IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 100 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Childhood friends Reed Richards and Ben Grimm work on a teleporter, eventually attracting the attention of Professor Franklin Storm, director of the Baxter Foundation, a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies. Reed is recruited to join them and aid Storm’s children, scientist Sue and technician Johnny, into completing a ‘Quantum Gate’ designed by Storm’s wayward protégé, Victor von Doom, which leads to another dimension. He, Johnny, Victor and Ben embark on an unsanctioned voyage to ‘Planet Zero’ where Victor attempts to collect a sample, causing the entire structure they’re in to collapse and the ground to erupt with a green lava-like substance. Reed, Johnny, and Ben return to their shuttle just as Sue brings them back to Earth. Victor is left behind after he falls into the collapsing landscape. The machine explodes, altering Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben on a molecular-genetic level, affording them super-human conditions and abilities beyond their control….
Being someone who has unfortunately began to half-review films in his head while he watches them, twenty minutes into Fantastic Four I’d almost made up my mind to begin my review with words to the effect of: “You just can’t win with people, they moan when a Fantastic Four film is light and goofy, and they moan when a Fantastic Four film is dark and gritty”. You see I really didn’t think the film was that bad – in fact dare I say it I thought it was quite good. Unfortunately as the movie progressed it got worse and worse, though I remain of the opinion that, while undoubtedly full of problems, Fantastic Four isn’t really as awful as the general opinion seems to imply. One of the many problems with today’s digital age is that people are more and more inclined to follow each other like sheep, with the result that a few bad rumours and comments about something are likely to snowball in a short period of time. General filmgoers and critics, the latter always prone to laying into a film which has had major production difficulties, seem mostly to really dislike the film. As I mentioned just now, it’s hugely flawed, and I just can’t understand why, once again [some seem to forget the Roger Corman-produced cheapie version from 1994, a film so poor that the original cinema prints were apparently all destroyed, though I have no shame in saying that, if you like your “so bad it’s good” movies it’s a hoot], they still haven’t got the Fantastic Four right.
Then again, there’s a hell of a lot that we don’t seem to know about this film, such as why Fox appear, to all intents and purposes, to have borderline sabotaged it. I’m usually on the director’s side with situations like this, even though I find Josh Trank’s overall approach very odd. While I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy for reasons I’ve stated elsewhere on this website, I do agree that Batman is far more suited to a serious, realistic approach then a lot of other superheroes. Just look how it entirely failed to suit Superman [though that was one of the least of that film’s problems]. And it certainly doesn’t suit a man who has the ability to stretch his body into different forms and lengths, a woman who has the ability to shoot fireballs and fly, another man who has the ability to become invisible and generate force-fields, and and another man who is made of rocks, has super-strength and is indestructible. I wasn’t too bothered that the Four don’t become the Four by being bombarded by cosmic rays from a comet while on an experimental space craft anymore, because the origin the film does present is from a comic series that had alternate versions of many events in the Marvel Universe, but how in hell is going to another dimension any more realistic? And when I first heard this crap about Mr. Fantastic’s stretching powers being based on “warping space from the portal mechanism”, rather than elasticity, I felt like screaming because the alteration is so pointless and just as fantastical.
Trank tweeted the other day: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though”, I still believe that, despite reports of him being uncooperative and even drunk [I’d be putting the booze away day after day myself if my film, a film I was really passionate about, was constantly being messed about with by other hands], would have turned out a good movie if left free from studio interference. When you hear things like Fox removing three big action scenes from the script just a few days before shooting, you have to wonder if they deliberately tried to screw up the film. I think there are signs of a decent superhero flick in Fantastic Four, and it would be nice for Trank to eventually be allowed to release a cut closer to his vision, but I can’t see it happening. The first third of the film does flow rather well. The writing is solid and gives us some really nice moments like Reed, a guy who hasn’t spent much time mixing with other people, trying to befriend Susan in the library and the two only connecting when Susan describes music in scientific terms which he can understand. The character relationships are adroitly sketched, especially concerning the Victor von Doom character who is a real weirdo but one we have a bit of sympathy for. And, despite the leisurely pace, there is a slight sense of wonder and a real sense that the movie could be heading somewhere.
Well, it does head somewhere, but in a very muddled manner and makes a whole load of mistakes in doing so [and I’m avoiding incredibly obvious goofs caused by the reshoots, but which could have sorted out if anyone had cared by then, such as Kate Mara’s changing hair style and colour and Miles Teller’s disappearing facial hair]. Most of our group travel to this alternate dimension, but it turns out to be a thoroughly boring rocky landscape with a lake of shiny lava-type stuff. The scene where things suddenly go wrong is genuinely tense and even a little scary, and when the Four awake to find themselves strapped to beds, and unnervingly transformed, the film gets close to body horror as well as reminding us of how impressive Trank’s Chronicle was, and how this movie is built on some of the same DNA. However, after this, things really nosedive as the film seems to hurry through a lot of things while paradoxically wasting a whole load of time elsewhere. We’re shown brief glimpses of the The Thing involved in some battle because he’s being used as a weapon of war. Surely it would have been a whole lot nicer though if we’d been allowed to see this as a full blown action scene? This film bizarrely makes a major mistake the 2005 Fantastic Four made – it keep the Four hemmed in and doesn’t give them much action to get involved in – though it’s never actually boring. Then, towards the end, it suddenly remembers it’s supposed to be exciting but all it gives us is a brief and rather lame battle before then finishing. It feels as if the final section of the film was drastically cut down, which perhaps it was.
It was clearly a mistake to make the Four so young, but the four talented leads do do a good job even if the film doesn’t give them enough scenes together. The movie is rather cold and somewhat distant, meaning that there’s no feeling of elation come the final scene, though the dark edge does occasionally work better than you may have heard, most notably in a scene where Dr. Doom goes on a brief rampage killing a load of people in surprisingly nasty ways, a scene which has a feeling of true menace about it in a manner that we haven’t seen in a big screen superhero movie for some time, and makes me think that Trank should maybe try his hand at a full blown horror film next. There are so many ways in which this Fantastic Four doesn’t work, from the overall conception of a dour Fantastic Four picture to a whole load of CGI special effects which are certainly not special [why is it that two of the Four actually looked better in their 2005 incarnations?, but it does have its moments, and even ideas, here and there which do come off or at least are well intentioned.
Sadly one of the things that most intrigued me, being interested greatly in film music, ended up being a major disappointment. Supposedly the score for Fantastic Four is a collaboration between Marco Beltrami and the great minimalist master Phillip Glass, but I could hear precious little Glass in a score that sounds like most other Marvel scores, hardly any of which make an attempt to really stand out. A hell of a lot seemed to go wrong with this movie though in a way it’s a surprise that it’s as good as it is. In the end, to me this Fantastic Four isn’t that different from all these other superhero films, just much more serious, and, while it has a lot of problems, I genuinely believe that people have jumped on the bandwagon of hating it without seeing its positive aspects, or at least what Trank tried to achieve. A quick glance at the IMDB shows people calling it things like “the worst superhero film ever made”, or even “the worst [would be] blockbuster”, which I think is just ridiculous. The film doesn’t really work except in occasional spurts, but I still found it to be reasonably enjoyable for most of the time and feel it could have been quite something if Fox hadn’t have ruined it. Funny how they can get some superheroes right the first time and yet still haven’t licked the Fantastic Four. There’s still scope for a really good Fantastic Four movie, though I can’t see them trying again in seven more years time.