Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Fantastic Four" (2015)

© 20th Century Fox

No one thought this was going to be good. Maybe there were hopes of a surprise, the delivery of unexpected gems with our heroes or the villain; or in the world Fox was attempting to re-imagine. Oh boy, what a series of missed opportunities. Nearing the 10-year anniversary of Fox's 2005 Fantastic Four critical failure, the newest venture is released, shiny and new, with an otherwise well thought-out story neutered by its own dialogue. Oh, and it's not fun. Not even a little bit.

Kid-turned-teen genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is drafted Sky High-style into a special school for innovative kids after a teleportation device he invented catches the eye of Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey). Storm tells him that his device has the potential to transport men to another dimension, rich with resources. He leaves his best friend and school-yard protection, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), to recreate his invention bigger and better, working alongside Storm's daughter, Sue (Kate Mara). The final piece to the Fantastic Four quadrangle is Sue's brother, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), who takes a break from drag racing and causing mischief to build stuff in the lab. Oh, and of course, we can't forget the brilliant Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), whose previous work on the project meant he couldn't miss out. And since Reed is so awkwardly obtuse, someone had to be around to be jealous and make googly-eyes at Sue.

Let's skip through the hour of science and laboratory montages and cut right to the chase. Determined to be the first to the other side, the team buckles in (Grimm included, because Reed can't do anything without his bestie) and makes the jump. Of course, things go horribly wrong, and the during their attempted return, their biological makeup is changed forever. These are not powers, but curses. That is, for everyone other than Johnny "Human Torch" Storm, who has the best power ever. Desperate to find a cure, Reed abandons them all to avoid being a tool for the government.

It's all a mess, sadly, but there were glimmers here and there. Where you see the movie's potential most is in its intimacy. There aren't that many characters running around, and they take time—inarguably, too much time—to develop those relationships. The friendship between Reed and Ben is hands-down the highlight. It's the only dynamic that had any true emotional resonance, and Jamie Bell is an absolute talent, despite the limitations he was handed. Strange how the other characters could never find that same resonance. Even Dr. Storm had difficulty connecting with Sue and Johnny, his own kids, despite the script's unsubtle efforts to force them into feelings.

The worst offense of the movie is that it is severely anti-climactic. You can almost see the feet of film reel lying on the cutting room floor, torn from the final battle with Doom. And what a travesty, considering the potential introduced for one of Marvel's most powerful—and frankly, unstoppable—villains. It took half of the movie for these characters to even gain their powers, and then once they do, all we get is a lot of whining about it from behind cinder-block walls. Even the fun stuff they sampled in the movie's trailer (i.e. Thing jumping from a plane while some playful banter is being spewed by Johnny Storm) is completely absent from the final product. If anyone did anything fun or exciting, we never see it. Glimpses of barely visible footage does not a delightful superhero action pic make.

The director, Josh Trank, distancing himself from the final product might have been the nail in the coffin for his Hollywood career, but he wasn't wrong admitting the wreck the studio forced on him. Any oomph the story might have once had was stripped away from what you'll see in the theater. There are hints of it in the background, in the casting choices and the lack of fan pandering. Alright, so there was some pandering (this is a superhero movie, after all), but it could have been so much worse. The script, though, is hollow, and the action is nearly non-existent.

Sadly, while this time around is a vast improvement over the 2005 version (style-wise, not in the 'fun' department), it's still as disjointed as ever. Not to mention its continued irrelevance in the epic Marvel Cinematic Universe. Leave it to 20th Century Fox to hold its intellectual property hostage. X-Men I understand, but Fantastic Four? Maybe it's time to give it up already and hand these character over to the folks who'll do something semi-worthwhile with them. Four left me wanting more--a good thing, usually, except I have every doubt that 'want' will probably never be sated.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars

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