When I watch a movie (or read a book), I generally try to find something I liked about it, even if it wasn’t all that great overall. There are tons of movies, broadly panned by critics and the public, that I’m still able to get a lot of enjoyment out of. The Star Wars prequels are an obvious example that comes to mind. Despite some of the problems in those movies, I still like watching them and have come to have no problem (for the most part) with them as part of the overall Star Wars canon. At Star Wars Celebration Anaheim this year, I was able to watch a 3D presentation of Revenge of the Sith and loved it. Ian McDiarmid kills in that movie (literally and figuratively).
However, sometimes a film comes along that is so terrible, I just can’t offer any excuse for it. The new Fantastic Four movie, directed by Josh Trank, is one such film.
As you read on, be aware that I might include some light spoilers about the movie. But nothing that will ruin your experience any more than paying to actually sit through it. So with that in mind, proceed with caution
Fantastic Four failed on just about every level for me. I’d heard about the early reviews, and I was hoping they were hyperbole. I guess I’m in the minority, but I actually liked the first two FF films, and I really don’t understand why people think they’re so awful. Okay, I didn’t love the first movie; I thought it was a bit lackluster. And I didn’t love that version of Dr. Doom. But I thought Rise of the Silver Surfer was a fun comic-book movie. (And I do admit a certain fondness for Jessica Alba, despite her muted abilities. Okay, I admit to a fondness for looking at Jessica Alba, but whatever.)
But there was nothing fun about Trank’s Fantastic Four. Some of you may be aware that Trank directed the break-out, sci-fi flick, Chronicle. The geek critics loved Chronicle. I hated Chronicle. If you don’t know, Chronicle is a found footage movie about a bunch of teenagers who get superpowers and immediately become a bunch of jerks, with the added pickle of one of them becoming a psychotic jerk. As a story, it just didn’t resonate with me. And honestly, I am so over found footage movies, it isn’t even funny. But that being said, I can actually see how many would think Trank did something special with a modest budget. Which is probably why he instantly became so attractive to studios. Unfortunately, I think Fantastic Four is so bad, it just might be bad enough to be career ending. Add to that Trank’s reported on-set antics and his apparent inability to keep his foot out of his mouth, it’s possible the guy’s turning himself into the Hollywood equivalent of that chunk of “evil” from the end of Time Bandits. And by the way, Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is basically just Chronicle, but, you know, starring the Fantastic Four. Ugh.
So, why is Fantastic Four so godawful? You almost have to see it to understand. But I’ll try to explain. This new version of the FIRST MARVEL COMIC EVER PRODUCED (geez, can’t we give this property a little respect, Hollywood?) is, once again, an origin story. Insert internet meme of Captain Picard face-palming here. I feel like, at this point, we don’t need any more superhero origin stories, especially when it’s a hero we’ve seen on screen before. I am praying to God that we don’t see some new version of how Peter Parker gets his powers in Captain America: Civil War (though I don’t think we will because Spidey has already been alluded to in Ant Man, so he’s already out there doing his thing). Anyway, I would’ve rather they’d done something like in The Incredible Hulk where there was this title sequence that kind of visually hit on the beats of what turned the FF into superheroes. We don’t need to see the same story hashed out all. Over. Again. Know what I mean?
But no. Instead we have to sit through this expository first act that is slow and goes on FOREVER. Seriously, it’s most of the movie. I don’t know about you, but I feel like story acts should probably be relatively equal amounts of time, but hey, that’s just me. Oh, it’s not? Well, anyway, the first act was boring as heck. And what’s worse, by the end of it, I didn’t really care so much about these characters, and I didn’t believe the relationships between any of them. Part of this was a problem due to casting maybe. I’ve always thought the casting seemed wrong to me. And no, I’m not talking about Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm. Maybe the one thing I liked about this movie was the “script-flipping” the filmmakers did in this regard. Going in, you know that Sue and Johnny Storm are siblings, so one might assume Johnny is adopted. I was actually hoping it would turn out to be the opposite (that it was Sue who was adopted), and it did. So that was kind of cool. But in a more general sense, I just didn’t feel any connections among this cast, and that only seemed to get worse as the movie went on and the production woes started to seep through. By the end of the movie, all four main actors were just phoning it in. And it showed, like a huge zit on the tip of a prom king’s nose, and it was ugly.
I’m going to skip over my problems with act two for the sake of brevity (too late, right?) and go straight to act three. Just the worst, to the point of being downright insulting. It basically consists of your typical big boss fight featuring the FF team against this film’s incarnation of Dr. Doom. And in the most obvious cliché in superhero movie history, Reed Richard gives a poorly written speech about how they must work together to defeat the bad guy. And let me just point out that, at this point, it has been established that Doom can blow people’s heads up with his mind. So … why is this fight not over in like two seconds? I wish it had been over that quickly because what happened then was the most nonsensical and uninspired piece of garbage in memory. By that time I couldn’t wait for the movie to be over.
And let me rant about Doom for a minute. The makers of this new version of Fantastic Four didn’t seem to learn anything from the mistakes of the other films in this regard. Just put Dr. Doom in a metal suit and have him be a crazy megalomaniac genius inventor who causes a lot of problems for the FF because he’s really just that smart. Can we do that already? I don’t know about you, but that’s the version I want to see. Not this:
The version from the previous films, as bad as it was, was infinitely better than this latest incarnation.
Josh Trank came out on Twitter to say that reviews of his movie wouldn’t have been so bad if the studio hadn’t interfered so much. And that may be true. Apparently 20th Century Fox has a bad reputation for messing with movies to the point of ruination. But trust me, there’s a lot of blame to go around here. This movie’s flaws are on a fundamental level. If anything needed a page one rewrite, it was this piece of junk.
I don’t want anyone to think that this is an attack on Josh Trank. Even though I’m not a fan, I can see he has some talent. And others are obviously able to see the value of his abilities more than I. If anything this is a critique on a system that allowed such a tragedy to take place. For Hollywood, money is the bottom line. It’s all they care about. Nothing is going to change that. But they’ve come to believe that it really doesn’t matter what kind of trash they serve us. They put it on a plate, set it out there, and like dogs, we come running and lap it up. Fantastic Four may still end up doing well this weekend, and that would be the real tragedy. Because then Fox will crank out another piece of crud, and we’ll eat it up all over again. But here’s what I’m hoping Hollywood will somehow eventually realize. Story is what matters. Characters matter. It all has to connect. It has to be true, and it has to resonate. And, bottom line, the better you make your story, the more money the studios will make from their products. Am I alone in thinking that? That quality products are better and perform better than stinky products? Hello? McFly?
If you want to see a good movie this weekend, don’t see Fantastic Four. See Ant-Man again. What? You haven’t seen Ant-Man yet? What are you waiting for? It’s very enjoyable. Or better yet, just stay home and read a book. I can suggest one, if you like. 😉