Fantastic Four Is Mostly Four-Getable
This review contains spoilers.
Against my better judgement, I saw the Fantastic Four last night. My fiance and I needed an excuse to check out Tulsa’s new Warren Theatre, which if you’re not familiar is one of those swanky-ass places where a waiter brings food and booze to your seat while you watch. We got bacon cheese fries, which were incredible, as well as a Human Torch themed cocktail that was inexplicably orange-flavored (we expected cinnamon, because the Torch is hot or something. Whatever). They have heated seats there too, which is pretty rad.
What was I talking about? Oh right.
So the Fantastic Four. This is 20th Century Fox’s third attempt at bringing the silver-age comic heroes to the screen, and viewers familiar with the franchise’s history will not be terribly surprised at how this outing goes for the fab four. Do people call them that? That might be the Beatles.
Having done zero research and not read any reviews (other than noticing that at the time of this writing, it had achieved an impressive 8% on Rotten Tomatoes), this film struck me as a rushed, sloppy, half-hearted attempt at a story, likely with the sole intention of keeping the licensing rights from reverting back to Marvel. I’m not going to do the legwork to confirm this. I’m a writer dammit, not a doctor.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some redeemable qualities. I thoroughly enjoyed Jamie Bell’s portrayal of pre-Thing Ben Grimm; he’s got a silent-but strong aura about him that seems to hint at a backstory we don’t really see. Ben never fully understands what Reed is going on about, nor is he intimidated (or even terribly impressed) by the gap in their intellect. But you get the feeling that he’s a supportive and loyal friend who has warded off more than a few bullies since their childhood.
Another relatively high point: The relationships between Johnny, Sue, and their father Franklin feel mostly genuine and fleshed out, and helps these characters be far more useful and interesting than their original comic iterations. You see, in the original comics Reed and Ben were the only important members of the team. Reed was, of course, the super genius behind everything, while Ben was his pilot (they got their powers aboard a spaceship orbiting earth, whereas in this movie they use an interdimensional teleporter). Sue Storm is just Reed’s fiance, and Johnny is her dumbass brother. Because when you’re attempting a dangerous scientific expedition, what you want is random people just hanging out, because fuck it, I guess.
This new FF follows the Marvel Ultimate universe’s version of Sue Storm, making her a super genius approaching the level of Reed Richards himself; Johnny, while not exactly a super genius, is technologically savvy enough to earn his place on the team. Sue is Johnny’s adopted sister, which adds a little tension between the two, because their father is clearly more proud of Sue’s smarts and hard work, over Johnny’s rebellious street racing. Wait, why is Sue adopted? Oh, because Johnny and Franklin Storm are black. You might have noticed that. I feel like most people won’t disagree with me when I say that the studio’s choice to make Franklin and Johnny black was a ham-fisted attempt to cram some diversity into a cast that in previous iterations was so white it legally wasn’t allowed to dance, play basketball, or another racial stereotype. Changing the race of characters isn’t the problem, it’s the fact that they invented Sue’s adoption so they could keep Sue her usual European self. Because you don’t want too much diversity in your movie, god no. Plus, if Sue was black, then when the inevitable Sue/Reed romance comes around, it would be an interracial romance, which I guess is just a tad scary for FOX executives to fathom. Jesus, we’ve opened up a whole can of racism worms, haven’t we? Did I say this was a high point? I may have been mistaken.
Veiled racism aside, most of the first and second acts are well-done and enjoyable; there are some bad jokes and odd attempts at being hip (to concentrate while working, Sue listens to Portishead, a band I can only assume is insanely indie and hipster as fuck) but it’s well-paced and gives enough screen-time to all the characters in order to let you get to know them a bit and give a shit what they’re up to. Even the obligatory “they get their powers” scene and the aftermath is fairly interesting, which is impressive considering one of the characters has stretchy bone powers. They insist on pissing me off by making characters that are supposed to be geniuses making stupid, stupid decisions (“let me reach my hand into unidentified glowing green substances that are clearly made of death”), but on the whole it’s alright. There’s a bit where Reed uses his amorphous face to impersonate other people while in hiding, which is actually really clever and far more useful than anything I’ve ever seen in an FF comic.
Unfortunately, the movie completely tanks when we get the third act. Up until this point in the movie, we’ve only known Victor von Doom as an unfortunately-named but talented scientist who looks a little like Eddie from Friends. He’s a bit of a dick, but in that snarky and cool way that everybody likes. He’s got an ego, but during a scene where he, Reed, and Johnny get drunk, he seems like he’s a pretty cool guy. Hell, he even let’s Reed’s friend Ben come on their expedition for no discernable reason. So not a good villain, is what I’m saying. After getting ditched on an alien planet for a year, Victor reappears as a pissed off nihilist who just wants to watch the world burn.
His plan is to something something black hole blah blah annihilate the Earth. His motivation is something about humanity being super bad and mean, and probably something about climate change. There’s an exchange between Reed and Victor about which one is smarter, referencing a deep-seated, intense rivalry that we never really saw because they were buddies before. Does this sound like a good way to end your movie? …..Yes? Wow, thanks for reading FOX executives. Please like and share on Facebook.
The Fab Four (I’m calling them that, fuck you) get warped to Doom’s crazy trans-dimensional planet (where before they needed spacesuits to survive, but now they’re fine, because continuity costs money), for the epic confrontation. Except it’s not really very epic. You see, usually in movies they introduce the villain about halfway through. This gives the audience a good long while to understand the villain’s motivation, feel the villain’s impact on the plot, and just really fuckin’ hate the guy (or girl, this is 2015 people). Not in this case, where Doom is on-screen as a powered-baddie for all of 15 minutes before the final showdown. Then comes the moment where the Fab Four must finally band together, putting their differences aside, combining their powers to defeat their nemesis. I expected Reed, being a super genius, to come up with an elaborate plan that combines all their powers in some incredible way to overcome their foe. This sort of happens, but it’s over so quick you don’t really know exactly what they did, and then Doom gets disintegrated by, like, a laser or something. It’s pretty much over as quickly as it took you to read the previous sentence.
Finally, we’re treated to a few awkward “yay, we won” scenes, including the including the painful-yet-apparently-obligatory moment where the team is about to name themselves “the Fantastic Four,” but JK!, the movie cuts away before any of them can utter the phrase. Because this is a realistic movie and that would be a silly name to say out loud.
And then the movie was over, and I felt strange. Perhaps it’s because with the price of tickets, food, and drink for two, I spent close to $80 on this nonsense. Perhaps it was an odd, existential relief that through the closing credits I was hearing orchestral music rather than B-list pop-grunge shoehorned in for no reason. Perhaps it’s because the movie is only 100 minutes long, which is almost an hour shorter that your average comic book blockbuster. When I realized how short the movie was, I understood why it felt so rushed and sloppy; I wouldn’t be suprised to find that an entire story arc was inexplicably cut from the middle of the movie in post-production. I would have happily sat through another 45 minutes if it had meant a more coherent and satisfying movie.
There may come a day when I do some more reading, on a quest to discover what decisions led to this movie being so damn bad. But it is not this day, because I just remembered I still have some bacon cheese fries leftover from the Warren.