Monday, August 10, 2015

Fantastic Four


Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Reg E. Cathey, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell

Rated PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, and Language

To put it mildly, the advance word for the third (!) would-be franchise starter of the "Fantastic Four" comic book was not good.  It hasn't approached the levels of "Gigli," but the supposed lack of quality in this movie has been making the news.  Reports of studio meddling and a trouble-raising director have dogged the production, and director Josh Trank has come out and claimed that the studio took the film away from him.  Armed with this foreknowledge, I primed myself for an epic disaster, a movie that I will regret having seen and will make me want to spew even more bile at Marvel.  Then I saw the movie...

"Fantastic Four" actually isn't that bad.  That's different from good, which it isn't; the screenplay is bland and the showdown with the villain is extremely underwhelming.  It's certainly watchable and entertaining to a degree (compared to a shitstorm like "Child 44," which was released and subsequently disappeared without a fraction of the fanfare).  It's certainly not going to come anywhere near my Bottom 10 list this year.

Reed Richards (Owen Judge as a kid, Teller as an adult) has been building a teleporter in his garage since he was a kid, with the support of his friend Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann as a kid, Bell as an adult).  Although he is scoffed at by the likes of his teacher ("The Simpsons" voice actor Dan Castellaneta), his genius is accepted by Dr, Franklin Storm (Cathey), who offers him a free ride to the school he teaches at.  Together with Storm's adopted daughter Sue (Mara), biological son Johnny (Jordan), and the school's resident anti-social genius Victor von Doom (Kebbell), they work to create a transporter than humans can use.  After it is built, they find out that it's going to be taken away by the government.  Unwilling to let some photogenic nimrod be the first one to enter a new dimension, Reed, Johnny, Ben and Victor secretly go first.  Something goes wrong and Victor is left behind.  The others, plus Sue (who brought them back), have developed supernatural abilities, which the government wants to use for its own ends.

When a studio interferes with the production of a film, it's usually a bad sign (the aforementioned "Gigli" was reported to be a black comedy until the whole Bennifer thing exploded in the tabloids, and the studio tried to capitalize on it by forcing director Martin Brest to turn it into a light romantic comedy, with disastrous results).  While watching the film, it's at least competently made and coherent.  Looking back, is a different story.  Characters are thinly written (a common problem for Marvel movies), subplots are not fully explored, and the film's main storyline spends a lot of time going over what most movies cover in the first half hour.  Of greater concern is the ending, which gives the term "letdown" a whole new meaning.

The performances are fine, but to be quite frank, there's not a lot for them to work with,  All the actors have done good work before, but here, all they're required to do is stand around, look photogenic in the costumes, and not embarrass themselves.  It's a shame, really, since all are quite capable of doing excellent acting; Miles Teller was superb in "Whiplash," Kate Mara is a great character actor, Michael B. Jordan got Oscar buzz for "Fruitvale Station," and Jamie Bell is great in everything he's in.  Shame Marvel has a way of watering everything down...

This new "Fantastic Four" has been criticized for its dark tone, which I don't understand.  Compared to Nolan's "Batman" trilogy," it's pretty pleasant.  But that had Christopher Nolan as a writer/director, and Marvel's mantra is apparently "Copy, cross-reference, and Easter eggs."

I guess they wanted it to be "Batman Begins" and a standard Marvel movie at the same time.  Naturally, it just didn't work.

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