Fantastic Four opened this weekend with lackluster reception, both critically and commercially. In this article we will explore why it didn’t do so well, from the rehashing of the origin story all the way to the studio problem. Strap in and read on as we list the top 5 reasons not to see the Fantastic Four movie directed by Josh Trank.
In this iteration of the Fantastic Four story, the cast of characters gets transported to another dimension. The world that they go to is fractured and cracked and a tragedy befalls them, similar to the original origin story, where the Fantastic Four are shot into space and are exposed to cosmic rays, per the Stan Lee creation. They return to our dimension to find that their bodies are altered, all of them exhibiting strange new powers.
The problems with the script and the story are the same that befell Sony Pictures last attempt at rebooting Spider Man, where they are, firstly, rehashing the origin story of characters already in the public consciousness, both through comic books and via the films that preceded this one. It would be much more interesting, I think, to start at the sequel (with a big fight, where they are victorious despite Ben’s increasing agitation, Susan’s inability to control her powers, and Johnny’s daredevil-may-care recklessness) and use flashbacks to demonstrate Reed’s guilt and responsibility for his friends and love interests’ problems, and his ceaseless attempts to cure them while also using their powers for good.
A message to Hollywood, if you’re reading this, please listen to us when we say we already know these characters. They are part of our collective consciousness: this is why you’re making this movie in the first place – it’s already a thing, why make a movie explaining it’s a thing? Just be the thing. Speaking of the Thing…
I have issues with just about every aspect of the casting. Miles Teller’s Reed Richards is unsympathetic and utterly unrelatable. Rather than a simple accident, Richards is actively responsible for the entire team’s woes and his reaction to the discovery of this is unbecoming of a protagonist.
Kate Mara is plasticine and unresponsive, even when she is trying to be cute and coy; she seems just aloof and does not strike me as a woman of science: her one moment of standing out in the movie happens to be dumb luck not skill.
Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm is gallivant and cocky but doesn’t add anything really to the mix, besides that he is unbelievable as a genius. The worst offender is Jamie Bell, an English lad better known for playing Billy Elliot, who to his fault for auditioning and accepting the role of Ben Grimm, has been cast as a Jew from Brooklyn (there’s a menorah in the background of the characters’ introductory scene) whose role in this universe is complicated by the fact that he has nothing to do with the project, or the military, as in the original origin story, making him really just some poor putz caught in the middle of his best friends’ douchebaggery.
Toby Kebbel, another English actor, rounds up the primary cast as the villain, Dr. Victor Von Doom, who doesn’t do much as a villain except in the final act, but frankly I haven’t cared about this movie since I’ve heard about it being in pre-production and the film itself did nothing to change that perspective. To their credit, it seems like the cast are trying, but of course it ultimately doesn’t really have to do with the casting, as many of these actors have demonstrated some skill in acting. Instead we have to look to the storytellers for some answers, but on to that in a moment.
Complicating the matter is the youth of these characters. A relic from Kinberg’s script probably, trying to emulate X-Men: First Class, these children are unsupervised despite creating an interdimensional portal that is being farmed to the government, possibly for military applications. Why is there no guard at the machine?
After that the problems compound on themselves. How does Grimm get into a classified project? how do they send themselves and expect to get back; is this brand new teleportation process entirely automated? Fine, but how do they think they have time to crawl down a rock face when they only allotted themselves “five minutes”?
What kind of scientist sticks his hand into an unknown energy source, something that the “genius” Richards does despite that being possibly one of the dumbest things anyone could do on an alien planet that had never been visited before by humankind. What if it was like lava, or space syphilis?
Basic logic supersedes ridiculous premises that takes High School Musical characters, puts lab coats on them, and gives them superpowers: the story is built on entirely unbelievable circumstances and comes off simply as ridiculous and bullshit pseudo-science.
I believe that this film suffers from the “too many cooks” problem, which mars many a promising Hollywood story. Listed as the writers of this iteration of the Fantastic Four are: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank, also taking the helm as director. Kinberg has previously been credited as a writer for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes, and X-Men: First Class.
So how does Fantastic Four become such a smelly pile of cinema turds if such a winning scriptwriter is onboard? Well, Slater’s probably stunk it up some: he’s the writer of the flop The Lazarus Effect, and the heavy-handed scenes where the military becomes involved and most of the poorly explained pseudo-science are probably his. The studio presumably had Slater revise Kinberg’s script then handed that atrocity to Trank, to direct, who had to make do with what he was given.
Trank made a buzz after his major motion picture directorial debut, Chronicle, which was a critical and box office smash. This is probably what made him stand out to Fox Studios, who produced both films, Chronicle being a movie about a group of kids who gain superpowers, which Trank did not write. Trank’s lack of experience as a writer and director compiles to compound the lackluster movement in story and cinematography of this movie, besides for the obtuse and half baked science and governmental reasoning evident throughout the film. There are bigger holes in this story than the one Matthew McConaughey fell into in Interstellar.
Here’s the problem with CGI: the technology that we have has still not bypassed the uncanny valley aspect of digital effects. There is no doubt in my mind that The Thing is computer generated and that the Human Torch is too. Special effects like this should be married to practical effects as much as possible, as in Interstellar or Inception, Christopher Nolan understanding that audiences will subconsciously focus on the flaws of even the most pristine digital illusions and that the best thing to do is to hide them as much as possible. There is no true dimension to these characters doing their thing, neither in the caricature emotional connections, chunky designs, nor in the over thick rehashing of their abilities.
Granted, some of these look very nice and interesting, but at the end of the day pretty visuals can’t save a poorly written story. There are just so many questions. Why is Dan Castenella (voice of Homer Simpson), playing Reed Richards’ middle school teacher, also judging the high school science fair? Furthermore, why is he acting like this is the first time that he’s seen Reed since that day in class, and is at all surprised when Reed is as big of an asshole as he’s always been? The story gets murkier from there, bogged down by boring and altogether meaningless origin story with ridiculous leaps of logic and overall idiocy from supposed geniuses that is hopefully not at all evident at CERN.
I’m not an industry professional (yet), and as such I do not know who owns what film rights precisely, but what I do know is that the only film studio that has had any true success with the characters of the Marvel Universe is Marvel Studios itself. Anyone who owns the rights to other characters of theirs would probably do best to negotiate a deal with Marvel wherein the House of M assists in producing the film and actively advises. Fantastic Four is a technically well-structured movie, and while structure is everything…it’s not everything: there needs to be more than just a three act story with side gags along the way. The story gave me no one to care about, which should be the heart of any story whether it’s high drama or men in tights.
It would also probably behoove the studios not to release trailers that give away the entire movie. Through the saturation of media marketing via movie theaters and internet gaming I saw practically 75% of this movie before I sat my ass down to be nearly bored to tears with this asshole kid and his rise to doing stupider and stupider things. Sheesh, leave some mystery, especially when you’re rehashing a story we’ve already been told a hundred thousand times. A surprised audience is a much happier audience, Hollywood.
This big budget Fantastic Four fiasco, while presenting crisp sci-fi visual elements and interesting CGI, cannot break past its issues with casting and a terrible story equal parts ridiculous and irrelevant. It may work to set up a sequel, which was the plan all along and that has already been announced, but only time will tell whether the studios will want to tank so much money into the sequel for such a lukewarmly received film. Save your money or go see Ant-Man (again) for a Marvel fix with a bumpy story and actors you have heard of, unlike Fantastic Four, unless you’re a fifteen-year-old girl or a House of Cards fan. I for one will be seeing the sequel just so you don’t have to, so you’re welcome for this and all the other crappy movies I’ve yet to review.