FILM REVIEW: FANTASTIC FOUR
You are probably surprised to hear that FANTASTIC FOUR isn't the failure everyone is cracking it up to be. In 2015 and beyond, it is obvious that superhero movies are becoming predictable. Good conquers evil and audiences continue to be jerked around with origin stories where writers and filmmakers are faced with the ever more difficult challenge of introducing us to characters in fresh and exciting new ways. These challenges are supplemented by the need to create interesting and compelling characters that are not stereotypes, relationships that go further than 'love at first sight,' delivering action scene after action scene that builds on the one preceding it, adding stakes to our heroes' woes, building up to a grand finale. If Marvel's ANT-MAN and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON are any indication, superhero movies have a tendency to not feel like a full story anymore, just one chunk of a larger story being fed to the audience one at a time, with the limit of satisfaction becoming smaller and smaller with each subsequent entry.
At best, Josh Trank's 'Fantastic Four' s an engaging and awe-inspiring science-fiction movie. At worst, FF tries to be a superhero movie.
Controversy or not, Josh Trank is a talented director. He has the confidence to subvert film genre and add a unique twist on his source material, whether that is the defining theme of friendship in 2012's CHRONICLE, or science-fiction in FANTASTIC FOUR. There is little blatant fault to be found in his sophomore film. Equipped with fantastic actors in Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Toby Kebbell, audiences are granted a well acted, well paced film that unfolds in service of exploring unknown territory, organically presenting the relationships and interactions between them. Our heroes do not come together so much as a team, but as a family working towards a common goal.
If there is one fatal flaw that put an end to this exciting and refreshing entry into 20th Century FOX's film-verse, it is the forced and poorly executed third act.
The origin story isn't the problem. Johnny Storm being African American isn't the problem. The problem is when FANTASTIC FOUR is forced out of it's science-fiction bubble and into reality, where superhero movies typically require an incredible third act and crazy action scenes to finish off the movie because that's all audiences want, right? For the first hour of the film, we become exceptionally engrossed in the journey of our characters as anchored by Miles Teller's Reed Richards, feeling sympathy for their dealings with the military/government goons that threaten every great superhero team, as well as when their bodies morph in grotesque and horrifying ways. These aren't powers or blessings or gifts from God, these are initially seen as a curse to reverse.
Nevertheless, the plot takes some very odd steps forward from there as one of our characters flees and an unnecessary time skip takes place as more of a cop-out than anything else. One year later after the incident, everyone knows how to use their powers. The one problem with this is that, instead of skipping a year on top of the seven years established earlier, why not show us a montage or give us real character development in how our heroes came to conquer their curse and turn it into a vehicle to help people. The military has helped them to use their powers and control them, but we kind of wish we saw how that happened in the first place.
I see this time-skip as a component in setting up the final fight scene of Dr. Doom, but a very poor one at that. With a film that is so restrained and engrossing for the first two thirds, an almost unforgivable tonal shift takes place which has everyone instantly fighting to save the world. No one is given time to talk, discuss or further their relationships. Suddenly Doom is back and we have to stop him.
It doesn't help that the final action scene is a CG fest in space that is one of the most poorly choreographed action scenes I have ever seen. I will say this, 2005's FANTASTIC FOUR had a better final action scene than this. The spacial awareness of this CG environment was simply appalling, and I couldn't help but wonder why Dr Doom was reduced to being outsmarted by four people 'working together' rather than anything scientifically grounded like the rest of the film. 2005's iteration realised that they had to come together to beat Doom as a family and not alone, even used Chemistry 101. Trank's iteration does exactly the same thing, but it is more forced and certainly out of character with the rest of the film's restrain leading up to this unfocused temper tantrum.
Good actors are functional in their roles, but great ones make the most of what they have and blow the audience away.
In terms of characters, everyone's story is heavily rooted in Miles Teller's iteration of Reed Richards. It becomes interesting, then, that not every character has their time to 'shine' in like a specific scene as other superhero movies tend to do. Instead, we are given snippets of great characters, that if given more time to develop relationships with each other, could have been amazing. It's a shame that the developments we saw were sacrificed for a poorly executed action scene that turned FF from science-fiction to superhero mayhem.
Miles Teller is exceptional as our Reed Richards, and given more films, I feel like he could really grow into his own as the team's leader, and more importantly, Sue's husband.
Kate Mara is oddly sidelined in the film besides her relationship with Richard and sexual tension with Doom (which is never explicitly addressed.) It becomes apparent that she wasn't even a member of the team that went to space.
Michael B. Jordan isn't given quite the spotlight he deserves. At his best, he's quick witted and wise cracking in the confident sway we expect out of our Johnny. Just look at Chris Evans's 2005 and 2007 iteration - he was an asshole.
Jamie Bell is probably the most tortured actor out of the rest. Once turned into The Thing, I see little remnant of Jamie Bell at all, even the voice doesn't sound enough like him that I almost wish I could see more of him. He is typically left out because he isn't smart like everyone else, he's just 'the muscle,' but come on we can do better.
Finally, Toby Kebbell is basically just a smart introvert who thinks he better than everyone else. His only motivation is captured briefly in that our world is wrecked, why should we go destroy another one? But this is a question that could have been further fleshed out had this movie been given more time to grow out of its bubble instead of being forced into a superhero action fest at a brief 100 minute runtime. It saddens me that doom isn't given more of a chance to develop at all. He goes from angry introvert to insane killer blowing up people and wanting to destroy the world in an instant, and you can't help but not believe in any of it.
Before you write this movie off, don't watch it because it's a superhero film. Watch it because it's different than everything else out there.
Ultimately, Josh Trank gives us a refreshing take on the FANTASTIC FOUR, and if anything he's done a wonderful job bringing this iteration to audiences. It is, for the most part, an engaging and very well paced entry into the science-fiction genre, grounded by its awe-inspiring effort to explore unknown territories and build relationships between the characters. But it truly collapses in remarkable fashion at that final climax, with a tonal shift so forced, it's the moment you see the nicest guy in school punch another kid in the face. It's uncharacteristic, nothing like you expected, and we certainly didn't deserve that. In some respects, some blame can be placed on the marketing. Initially delivered as a science-fiction exploration film, FOX shifted their focus to showcasing action and bendy arms and force fields and such. I can't help but think that audiences should be looking for a refreshing take on the superhero story rather than a superhero film with side-action scenes and more action to compensate for poor and boring story development.
Playback Rating: 7/10