  Correct.  There wasn’t.  The same way Iron Man didn’t pop up and smug up a storm because it’s not a god-damn Marvel movie!!  Was Fantastic Four the best superhero movie ever?  No.  Truth be told it’s not even top five but it’s far from the atrocity the internet has proclaimed it.  Yeah, sure by all accounts Trank is difficult to work with but so is Doug Liman and David O. Russell and they still get Studio love.
It's not just the law that has long arms.

Fantastic Four is a very good movie with superficial problems that’s become a victim of its own ingenuity.  It doesn’t need to be rebooted again, all it needs is a software update to fix a few system errors and we’re on our way to Galactus.


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