Saturday, August 8, 2015

Four Ways To Drastically Improve The 2015 Fantastic Four Movie

Lockjaw fights The Thing in a classic Fantastic Four comic book storyline
Perhaps the most aggravating part of the newest attempt to turn the Fantastic Four into a film franchise is the way it wastes a tremendous talent, whether it's in director Josh Trank or a cast full of actors who have shown they deserve waaaaaaaaaaay better than this schlock. And of course, there's the waste of characters who have been a beloved part of the Marvel comics universe for decades now (hell, The Thing is one of my favorite superheroes of all-time!)

My aggravation over the film has meant that this entire cinematic endeavor has been lodged into my cranium since I saw it Thursday night. In order to work my way through my feelings over four specific qualms I had with the movie that I felt really bogged the entire feature down. In addition to pointing out these flaws and examining their foibles, I'll also go the extra mile and suggest solutions for how the film could have rectified these flaws.

The first problem with the Fantastic Four that must be discussed is....

Sue Storm Gets No Personality
When I was playing LEGO Marvel Superheroes last fall, I realized something whilst playing as the Fantastic Four; Sue Storm has no discernible personality. She's as bland as Jai Courtney and pretty much serves as arm candy for Reed Richards, a way to reinforce the age-old fantasy of "the geek gets the hot girl". I'm sure there's been one or two comics over the years that have added layers to her character, but in the majority of her appearances in pop culture, The Invisible Woman has a personality to match her superpowers.

What a great opportunity, then, for the screenwriters of this movie to finally give Sue Storm some sort of agenda, a distinctive personality. Despite having the talented Kate Mara on hand though, this movie just wastes Sue Storm completely. Aside from her having a passion for patterns, she has no real goals or desire within the framework of the movie. Hell, she doesn't even go on the fateful voyage to the other dimension that grants the titular team their superpowers! What is this garbage??

Solution: There's an off-hand mention in the movie that Sue is adopted, which gets no pay-off in the story whatsoever. How about giving Sue a monologue where she talks about getting bullied relentlessly at the orphanage she lived in until she was, I dunno, maybe seven or eight years old? Show the audience how all that taunting and cruelty she endured for all those years as a kid has made her develop a complex to show the world that all those who made fun of her were wrong, she is worth something. Now she's gotta make everything perfect, she can never allow herself to fail. That's why she becomes so invested in this teleportation device; she has the chance to prove she has value by earning the approval of others.

However, soon she gains the ability to turn invisible and generate force fields, which throws a wrench into this idea of her gaining a quintessential life. After years of hard work and dedication, she's right back to where she was as a child, with various military officers and employees making snide remarks about how she's a "monster" or "freak". Suddenly, her high IQ and work ethic don't matter, she's once again being reduced to the cruel names other people call her. However, through working with the other members of the Fantastic Four, she not only soon becomes the leader of the group (just like the Ultimate comics!) but also gains enough confidence to allow herself to become her own person regardless of how other people will judge her. She knows others will always judge her, maybe even in a cruel manner, but she knows she's not alone in feeling this way. She now has others to confide in, who can help her in her darkest moments remember that her value as a person comes from within,.

This is called a character arc, and while I freely admit my suggestion for her arc is far far far from perfect, it's at least better than the absolute nothingness Sue endures in the final version of this movie.

Show The Team Adjusting To Their Powers
Once Ben Grimm gets pelted with rocks in the alternate dimension where the team gets their powers (because he's gotta become a rock monster of course), Fantastic Four plummets from a movie that's "problematic, but watchable" to "OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS I'M WATCHING RIGHT NOW". This level of quality is solidified once Reed Richards (Miles Teller) runs away from the compound that the team is being held in, a moment in the movie that, confusingly, is followed up by a cut to one year later. We're told the team is more in control of their powers and Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell) has started doing missions for the government. They also soon catch Reed, who discovers Ben is mad at him for ditching him, Johnny and Sue.
The Thing lamenting the lack of proper doorways for his unique frame
Solution: Get rid of the whole "Reed runs away" plotline as well as the "one year later" BS. The movies already suffered from not showing enough of Ben and Reed as friends and this only further compounds that problem. To boot, in the final version of Fantastic Four, the entire team doesn't spend any time together before the terrible climax (which I'll get to shortly, don't worry). Rectify these issues by showing these guys adjust to their powers. Have Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) grow to like his fire-related abilities, have Sue (and her aforementioned character arc I concocted) be taken aback by being able to do stuff like fly, show us their emotions through more of that body-horror imagery Josh Trank talked about in earlier interviews.

Then, have them go on military missions to stop bad guys where the team dynamics can flourish. Have Johnny and Bens classic "sibling rivalry"-esque dichotomy stem from them having contrasting views of their newfound powers, with this sort of dynamic hindering the teams abilities in combat. Have Reed use his intelligence to create those containment suits for him and his three amigos, while Sues invisibility powers make her the perfect spy to go behind enemy lines and discover crucial information without ever being seen. By showing their individual personalities and powers growing and adjusting during these sort of combat undertakings, you get a better sense of how the characters grow because of each other. Fantastic Four was really lacking the sort of unique character development that can stem from an ensemble cast that movies like Guardians of The Galaxy and The Avengers took prime advantage of. To say this movie needed to rectify should be the understatement of the year.

Make Doctor Doom Have An Actual Motivation
How has 20th Century Fox made three damn Fantastic Four movies and not ever gotten Doctor Doom even slightly right? There's a sense of over-the-top grandeur to the character that's just so much damn fun to watch.
Problem is, none of the cinematic adaptations of his character have brought those traits to the big screen. Now, bringing a new spin on a well known character is not inherently a bad idea, you just have to have an interesting translation for the character in mind. To that end, this 2015 Fantastic four movie has no idea what the hell to do with Victor Von Doom, with even the idea of him being a "blogger" or "hacker" or what have you being cut out in reshoots. The only remnants of that plotline in the final film is the fact that his domicile looks like a stereotypical nerd mancave, with fast food containers littering the area (he also dons Google Glass, in case you didn't get it that he's a geek).

Victor feels shoehorned into the movie in the first place, with many having resistance to him helping out on Franklin Storms (Reg E. Carthy) teleportation project due to Victor burning some servers a while back. As an audience member, I was unsure of what Victor brought to the project that Reed didn't cover, but I guess having Doctor Doom have a presence in the film is more important than a cohesive story. The only motivation we get that Victor could be a bad guy down the line, aside from that whole off-screen "burning the servers" fiasco, is an awkwardly executed spiel where he talks about how people don't deserve to live on Earth because they're damaging it.

This is, I guess, supposed to explain why, after he's left in the whole dimension for a whole year (he, along with Reed, Johnny and Ben travel to the other dimension, but he gets trapped there while the other three return home), he becomes bad and starts blowing up peoples heads in a gory fashion.

Solution: There's zilch explanation in the movie regarding why Victor suddenly returns as a bad guy who wants to use portals to destroy the Earth, but what's weird about it is, unlike everything else I've suggested in this piece, there's content in the movie that be used to justify why he's angry. Victor already has a poor opinion of humanity at the start of the film, but they show him warming up to Reed and Johnny in the best scene of the film, where the trio get drunk and wax poetic on how no one remembers those who actually create the technology that changes the world.

Use this as a way to explain why Victor becomes an antagonist by having him be angry that Reed, Johnny and Ben abandoned him in that dimension. He was actually warming up to those guys...and then they left him to rot in that cosmic wasteland, exemplifying the selfish traits of humanity that he's always believed in. That, combined with him now having metallic skin, drives him mad and wanting to use his newfound power to dominate humanity, to mold it into his idealized version of the human race. Again, this isn't a perfect solution, but for Gods sake, the ball is dropped so severely in regards to Doctor Doom in this movie that anything would be an improvement over what we wound up getting.

Stupid Climax, Stupid Characters, Stupid Movie

The sort of tension filled sequence that the finale of Fantastic Four most certainly isn't.
The finale of the Fantastic Four has already become infamous for how idiotic is in every sense of the word, with it making very little sense from any way you look at it; from a storytelling perspective or even just examining it with common sense, you're bound to be bamboozled by it. Essentially, forty-fifty minutes worth of character development is squashed into two minutes, with the team practically travelling through all the stages of grief (first they can't work together, then they can! Yay!) in the confines of one fistfight with Doctor Doom. Not only is it nonsensical in every sense of the word, but it just feels so damn out of place to go from a film that's channeling Cronenbergian body horror to an action sequence with all the visual trappings of a subpar PlayStation 2 game. Oh, and in the middle of this sequence Ben Grimm, for no reason, bellows out a phrase ("It's Clobberin' Time!) his older brother used to say before he beat up Ben as a child.

Solution: Make it a smaller set-piece relying more on character interactions. Have character arcs conclude here, have Doom convey actual menace, do something that isn't this wretched action sequence we're left with. Honestly, if you had just played a gif of The Thing eating a bowl of Cookie Crisp instead of this climactic battle scene, that would be a waaaaaaay preferable alternative that would look avant-garde compared to how the actual Fantastic Four film concludes.

Well, that got some of my emotions out. Not all of them, but I think I got some more closure in regards to this mess of a summer blockbuster that was, to quote a Miles Teller led film that was one of my favorite motion pictures of 2014, "not my tempo".

And now, I'll leave you with this last panel of Doctor Doom shenanigans.

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