Friday, August 7, 2015

Fantastic Four Review

There's a moment in the Fantastic Four that finally, oh finally, gave me a glimpse into the Fantastic Four as a group of people with distinctive personalities. Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are sparring, Reed (Miles Teller) is protecting his o'l pal Ben and Sue (Kate Mara) is displaying some spun and personality. Their rapport is likable and in this interaction they finally work as a team. Alas, that comes at the very end of the film (and comes packed with a clunky as hell conversation resulting in their team name) and it serves as a stark contrast to the muddled mess that has previously unfolded.

Here's the thing about Fantastic Four; this isn't an out-and-out bad movie. In terms of comic book movies, this isn't Green Lantern/X-Men Origins: Wolverine/Man of Steel/Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance where you want to rip your eyeballs out of your sockets so you don't have to witness another second of footage from the movie any longer. But it does get awfully close to that level of terribleness, especially once the team actually acquires their powers. However, the feature lulls you into a false sense of security at the start of the motion picture by actually putting together some well-crafted scenes, namely those involving Reed Richards as a young lad working on a science project he hopes will change the world.

That project involves teleporting objects, a scientific endeavor that soon garners the interest of Ben Grimm, who becomes his best pal. These sequences are brief, but they at least have a distinctive style evoking the Amblin movies of yore to them that's a welcome relief from the bland dreariness that consumes the rest of the picture. Also; these origin scenes allow for cameos from Dan Castellaneta and Tim Heidecker, so it's neat to see those guys in this sort of major summer blockbuster.

Of course, Reeds experiments soon gets him noticed by Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthy), who wants the young lad to come work for him. This is where this cinematic train starts to wobble of the rails, as working for Franklin in New York City separates Reed from Ben, who then disappears for a good chunk of the movie. The friendship between the duo has been set up in a solid manner, I'll freely admit, but I really wish Ben had the opportunity to interact with future teammates Sue and Johnny.

Reed does get ample time to interact with those two characters while working on a new teleportation device for Franklin, with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) also lending a hand. Doom is another element from early on in the movie that works as a harbinger of things to come, namely in how they give him all this over-the-top dialogue where he rants about how "...humanity is destroying the planet, they deserve whats coming to them..." that everyone around him treats in as casual of a manner as possible.  It's obvious that this is all being done in order to set him up as a villain later on down the road, but good Lord it is clunky to listen to.

Still, even with that in place, there's some good acting coming from the likes of Jordan and Teller and even a few amusing bits relying on sharp timing and editing. I'm munching on my popcorn, sitting in the dark watching the flickering images before me and even managing to settle into the movies rhythm. And then a moment comes that sends the movie spiraling down a road of nonstop storytelling faux pas and filmmaking flaws. It comes when Johnny, Victor, Ben and Reed (not Sue, for some reason) use the teleportation machine to travel to another dimension, where chaos soon ensues. Just as they try to leave, a swarm of rocks attack Ben (because he has to turn into a rock monster, dontcha know), a moment played entirely straight-faced and in a haunting manner. Maybe there's a way to execute this concept in a scary manner, but oh my God, this is not it. Watching a terrified Jamie Bell be attacked by rocks while a grandiose score plays is one of the funniest moments I've seen in a movie in some time, though that's certainly not the reaction the filmmakers behind this movie wanted me to have here, I'm sure.

Once the Fantastic Four actually get their powers, the film doesn't seem to know what direction to go into, forgoing character development in order to just do contrived drama. There's a way to combine serious character-related drama with exciting action (both of Marvels movies this year have mixed themes like existentialism with incredibly involving spectacle with tremendously successful results), but this movie is not interested in anything like that all. Instead, once the team gets their individual abilities, they flashforward a year, bypassing a time when we could see them grow and connect as a team while realizing what their newfound powers can accomplish. Who would want that sort of thing though when you can just watch Tim Blake Nelson (who isn't Harvey Elder in this after all?) ramble on and on to a board of Government officials?

This storytelling approach yields numerous unintentionally hilarious moments, especially in a subplot involving Bens holding resentment towards Reed. That specific sort of dynamic is one of many that starts late into the film without ever really going anywhere, with none of the character arcs having a real conclusion because the four of them have to fight a bad guy for the last fifteen minutes or so. Hell, that final duel isn't even cool enough to serve as a dose of fun spectacle, instead becoming one of the worst summer blockbuster climaxes I've seen in ages. It's just laughable in how terrible it is, to the point where I was certain this had to be a joke of some sort, right? This can't be real?

But it is. It's all too real.

With direct-to-video level story structure (which feels like an insult to more comptently written DTV films like Lady And The Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure) and directing, Fantastic Four is just a muddled mess that wastes characters who have enormous potential to be captivating. That's probably the most disappointing part of Fantastic Four; yes, it wastes a very talented ensemble of actors, but the way it just bungles any given opportunity to have the team grow or be compelling as a result of them interacting is even more distressing to watch. They don't become the Fantastic Four in an organic manner, they do it because the movie needs them to become that specific team. That's why it's such a relief when that moment occurs at the end where they actually bounce off each other in an amusing manner. It serves as an interesting glimpse into what could have been if this movie had any sense of proper storytelling.

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