Original US release date: August 7, 2015
Production budget: $120,000,000
Worldwide gross: $167,977,596
Well, here we go. I talk a lot about the entitlement of modern audiences – especially those from the comic book fanbase – and no film in recent memory is a better example of that fan entitlement than Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four. From the day that Fox dared to cast the African-American actor Michael B. Jordan as the traditionally-white Johnny Storm/Human Torch, the comic book quote/unquote “fanbase” raged against this film and decided they hated it before it had even started filming. Because that’s how mature people behave. The fact is, this is another situation where it wouldn’t have mattered what the final product was like; audiences already somehow knew the movie “sucked” and they weren’t about to do or say anything that would put them in the position of having to backtrack.
So, I’m here to be objective. You should know that I’m the biggest Fantastic Four fan you have come across. I grew up on them. I’m still faithful to them. Comics haven’t felt the same to me since Marvel cancelled the Fantastic Four’s book in an apparent effort to lash out at Fox for retaining the film rights to the characters (that’s not confirmed, but it sure looks as though that’s their motivation). If anybody was going to view this movie through rose-colored glasses, it would be me. So, is it really as bad as people say? Well . . . some of it is and some of it isn’t.
Let’s start with the good (and, yes, there is good). The best aspect of this film is, funnily enough, the casting. The primary cast of Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch/Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm/The Thing, respectively, completely deliver and make the film exceedingly more watchable than it would have otherwise been.
Of the four, Jamie Bell is the only one who lacks the same level of screen presence and charisma as the others, but he’s still pretty good in his own right. With a little more experience, he would have matched up. My personal favorite is Mara as Sue. I admittedly was skeptical about her casting as I had trouble envisioning her in the role based on what I had seen from her in previous outings, but she resonates charm, intelligence, and a hesitant warmth that only shows on the rare instances when Sue lets her guard down. If Marvel were ever to get the rights to the FF back, I wish there were some way they could retain Mara as Sue, though I’m fully aware that it wouldn’t make any sense, narratively speaking, to do so. What’s interesting is that rumors following the film’s release (if you choose to believe them) insisted that director Trank hated Mara’s performance and regularly verbally accosted her on set. I don’t know if that’s true, but she manages to squeeze significant sincerity into her performance in spite of all the talk that Trank actually encouraged the cast to do otherwise.
On the flip side, Toby Kebbell was horribly miscast as Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom. Kebbell is completely devoid of any sense of threat, menace, or genius-level intellect (I don’t mean that personally – just regarding his performance). Part of the issue is the way the character is written. That way is “awfully”, by the way. Petty, weak, and lacking independence, Doom is not only a shell of his comic book counterpart, but he’s just a poor villain, altogether. Doom, in fact, is the worst component of the film. The requisite Final Battle at the climax of the film makes no sense because Doom is never given any sort of comprehensible motivation for his thoughts, feelings, or actions. Suddenly, he just hates the Fantastic Four after being friends with them for the majority of the film and we never really know why. The FF don’t really seem to question it, themselves. They just know it’s time to fight. So they do.
There is a pacing issue, though it’s not the worst I’ve seen. Frankly, the only reason the pacing is a problem is because the film rushes to a conclusion after taking its time to set the stage. The first hour or so of character- and relationship-building is actually really solid work. The dialogue is unspectacular, but also inoffensive. And the FF, themselves, have great chemistry. Their interactions are fun to watch and entertaining on a consistent basis. It takes a while to get them together as a team, which is fine seeing that it’s an origin movie. But if an audience is forced to wait for what they really want to see, then they need to get a healthy dose of what they want when the time for it finally comes. And that doesn’t happen. Most of the action was cut (including the big money-shot scene from the trailer of the Thing falling from the sky) and the FF as a fully-functioning family unit comes and goes in what feels like the blink of an eye.
The special effects are also really strong, when in play. The Thing looks amazing – much better than in the Tim Story films – though pants would be great. I understand the logic behind him not having his trademark shorts, but Trank should know that that’s the sort of thing that audiences single out to make fun of and there’s no reason to give them ammunition. The Human Torch effect is beautiful, as well, and – though it’s brief – Sue gets to use her powers in some very cool, sleek-looking ways straight from the comics. Mr. Fantastic’s stretching isn’t quite as convincing as the others’ abilities, but, again, it’s still better than in the Story movies.
If only we could get more of that. A lot of people complained about the tone of the film, stating that it was too serious. Look, the FF comics have never been a comedy. They’ve had lighthearted moments, yes. But those mostly came after the origin and the team had started to come to terms with what had happened to them. But, generally speaking, Fantastic Four stories have the same mix of light and dark as any other typical comic book. So, the tone was fine. But, once the film starts having fun, it’s over. And, fun? Fun, I could have used more of.
Another issue is how Sue – the only woman on the team – is excluded from the mission that gives the team their powers in favor of Doom. It makes her seem less important and integral to the team and to the film. It’s a very misogynistic choice in a film that didn’t need any misogyny to compound its other issues.
Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is not the worst movie – or even the worst comic book movie – ever made. It’s better than Catwoman. It’s better than Batman & Robin. It’s better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And it’s pretty comparable in quality to X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad. I actually prefer it to those two films. The problem is that the film got hacked to pieces by a group of people who got their priorities mixed up and began second-guessing every little thing instead of simply trying to make a good movie that is faithful to its characters, the fanbase, and appealing to general audiences. I know that’s not easy to do, but Fox clearly focused on money (saving it more so than making it) instead of art, and it came back to bite them.
Fox says they want to keep trying with the Fantastic Four. The problem is that they’ve gotten the property to the point where it’s damaged in the general public’s eyes. There needs to be a long wait before another attempt is made. But if Fox waits, then the rights revert back to Marvel. That would be best for everyone, but I don’t think Fox sees it that way. So, for now, we’re stuck with no Fantastic Four comic and ill-advised films that very few will see, no matter how good the films are or aren’t. As a lifetime fan of the property, I anxiously await an epic, large-scale, blast of a Fantastic Four movie with a proper Doctor Doom (or Galactus or Annihilus or the Skrulls) that shows people just why I love them so much. I’ll cross my fingers, but I won’t hold my breath.
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