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FANTASTIC FOUR (review)

Review by Clay N Ferno
Produced by Gregory Goodman, Simon Kinberg,
Robert Kulzar, Hutch Parker, Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank
Based on Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Directed by Josh Trank
Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara,
Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson

“The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” has once again proven — for the fourth time, really, how difficult it is to make a compelling comic book movie with Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Human Torch and The Thing.

Director Josh Trank (Chronicle) steps into a world where Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn and James Mangold have left their dusty footprints.

The Fox-owned Marvel movie properties are mostly good, have gotten better since X-Men First Class, but this Fantastic Four doesn’t have the orange stones to retire like Hugh Jackman eventually will.

As a sci-fi movie experience it leans toward being just OK, but for comic book fans now expecting Marvel Studios quality and reverence toward the essence of Stan and Jack’s 1961 creations, this movie falls flat.

FF2015 has no bite, definitely no humor besides dropping famous catch phrases, and it was more of a Dell and Samsung commercial at every turn than was Bruce Banner’s blatant Beats headphone meditation or Gillette razor focus pull in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

As far as performances go, the leading cast of Miles Teller (Reed), Kate Mara (Sue), Jamie Bell (Ben) and Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch were the smartest choices made by the movie.

All were very good as their counterparts, skewing a bit younger than usually cast for the role but Reed Richards was a boy genius, right? No distinguished grey temples yet!

I will say this, and only once. I thought the black suits would grow on me. They didn’t. The white and black versions cited later in the review were more my personal style if eschewing the original blue and gigantic “#4”.

The twenty-eight year old Teller (Whiplash) plays the awkward geek putting everyone in danger well, and this is the best we’ve seen a ‘stretchy guy’ power on the big screen. 

Kate Mara as Sue Storm is not as compelling as her Zoe Barnes House of Cards character, (I had the same problem with Corey Stoll in Ant-Man) and though I enjoy her on-screen, she’s not given that much to actually do besides literally look up on the internet where Reed has been hiding. This 5 minutes of headphone placement screen time to watch Mara ping an IP address was an infuriating bore.

Guess what…spoiler, he was hiding in South America. He must have gotten the tip from Ed Norton’s Hulk.

Don’t worry, the First Lady of comics doesn’t even hint at being attracted to Reed, though the bumbling nerd does at first try to get her attention in the library, the future marriage isn’t sparked yet.

I guess you need to leave something of the next ever-lovin’ installment, FF2 (gasp).

A young Ben Grimm played by Evan Hannemann looks like he popped off the page of a Jack Kirby Newsboy Legion comic, so much so that my partner-in-crime said “Oh my god, he looks like The Thing”! She was right, before the transformation was a kid that looks like he could grow up to be an orange rock monster if that makes any sense (which it probably doesn’t). The grown up Jamie Bell (TURN: Washington’s Spies, Snowpiercer) plays the strong silent muscle to Reed’s brainy awkwardness well. The post-incident tension between the two plays realistically.

If anyone can play the hot-shot racecar driving egotistical rockstar Johnny Storm it is Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, Creed). Usually the comic relief and frequent wrecker of Baxter Building furniture while wrestling with The Thing as they fight over hamburgers, this Johnny is tonally a bit more serious while still doing his best to crack wise. The jokes in this movie could have been punched up or more frequent, but I digress.

Toby Kebbell plays the man who would be Doom. This Victor von Doom was the first to crack the inter-dimensional teleport problem before Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, The Wire, Oz, Se7en) discovers Ben and Reed’s garage teleporter at a local high school science fair. Why Dr. Storm was the trolling at a high school science fair — particularly the one Reed Richards entered a teleporter in as a weekend project is entirely beyond me.

Kebell’s Doom is an anti-establishment scientist refusing to take orders from the government and even has the balls to flip off Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson, Minority Report, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) when he walks away! Finally, during a mission off-world to Planet Zero (read: The Negative Zone) Victor is consumed by the planet’s energy and respawned as a green and silver walking automaton, flesh fused with his exploration suit to freeze his face to an expressionless visage, made of clear plastic.

Perhaps I was high off of the movie theatre nacho cheese, but I thought this version of Doom looked pretty cool—even with my reservations about his mask. He even dawns his trademark hoodie from scraps of fabric left behind after a battle. Doom becomes powerful off-planet and returns to get his revenge against Richards.

Before all this, though, is what can only be described as The Breakfast Club scene. Doom gets Johnny and Reed drunk in a study office with his bad-boy flask. They collectively decide to defy Drs. Storm and Allen by being the first to explore off-planet without permission. BAD BOYS!

They pack up an American flag, suit up in white and black Future Foundation astronaut suits and blast off. Sue wasn’t allowed on the flight, nor invited to the party. She is safely at home when the other three and Doom get their powers, but when the radiation hits on the return home, she’s knocked down and gains her powers.

My only gripe about the fairly descent origin story here is that she wasn’t on the trip with her teammates. She brings them back, but storywise, the doctors could have been written to do so too. Why wasn’t she on the trip? I hope it isn’t because she is a lady. She could probably drink Doom under the table, too.

Throughout the film is lots of disjointed add-on narration and exposition at every turn. Offscreen military voices with all the, “We have visual contact” and more unnecessary descriptors. It’s not an audio book!

Some CGI scenes of explosions looked a bit under-budget. Kate’s Invisible Bubble worked great as a shield but her flying action was sub-par and poorly executed at the rigging level. At one point I saw a poorly rendered CGI face where Kate’s should be. As far as powers were concerned, Torchie, Thing, Doom and Mr. Fantastic all were illustrated with little complaint from this reviewer. Get Ben some pants, though! Or that sweet jumper!

I was hoping for more bite, more humor, better costumes and the excitement you are supposed to get when seeing your favorite heroes on the screen. I have myself to blame for binging on back issues of the comic this week. There is no Mad Thinker or Dragon Man in this movie. We are treated to such gems as “Flame on!”, “It’s Clobberin’ Time”, and … wait for it … “Listen to doctor DOOM over here”, but setting the FF in a paramilitary complex seems sort of odd. The Baxter Building in NYC is a character in the film but most of the action takes place in an army base somewhere.

Also, I’m not exactly sure why the team and The Thing specifically so readily went along with the militarization of their powers while Reed was in Brazil searching for a cure. From Raimi’s Spider-Man and Green Goblin gliders to Ant-Man most recently, screenwriters can’t wait to sign that lucrative government contract when new technology is available. The idea is getting a little long in the tooth.

Sidebar—is this supposed to be a shared universe with X-Men films? If so, there isn’t a hint that these Four exist on a plane that isn’t anything but isolated.

In conclusion, the powers and casting were great, and if you would include Doom as the Fifth Beatle, they sort of did the best they could with him too (personally, Doom mask referenced the awful plastic Cobra Commander from 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra).

I wanted more and for the risks Trank was taking to mean something. As a sci-fi movie it was stale and with little emotion, as a comic book movie we’re all used to something different now.

Is it the fact that FF isn’t as exciting or varied a concept as X-Men or Avengers?

The constraints of keeping this close to the original origins might not be possible in 2015. Since I tend to veer away from ratings, I through this suggestion at you — rent Fantastic Four, and for a more comic book experience try on the last two FF movies. At least you can revel in the camp of it all and wonder why Captain America is also The Human Torch.

Or better yet, just go watch Whiplash so you can see J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) slap Reed (Teller) around a bit.

 

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