Thursday, February 4, 2016

That Which Is Indistinguishable From Garbage

Year: 2015
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan 
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

There are drawbacks to Marvel Studios owning the world. Aside from the obvious (cookie cutter superheroes flooding the market to the point of extinction), there are far more nefarious issues lurking in the shadows. The few properties that aren’t held in the iron first of Disney-Marvel are being desperately clawed away from that IP tractor beam by the companies that own them. In the attempt to avoid their lease running out and hold onto those rights, studios like Fox and Sony must continue making movies to renew their grip and defy the seven year copyright expiration date. That’s why we’re getting crap like the third Spider-Man reboot. Sinister, isn’t it?

If you combine that spirit of making movies for the sake of being able to make that same movie at a later date with the supremely dubious attitude of Chronicle director Josh Trank, you get a real spectacle of garbage. It’s called Fantastic Four, and I screened it for your reading pleasure. Here we go.

Heaven help me.

In the not-too-distant present, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a wunderkind prodigy who accidentally cracks interdimensional travel for a science fair project. He is taken to the Baxter Institute, where he develops a full scale transporter with manic pixie dream scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her hot rod-racing brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and their totally friendly ignore the name compatriot Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). On their first trip to the alternate dimension, Reed invites childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), his ever-present sidekick.

Obviously, the mission goes wrong, Von Doom falls off a cliff, and the remaining four return safely, but not before being mutated into inhuman monsters. And by that I mean embarrassingly cheap CGI. They are taken to a base where they can learn to use their powers, Von Doom shows up, they have a brief preliminary battle, and… oh, was that it? The movie doesn’t so much end as shut off at the 100 minute mark.

Not that I’m complaining it wasn’t longer.

Where oh where do I begin? Fantastic Four is such a heaving mass of missteps that one major problem doesn’t immediately leap out, so maybe I’ll start with some good things about the movie. In brief (as if it could be otherwise), the beginning wasn’t downright terrible. I mean it was poorly written, ham-fisted, awkwardly paced, and implied that The Thing got his beloved catch phrase by imitating his violent older brother and is thus locked in a dangerous cycle of abuse, but it was decently entertaining, y’know. In fact, my initial enjoyment had my esteem for the film stubbornly plateauing at a solid 4/10 until the film exploded like an all-dynamite chemistry set. And the kid actor casting is pretty remarkable, showcasing two young boys who look more or less exactly like Miles Teller and Jamie Bell. So there’s that.

And that’s all, folks. There is literally nothing else in the film that is refreshing, entertaining, interesting, or even fundamentally functional in any way, shape, or form. Fantastic Four is a dour, grim exercise in seeing just how much expoisition a  single film can withstand without actually sustaining a plot. There are a lot of comic book movies with flaccid, overlong origin stories but Fantastic Four ups the ante by 1) repeating essentially the same beats of the 2005 Fantastic 4, and 2) sucking every last bit of light or comic booky joy out of the proceedings. It reeks of gritty flop sweat, straining for gravitas while displaying a deadly allergy to fun. It’s the absolute nadir of the Nolanization of superhero cinema, and if any film manages to steal that title from it, we’ll just have to call it quits on the whole Hollywood thing.

Here’s looking at you, Batman v. Superman.

It’s a story sad tell, but I’ll briefly run by you through my FF experience so you can understand the gravity of the situation. (Incidentally, the film’s initials are exactly the sound that will come out of my mouth if I ever find out that this is getting a sequel.)

I survived the abysmal script. As a veteran bad movie fan, I’m inoculated even against such atrocities as “I’m adopted.” “I know how that feels. Because I wish I was adopted.” Or Mr. Fantastic (who, never, by the way, actually receives that moniker over the course of this, his origin story) marveling that the university library has chemistry books from the 1950’s. You know, way back when they knew way less about chemistry. Hooray? I could ignore the fact that Sue Storm is an expert in all fields of science or that Von Doom apparently thinks they’ll be taking a trip to the fourth dimension, which any idiot who has even brushed by a stack of sci-fi novels know is time, not the ineptly-titled Earth Zero (fewer calories, same polluted taste).

I could suffer through the pacing, which uses time like a hopscotch board, leaping through days, months, and even years for no discernible reason. And I sustained myself through the special effects, which across the board looked like a World of Warcraft beta test save for one instance. Mr. Fantastic’s stretching is rendered in such a photorealistic way that you’ll wish you had bought popcorn so you could have a barf bag readily available. The one time the effects actually rise to the challenge is the moment the film needed to be most cartoonish.

Are they doing this to us on purpose?

I received this movie with enough patience to earn immediate canonization, but the third act broke me. I snapped like a West Side Story ensemble member. In the climax of the film (if you could call it that), the dialogue whips into a frenzied maelstrom in which Miles Teller narrates the wicked doings of the returned Doctor Doom and the script makes a belated, misguided effort to spice up the action with some quips that fall flatter than an Iowa cornfield.  The pacing makes an effort to make up for its previous doldrums by zipping through the battle at lightning speed. I guarantee that there are hardly fifteen minutes between Dr. Doom’s reintroduction and ultimate demise, which the Fantastic Four effect through some hitherto unknown variant of “teamwork” that involves pretty much everyone standing around and watching while the villain more or less defeats himself before quietly expiring.

The wailing Marco Beltrami score bleats and bellows as if there were an actual triumph buried somewhere under the confused dross, reminding everyone that it’s been there the whole time, echoing the movie’s terribleness in sonic form. Then the movie just sort of… ends, brutally chopping its crude character arcs to the quick while resolutely failing to actually resolve anything.

Did I even mention that the cinematography lovingly details every scar and blemish on the actors’ faces? Unless it was intentional, in any other movie, this rough handling would be an element so egregious that it would be the main crux of my review. But here it’s just one more instrument in a shrieking symphony of incompetence. Fantastic Four is a brutalized, beastly little movie, neither delivering thrills nor interesting characters, brainlessly repeating a story we’ve already seen.

If it were a thought exercise to see how a movie could be even worse without Jessica Alba, I would commend it. But these actors don’t deserve this treatment, this material doesn’t deserve this treatment, and you especially don’t deserve any of this. Stay very far away from Fantastic Four if you know what’s good for you.

TL;DR: Fantastic Four is a steaming pile of garbage, and it really doesn't matter whose fault it is.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1298


  1. Ha ha! So you did watch it. Sucker!

    Anyway, remember when we were talking about Marco Beltrami, and how he's the laziest major composer (or at least B-list composer) in Hollywood? Now, I conceded that the score for Scream is pretty good, but I happened to watch Scream 2 the other day, and was slapped directly in the face by the Gale/Dewey theme, which the eagle-eared will recall is literally not his, but instead the theme "Brothers" by Hans Zimmer, from Broken Arrow. In other words, the most memorable, and memorably used, piece of music from the whole Scream OT is lifted from another movie about John Travolta betraying Christian Slater, and Slater feeling cheesed about it. Then there's Terminator 3, there's the largely absent score from WWZ, and then there's this, where the only piece I even noticed was a diegetic song from (iirc) Phillip Glass.

    P.S. Broken Arrow rules. (Meanwhile, I wonder if there's a soul on Earth who actually likes Fantastic Four.)

    1. Alas, but I did. Although I will never complain about a generic MCU film ever again, knowing how much worse it could be.

      And I also concede that I was introduced to Marco Beltrami via his magnum opus, because nothing I've ever heard from him has come even close to licking Scream's boots. With apologies to Broken Arrow.