Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fantastic Four

Sometimes you go to movies with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised because the movie is better than you expected. This is not that film. I walked out of Fantastic Four with a strange sense of bewilderment that no one tried to stop this train wreck from being shown. Didn’t anyone on set see how bad this was? Did no one at the studio level watch dailies or by watching them did they see their careers end and decided they’d rather jump off the top of Fox headquarters than bring this up with the brass? I would have thought someone at Marvel or 20th Century Fox would have had the good sense to burn every last reel of this turkey. Even if you had to burn the entire building to the ground, it would still be a better solution than unleashing this thing on an unsuspecting public. It is almost impossible to describe how bad this film is, but I have a mission to make sure as few people’s lives are ruined as possible, so I will do my best.

Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) along with his best friend Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) talk old friend billionaire Victor Van Doom (Julian McMahon) into funding a project on Doom’s space station involving examining how cosmic rays effect basic DNA. Along for the ride are Reed’s former girlfriend Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and her brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). Something, of course goes wrong. Somehow the cosmic storm arrives not in seven hours but in seven minutes (maybe someone forgot to move a decimal point) and all five are exposed to the cosmic rays that start to alter their genetic structure when they wake up back on Earth. Once back home Reed finds his body has become rubberized and he can stretch and bend his body into all types of shapes and so becomes Mr. Fantastic. Sue finds she can disappear and create invisible force fields thus becoming the Invisible Girl. Johnny discovers he can create fire, in fact even envelope his entire body in flame declaring himself to be the Human Torch. Poor Ben Grimm’s body has been changed into orange rock, and he becomes an even more lumbering oaf as the Thing.

Doom is also transformed by the rays as his body starts to become metallic and he finds he can control electricity, thus making him Magneto, Master of…..oops I meant, Electro….oh, no sorry. He’s Doctor Doom! Kind of. The rest of the movie involves Reed trying to undue the process, Johnny enjoying his celebrity, Ben agonizing over his, Sue taking her clothes off, and Dr. Doom deciding to kill all of them, because….um…..he’s the villain?

The movie is beset with several flaws, inconsistencies, unbelievable coincidences, poor editing and incoherent plot divergences, and a complete lack of anything like common sense. For example the cosmic rays show up over six hours early because….well, I’m still not sure, since it’s not explained. Since they couldn’t figure out a way for their powers to work on the clothes they wear they actually have them wearing the costumes when they are hit with the radiation on the station. Despite the fact the rays only effect DNA, somehow the suits each get the powers of the owner too. Characters make unbelievable statements or decisions simply because it’s in the script. The scenes involving the Thing and the Human Torch aren’t too bad, but Ben’s scenes with anyone else defy any sort of logic including the scenes dealing with his wife and Alicia Masters in the bar. Each scene involves the women doing something that is totally implausible. Also it seems his strength and invulnerability change from scene to scene depending on the writing. The light speed change of heart for the police to the Thing who actually caused a thirty car accident, and the rest of the group, is just mind boggling. One minute they are all under arrest and the next they are the Ghostbusters complete with full media coverage and a motorcade.

Another problem seems to be they can’t decide how big New York is supposed to be. Several times during the movie something occurs and then another character instantly shows up just in time for the next scene. It’s like they were out for a walk and since the set is only about two blocks wide they just happened to get by all the crowds or the carnage to be exactly where they need to be for the camera to pan to them. These coincidences aren’t only effecting the characters, but also props. For instance when Sue opens a random drawer in a room that no one has been using she finds a photo album with pictures of Reed and her in love. Then there’s the mask that Victor was given as an award and he just happens to have on his desk in a glass case that just happens to fit him perfectly.

So what about the nuts and bolts of the movie? Not much better I’m afraid. The special effects involving the powers of the Torch are well done, but the look of the Thing is just sad (and I won’t even get started on Dr. Doom). The invisibility comes off well, but Sue seems to get the feel of her powers much too quickly especially, a problem with pretty much every character but especially bad here because her powers seem so much more complex than simply stretching or hitting things hard. The powers of Mr. Fantastic are intriguing but aside from one or two short scenes aren’t really explored. Part of the problem is the movie is oddly edited so you are never really sure how much time has passed between scenes, and in some cases scenes are left and then arbitrarily returned to after totally unrelated scenes involving the same characters. It seems that the makers of this monstrosity decided early on that this was a comic book movie and so they didn’t really have to take it seriously or do much actual work. I’d like to discuss the acting or directing, but as I found little positive evidence of either I’ll just move on.

So, what worked? Not much. The Human Torch and Thing relationship is pretty reflective of the relationship from the comic book. The Baxter Building is recreated okay, but is the top is oddly shaped from the outside with many windows that are necessary only because the plot calls for later events to be seen across the city. And there is a nice cameo for Stan Lee. That’s about it, and believe me it was hard to find that much good to say about this pile of donkey paddies. What’s even more sad is a sequel has already been approved, possibly with the inclusion of the Silver Surfer, so in two years we’ll be forced to watch FF2: Still Craptastic. Joy.

More than once I wondered if this was in fact a a junior high school student’s film project. I disliked this movie to such an extent that I considered finding a copy of Superman III to watch to feel better about comic book movies. I’ve created more impressive things sitting on my toilet, and spent more time in one sitting then all the research that was done for this film by everyone involved. If there is any justice then Jack Kirby’s ghost will haunt these people for the rest of their lives. While I realize not every movie Marvel makes will be Spider-Man 2, I was hoping for at least some competency in basic filmmaking to be demonstrated. It’s been years since I have seen a movie that was so ineptly made, especially a big budget movie such as this. I honestly wonder if everyone working on this film got hit with some kind of cosmic ray that made them all completely crazy, drunk or stoned. I’d prefer that explanation than the more obvious one that no one seemed to care about putting a quality product that adequately reflected the source material to screen. There is no real cohesive plot or motivation for most of the characters or to help tie the film together. Everything just sort of happens, almost all of it bad. It’s hard to believe a movie with this much backing and hype missed the mark so badly.

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