Friday, August 7, 2015

Still Craptastic

The first pre-screening I ever attended as a critic was 2005's Fantastic Four. It was, in retrospect, a brutal right of passage. One would hope that after a decade full of comic book films (the good, the bad, and everything in-between) 20th Century Fox would have learned their lesson and seen fit not to unleash such a travesty onto an unsuspecting movie-going audience yet again. One would be wrong.

Fantastic? After three movies somebody really needs to sue Fox for false advertising. The series made substantial improvements with 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer but still could only squeeze mediocrity out of one the best stories Marvel Comics has ever published.

Choosing to wipe the slate clean by adapting the Ultimate Marvel versions of the characters (an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe I had little interest in going into this screening and even less on exiting), screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank weave a tale of boy geniuses, alternate dimensions, and maniacal villains who are evil solely because the plot is dependent on them to be.

The first-half of the film actually isn't bad. I mean it's certainly not good, but it is almost passable (which for this franchise is a step in the right direction). Introducing us to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm first as unlikely childhood friends (Owen Judge, Evan Hannemann) and then high school seniors (Miles Teller, Jamie Bell), the film opens by exploring a friendship that will eventually lead the pair, along with cliched hothead Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and brooding scientist Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to be the first humans to travel to an alternate dimension.

The film is long on set-up which turns out to be a good thing as writer/director Josh Trank has almost nothing left to say once our characters are exposed and transformed by the odd radiation from the alternate dimension. The U.S. Military's confinement and adoption of three members of the team is of interest, but neither Trank nor his fellow screenwriters take full advantage of a storyline rife with possibility. The script teases how the military would like to use their new human weapons but quickly chucks that storyline for a final act that may or may not be the worst think ever consciously committed to film. Okay, I'll admit that might be overstating things, but, damn, the last 50 minutes of this movie are hard to watch!

Not learning any lessons from the 2005 film, Fantastic Four chooses to make Doctor Doom part of the team to become transformed by the cosmic radiation that gives our heroes their powers (complete with a less-than-stellar makeover). And, as with the previous movie, Fantastic Four struggles to explain just what the villain's powers are. Reed gets stretchy, Johnny bursts into flames, Ben becomes a rock monster (a CGI design which is one of the bright spots of the movie), Sue (Kate Mara) begins to play with invisibility and force fields, and the poorly-designed Doom becomes a walking unstoppable Dues Ex Machina with a variety of powers which are necessary for the character to usher the second-half of the movie straight off a cliff into a realm seemingly designed specifically for MST3K to mock incessantly.

And there's poor Kate Mara who I'm just going to assume made this film to make her first foray into super-hero movies look better by comparison. Actually Fantastic Four, complete with genius kids imbued with odd powers, has more in common with Zoom than you'd think. Sadly, being mildly diverting isn't one of them. Honestly, I'd much prefer to watch a marathon of the Sky High knockoff than ever sit through Fantastic Four again.

Is it better than the first Fantastic Four? Marginally, but then again so is a swift kick to the crotch. The final half of the film is such a colossal waste of time and money the few things the movie gets right (okay, "right" may be too strong a word) are quickly forgotten. We now have three big-budget theatrical versions of the Fantastic Four none of which are better than the low-rent 1994 version Marvel made sure never saw the light of day except on bootleg DVD. If that's not damning I don't know what is.

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