Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fantastic Four movie review

By now, you've probably seen a bunch of reviews treating Fox's Fantastic Four reboot like it kicked a puppy. While I haven't read those reviews just yet - I've only glanced at the harsh headlines - I can see why some people are really, really disappointed by the cinematic return of Marvel's first family. That said, the movie does get a lot right... before taking a pretty big downward spiral, that is.

The first half hour or so of this movie is solid and includes what is by far the most interesting material. It mostly revolves around Reed Richard's (Miles Teller) as we see his passion for science and discovery, his close friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and his amusingly awkward attempt to talk with Sue Storm (Kate Mara). This humanizing approach, along with the buildup to the Negative Zone Zero Earth is handled really well. It's feels like we're watching a solid sci-fi movie - not a comic book movie - that's inspired by the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Sure, there's some silly stuff, like how "it's clobbering time" is first used and Sue casually calling Victor Von Doom "Doctor Doom", but overall, this is where the movie really shines and pulls you into a more grounded and enjoyable story.
After the team develops their powers, this is where the movie seems to lose direction. There's a clear message here about the U.S. military and how it focuses on what it needs to do to remain a dominant force, even if it means making some people miserable and callous. I mean, when there's a shot of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) - a guy who's clearly working with the military and treating the team like weapons - walking out of a vehicle and into a building, it has blatantly ominous music.

There's hints at character development when the powers are gained: Johnny finally feels like he's found a purpose in life, Sue doesn't want to be a weapon, Thing turned from a tough guy with a big heart into a freaking killing machine, and Reed's simply trying to find a way to fix his friends. However, none of it really goes anywhere; it kind of feels like this time is spent just to give them control over their powers instead of giving their personalities the amount of attention they should receive. I would have loved to see 20 minutes or so dedicated to some scenes that give each of them more insight; the Thing certainly could have used it. Then we're thrown into Doom's return, and unfortunately, that's when things become all kinds of predictable and silly.

Victor Von Doom is a missed opportunity, and that's a real shame because Toby Kebbell proved he's an excellent actor in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I'm fine with changes to the source material, but they have to bring something compelling to the table to justify the new direction. In this case, they attempt to make Victor more humanizing earlier on - he's still somewhat off-putting, but he's far friendlier than you'd expect him to be. Once he changes, the potential is there to have him loathe the Fantastic Four and want to rule Latveria the way he believes it should governed. Instead of that - something which would open the door to more interesting conflicts down the road and a better villain - Doom decides to unleash end of the world scenario #4,852. Look, some movies can get away with using stakes that ridiculously high, but in this movie, the sense of urgency and danger just isn't there and it all happens so quickly. Doom makes a heartless return, but the big battle plays out exactly how everyone thinks it would - and that's because we've seen stuff like this time and time again. It's just not nearly as exciting as it could be and it's very, very generic. When a movie has so much buildup, having this as the payoff is severely disappointing. (Oh, and I'm just going to assume Doom's green cloak is the U.S. flag that was left on the planet and it has been stained by the glowing resources.)
I enjoyed Teller as Richards; he captures the character's personality well and I can see him eventually becoming the team's leader and finally being able to have a strong relationship with Sue. I also liked Bell as Thing. His voice may not be as deep as you'd expect it to be but I think it worked. There was the potential for a really strong arc with him, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm is the last member of the team to be introduced, and while I think he does a fine job with the material he's given, the character isn't quite as uplifting and fun as he should be. He has a few moments of levity in there and the fact he's a thrill-seeker (he street races) means he'll love testing his powers, but when he does finally say "flame on", it's just a casual remark instead of embracing the fact that he can now, you know, fly! If the sequel does happen, hopefully they have his character bring more life to the movie. As for Kate Mara's Sue Storm, it feels like she's there to be a plot device instead of a complex character. There's plenty of time dedicated to her looking at computer screens or testing her powers, but it really does seem like she's there to help locate someone and then provide the team with a force field when they need it. There's a hint of character depth there - she doesn't want to be a tool for the military - but nothing really happens with it, unfortunately.

Fantastic Four begins as a legitimately interesting sci-fi, character-driven movie, but then it doesn't focus enough on what it wants to accomplish with each hero, and then things become unoriginal and disappointing when Doom is brought back into the picture. All in all, I agree with writer-producer Simon Kinberg that it's "not a disaster", but it's definitely not a good movie, either. It had the potential to be one, but then all of the movie's strongest qualities are tossed aside as it speeds towards the big boss battle with Doom. But hey, now that the team has finally bonded, maybe - just maybe - Fantastic Four 2 (if it even happens now) will be great. Until then, we can keep watching The Incredibles. That one's pretty... awesome. Bet you thought I'd say "fantastic", didn't you? Nope! You're welcome.

2/5

(There isn't a credits scene. Oh, and Thing dropping from the plane or slowly raising his fist to presumably unleash one hell of a strong punch? You know, the shots that are in many of the trailers? Those moments aren't in the movie.)

3 comments:

  1. Even though you gave it more credit than I would have done, nice review on what you thought on the earlier part of the movie Gregg. I knew that once the plot moves beyond the team getting their powers that it would get even worse. The minimalistic development of plot and characters, the needless grounding of a group of superheroes who rely on the over the top sci-fi genre for their stories, poor pacing and sub par special effects. All this and more is making me glad I'm not going to see this movie as it's certainly not what I enjoy about the Fantastic Four on screen. 2/5 is probably the fairest score one can give for this flawed experiment.

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  2. You know what, I actually didn't mind this movie all too much. That's not to say it didn't have it's large share of problems, but it was far from unbearable for me. There were sparks of potential here and I hope they get a chance to revisit it.

    Nice review dude!

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  3. I liked the arrows for their help in organizing your notes.
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