FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)
A lot of mud has been slung at the new Fantastic Four. It has received the worst reviews of a film that I've seen this year. Some of the comments have been downright vicious. I might at another time write about the reviews themselves, which to me have gone past being objective analysis of the film's many failures and getting into an almost hysterical and unhinged attack on the director's sanity (among other things). For the moment, let's concentrate on the product at hand. After seeing the film, I do think some of my film reviewing brethren have gone a bit overboard in their hatred for Fantastic Four. I can think of a few films that I thought were worse than this one. The somewhat hysterical reviews I think are a way to vent genuine anger or to jump on the 'let's bash a troubled production' bandwagon.
That being said, this Fantastic Four makes me yearn for the original version, which was a mere decade ago. Given that I pretty much hate the original Fantastic Four (and think the not-quite-lost Roger Corman version is probably the best), that isn't saying much in the reboot's favor.
Oyster Bay, New York, 2007 (and by the way, thanks for making me feel old). A young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) has created a teleporter, and only Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann) doesn't think it's idiotic, even after it causes a power outage throughout New York. Go seven years later (2014, how clever), where high schoolers Reed Richards (Miles Teller, 28), and Ben Grimm (Billy Elliot, I mean, Jamie Bell, 29) are still at the teleporter business. At their science fair, we get Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter, Sue (Kate Mara, 32). So impressed are they with the teleporter that Dr. Storm brings Reed to the Baxter Institute to work on it. Dr. Storm also brings back the difficult Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell, 33). Ben has to go back to the family junkyard.
At Baxter, we also get Dr. Storm's son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, 28). Now, Johnny's a bit of a rebel but he's also a genius. Together (I think) they all manage to create a larger teleporter where they can go to a new world. Doom, Johnny, and Reed aren't keen on the idea that others get to go before them, so while buzzed they decide to go themselves to this new world, with Reed bringing Ben along. In this desolate world, Doom triggers a reaction that forces them to run for their lives. Doom, however, appears to fall to his death on this Planet Zero, and when they make it back thanks to Sue they come back highly damaged (and injuring Sue too). Reed's body can stretch. Johnny is almost permanently aflame. Sue can disappear but has no control over it. Poor Ben is the worse, for he is a literal pile of rocks. A shocked Reed manages to escape, leaving the others at the military's mercy.
One Year Later...Ben has become a wrecking crew for the military that wants to exploit their powers. Johnny doesn't seem to care whether he lights up for Uncle Sam or not, but Sue is dead-set against it. They are still searching for Reed, and they do find him and bring him back (with some help from Ben, still angry about being left and turned into Rubble). The military wants all of them now to go back to Planet Zero in exchange for funding to restore our group. When they go to Planet Zero, they discover Doom is very much alive, and now he will enact revenge by first blowing people's brains out and then by causing some black hole to engulf the world. It's up to our Fantastic Four to save the world.
I think pretty much all but the hard-core fans thought this version of Fantastic Four was going to be any good. Why was there so much pre-release bad buzz? Well, let's start with casting. It isn't as if they got bad actors. They just got the wrong actors.
Part of me doesn't begrudge Fox for going for a 'younger' demographic (because obviously, the idea of adults getting involved with supernatural powers is flat-out ridiculous). IF the script by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and director Josh Trank) had found a way to make the four's relative youth and inexperience a part of the story, they could (operative word, 'could) have pulled it off. However, the fact that you have essentially high school students doing all this makes the whole thing play like bad cosplayers doing a spoof.
I noted the various actor's ages because if we look at how the original did it, we find no reason for this 'let's make them high school students' business. I don't compare remakes to originals, but here, I'm going to talk about age to make a point. Ioan Gruffudd, the original Reed Richards, was 32 when Fantastic Four (2005) came out. That made him only four years older than Teller, yet for some reason Teller was asked to play at the most, a 20 year old (and I think I'm being slightly generous, for I think it's closer to 18). The age differences between the 2005 and 2015 Johnny Storms is also four years, but oddly, Jordan is four years OLDER than when Chris Evans played the part (and given it's Evans, the word 'playing' as in 'acting' is also being generous). Nevertheless, Jordan has to play it younger, which is just so odd. The Invisible Woman's age gap is 9 (with Mara being the OLDER of the two) and The Thing's age gap comes in at a whopping 13 (Michael Chiklis being the older).
Here's my point: in the original Fantastic Four, they were playing adults close to their ages. In this reboot, they are playing kids when they are not kids, and when there is no need for them to be kids or even twentysomethings. Why couldn't they just play...adults?
While the age issue is not unimportant, the casting of the Storm siblings is. I don't think it was wrong or racist to cast Jordan as Johnny Storm. I think it was wrong and racist to cast Mara as Sue Storm (and why Sue? Why couldn't she be Susan Storm?). Why do I think so?
It's obvious that when one sibling is black and another white, the fact of said difference is going to pop up one way or another. To pretend not to notice is absurd. It be nice to get to that point, but it isn't going to happen now.
As a side note, I don't think it's racist for interviewers to ask those involved in Fantastic Four how the Storms can be different races and be related. I think it's common sense.
You would have about three alternative explanations: half-siblings, stepsiblings, or adopted siblings. The film went for the third, but there was no point to the whole thing. The fact that Sue Storm was adopted from Kosovo is irrelevant to anything. MY question is, why didn't they go all-in and cast a black actress to play Sue? What, was the idea of an interracial romance between Reed and Sue so hard to handle that the producers found it more logical to make only Johnny black than to make Johnny AND Sue black? We know that Reed and Susan eventually get married, so why, if you want to change the race of a character, did they decide to go only halfway?
In other words, what was the point of making Johnny Storm black and his sister white? It added nothing to the story, and that is the biggest problem with that particular change. I object to making the main character on Doctor Who a woman because there is no point to such a change. It won't add anything to what we know of The Doctor and it won't make for more interesting stories. The reason people want that change is because 'it's time'. They want a female Doctor to HAVE a female Doctor, to make things 'fair'. That's an idiotic reason to make that change, and same goes for having one actor be black while his sister is white: for 'fairness'.
I would have said make BOTH of them black. At least you wouldn't have had this unimportant "I'm a Kosovar refugee" business that was mentioned but had nothing to do with anything.
Anyway, back to the performances themselves. Teller came through it best, as he is, I think, the best actor among the bunch. As Reed, he got that slightly awkward, slightly clueless scientific genius. However, Fantastic Four did severely test that "I'd watch Miles Teller in Anything" theory (which was disproven by That Awkward Moment), because by the 'climatic' battle, even he didn't register any enthusiasm for his lines and readings.
It's pretty safe that everyone else fared worse; with Jordan, his Johnny Storm is less daredevil and more "Daddy likes you best" whiner. The closest he got to showing a 'bad' side was when we first see him, but for a moment I thought we were watching an audition tape for a Fast and Furious movie. He has no enthusiasm, no sense of the cocky guy Johnny is suppose to be. His "Flame On" is the weakest and most bored/boring delivery of that line in film history.
Billy Elliot...I mean, Jamie Bell, was actually pretty good as Ben Grimm which is odd since a.) at 5'7" it's hard to believe he would become the giant known as The Thing, and b.) his New York accent is not the greatest. About the only thing I learned about Ben's life pre-FF is that the Grimm family is Jewish (a menorah can be seen at the Grimm home, and there aren't many Gentiles who own one, unless they think it's a really cool candelabra). It is a terrible disservice from the production to have so little interaction between Bell and Teller, because we don't get a great deal of sense that they are as close as the script wants us to think. As Bell spent more time as The Thing than as Ben Grimm, it would have saved them money just to hire Bell for voice-over work, period.
Mara had nothing to do with Fantastic Four, and there is exactly one scene that suggests even a hint of potential romance between her and Reed (I guess they're saving that for the sequel, which in any sane world would be cancelled immediately). It's a sign of how disjointed Fantastic Four is that Teller and Mara had more believable brotherly interaction than Jordan and Mara.
As Dr. Storm, Cathey appeared to have been voiced by Vin Diesel, and he was there just to ensure they had some 'motivation' to go after Doom. Kebbell has been pretty much ripped to shreds for his almost comical von Doom (whose motivation for wanting to destroy Earth are, shall we say, a bit hazy). Let me join in that particular chorus, since he was like just about everything in Fantastic Four, irrelevant to everything thrown up on the screen.
To be fair, as good as the actors may be (and most are among the best of their generation), I don't think anyone really could have done anything to make the script work. There was no sense of family, of these characters being interesting let alone close to each other. When we're suppose to fear the world being destroyed, it is a non-event, and for the world's destruction and these four Fantastic Babies having to join forces to stop some dull pseudo-villain to be almost sleep-inducing, it is deadly.
I won't go on about how the special effects were hit and miss (the climatic battle being anti-climatic, though the visuals with the actual Fantastic Four were probably better than the original).
I question the violence when Doom is escaping, for seeing the blood splatter out of the various people's heads without the heads themselves exploding is a bit too much. I question how stupid the characters sometimes are (Johnny blames his father for how they ended up, when in reality it was NOT listening to Dr. Storm that caused them to end up how they ended up). I don't understand why we had to jump around so much (Seven Years Later, One Year Later). I question why Fantastic Four had to be dominated by a lot of gray (both visually and emotionally), as if we needed mute colors and no joy to express how serious everything was.
This last point is important since Fantastic Four, for all the comics' flaws, was a more lighthearted affair (at least that was the impression I always had). In truth, the most shocking thing in/about Fantastic Four is that the score was co-written by Philip Glass. How the Master of Minimalism got to write music for a terrible effort at a comic-book franchise is anyone's guess (mine: money).
Is Fantastic Four bad? Yes, absolutely. Is it worth all the vitriol it's been getting? No, absolutely not. The third time is not the charm, and as much as I respect Teller, he hasn't earned Reed Richards' silver streaks.