Thursday, January 7, 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four
Directed by: Josh Trank.
Written by: Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank based on the comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Starring: Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm / The Thing), Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom / Dr. Doom), Reg E. Cathey (Dr. Franklin Storm), Tim Blake Nelson (Dr. Allen).

I cannot be the only one tired of superhero origin stories. They are all basically the same story – normal people somehow get superpowers, either because they make them, or because they get hit with some sort of radiation or drug or animal that should kill them, but doesn’t. They spend much of their time learning to use their new powers, before the filmmakers realize they’re approaching the two hour mark, and need to have an epic action sequence between the new hero and the super villain – who follows the exact same arc on the dark side – and then set everything up for the sequel, where the filmmakers will be free from having to establish the rules of this world (which we know anyway), and just tell a story for once. Most superheroes have their origin story – and they’re almost all lame, but filmmakers continue to insist on churning them out – probably because they continue to make money, and to be fair, if they are well executed, they can be kind of fun (also, it’s easier than coming up with something more original for the superheroes to do). Even when the studios insist on rebooting already known quantities – like Spider-Man, or now The Fantastic Four – they still seem to need to start all over again with the origin story.

This new Fantastic Four is a perfect example of how not to do an origin story. It falls into the same traps that all origin stories do – which is that they spend so much time setting everything up, that there’s no time for a story – and then some. This is a film that bizarrely doesn’t even give the heroes their powers until nearly an hour into the film (which doesn’t even run 100 minutes). The characters don’t even really have time to learn how to use their powers before they’re set on a collision course with evil, and the movie ends. Who thought that audiences who wanted to see yet another Fantastic Four movie (when the original, and its sequel, both sucked) – would find it more interesting to see the characters doing science than using their superpowers?

This film opens on a young Reed Richards (who will grow up to be Miles Teller – as a high school student), who with the help of his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) creates a weird device that can teleport matter elsewhere (where to, they have no idea). But at the science fair there is someone who does know – Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) – who is impressed that Reed and Ben can bring it back – something his team has not been able to do. It isn’t long before Reed is off at a fancy school for geniuses (poor Ben, left behind) – building his device on a massive scale – alongside Franklin’s daughter, Sue (Kate Mara), his son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and an insecure genius named Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) – who, of course, will end up being the bad guy. Or one of them, because of course the movie also has Tim Blake Nelson in it, and he’s a bad guy as well – a corporate bad guy, who sees the military purposes of the science, and nothing else.

The film was co-written and directed by Josh Trank – who made a promising debut with Chronicle a few years back, and will now have to dig himself out of the mess he has made here (as well as getting fired from one of the Star Wars movies). Chronicle was hardly an indie – there were special effects galore in that one as well – but perhaps it wasn’t smart to leap directly from that into franchise filmmaking. Thinking back to it, Chronicle also spent a long time setting itself up – the difference, perhaps, being that Chronicle was a somewhat better story, with characters you actually cared about. The ending of that film was a mess, of course, but until then it was quite good. Nothing much works in Fantastic Four – it’s dull from the outset, and ever gets any better. A film with a cast this good, shouldn’t be this boring.

I will say this for the movie though – it’s hardly the epic disaster that many seemed to make it out to be when it was released this past summer. It’s not good – not even close – but it’s not epically terrible either – this will never be anyone’s choice for a “so bad, it’s good” watch – the film is just far too dull and uninspired to raise to that level. Instead, the filmmakers make every uninspired choice they possibly can – and end up with a movie that’s just plain dull.

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