REVIEW: “Fantastic Four” (2015)

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I doubt many people initially thought rebooting the Fantastic Four series was a great idea. Even though the previous two films made decent money, the cast has clearly moved on and calls for a third movie have been nonexistent. But that didn’t stop 20th Century Fox. Desperate to revive one of their lone Marvel Comics properties, the studio went ahead with their shaky venture. They compounded skepticism with some questionable casting choices and statements made during production that gave comics fans cause for concern.

Director Josh Trank was handed the reins and $120 million to bring his vision to the movie. Trank made a surprising splash with his 2012 debut film “Chronicle”, a movie loved by critics and audiences but one that I found to be inconsistent and predictable. We see these same issues fester up in “Fantastic Four”, but this film’s problems stretch much, much further (horrible pun intended) and the resulting mess of a movie is pretty tough to endure.

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Sleep – Prepare to fight it.

The decision to completely rewrite the superteam’s history proved to be a bad one for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not convinced moviegoers really want to sit through another origin story especially about this group of heroes. Second, when you make the decision to rewrite well known characters and their history you better make sure you have a good story to tell. Unfortunately this is an painfully long and dull origin story and not a single new element offers anything of value.

When I say this is a long origin story I mean it is a LONG origin story. The film starts with Reed Richards meeting Ben Grimm in elementary school. The two build a close friendship around Reed’s garage-based teleportation experiments. Next we jump ahead seven years to Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) showing off the experiment at a high school science fair. They are approached by Professor Franklin Storm (Reg Cathey) of the Baxter Foundation who recruits Reed to help work on a dimensional portal called the Quantum Gate. Reed joins the research team consisting of Storm’s daughter Sue (Kate Mara), his rebellious son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and a disillusioned young protĂ©gé Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).

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I had the same reactions…

The film then lumbers through the completion of the Quantum Gate giving us loads of monotone exposition. It takes a few breaks for personal exchanges meant to add some life and emotion to these characters. It doesn’t work. Not one single relationship feels authentic and the emotionally inert characters are void of any compelling personality. Trank and Company want us to believe that Victor has a thing for Sue. They want us to believe that Sue and Johnny are actually brother and sister. They want us to believe in the inevitable team camaraderie that we get later on. But that’s tough to do when the characters are as interesting as tree stumps.

It’s a full hour into the movie before we get to the experiment that grants them their powers. With the evil U.S. government and specifically scientist and government liaison Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) breathing down their necks, the team decides to use the Quantum Gate and stake a claim on their discovery. Obviously things go terribly wrong. Each are imbued with unique powers but their reactions to their new abilities fractures the team. It’s only when they face a powerful and unexpected threat that they realize the strength they wield as a team. Blah, blah, blah.

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Mara’s expression…through the entire film.

It doesn’t help when the performances are as drab as the story. People are high on Miles Teller but here he flatlines and is embarrassingly bad once the action ratchets up in the final act. Jordan doesn’t offer an ounce of charisma or good humor vital to his character. Cathey’s ultra-serious monotone dialogue is robotic. Mara is strikingly mundane. Yet it’s Tim Blake Nelson who gets the ‘prize’ for the worst performance. He constantly flashes this odd snarky smirk meant to show he is the man in charge. He actually looks like he just sucked on a dozen lemons. In his defense he does get some of the worst lines of dialogue. On the other hand they all get crappy dialogue yet no one is able to rise above it.

Trust me when I say this – reading about the movie is a lot more fun than watching it. You don’t always expect these types of films to be narrative masterpieces, but you do expect them to be spirited, whimsical, and energetic. “Fantastic Four” is a lifeless bore, devoid of any of the ingredients that make these pictures work. Trank has already started pointing fingers at the studios and the studios are already bracing for what looks like a big loss at the box office. I can’t say I’m surprised. Simply put, this is a bad movie and 20th Century Fox should be on the phone with Disney making a deal and getting whatever they can from this now dead-in-the-water franchise.

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

1.5 stars

K&M Commentary : Questionable Casting

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Over the past few weeks several bits of big blockbuster casting news has made headlines and stirred up a great deal of discussion. One of the last commentaries I posted looked at movies and the books they are based on (you can find that post HERE). I talked about creative license and the space that should be given to a filmmaker when adapting a novel, comic series, etc. But I also talked about what I feel is the filmmaker’s responsibility to respect the source material and its spirit. These two particularly bits of casting news has me questioning just how much respect there is for the comic series’ they are based on.

Jesse Eisenburg as Lex Luthor

JESSEThe Superman/Batman film has ran the spectrum of fan reaction. I started off absolutely thrilled with the idea behind the project. I was also just fine with the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman. But since then there have been little comments here and there, especially from Zack Snyder, that has me a bit worried. Then came the news that the iconic villain Lex Luthor had been cast. He would be played by Jesse Eisenburg – a good actor who mainly excels in specific types of roles. While I can see him playing Lex in a Smallville type project, I have a hard time seeing him embodying what has made Lex Luthor such a classic DC Comics villain.

What is more worrisome are statements made by Snyder surrounding Eisenberg’s casting such as taking the character in “unexpected directions”. Then there were the rumors (and I do emphasis rumors) of the character being a streetwise young man. Lex Luthor is an accomplished corporate tyrant and was never the geeky neurotic type that Eisenburg is good at playing. Snyder has hinted at completely changing up the character and his origin which doesn’t seem a bit necessary. I’m still anxious to see this picture but a hint of skepticism has certainly surfaced.

Michael B. Jordan & Kate Mara as Johnny & Sue Storm

Michael B. JordanThe other casting news surrounded 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. Let me be honest, none of the four who were announced excite me at all. But there is one glaring problem that seems to stand out beyond the others. It’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara as Johnny and Sue Storm. Now some will automatically assume that any criticism over this will either be normal fanboy rage or it will be because of race. To no surprise I’ve already read countless defenders of the casting pointing racially judgmental fingers at those of us who think the casting is bad.

maraSo what are my problems with the casting? First off I’ve never fully understood changing the race of a known character who is being borrowed from the original creator. That being said, if there is a better actor or actress who can strengthen the role on screen then race doesn’t matter at all. But in the Fantastic Four its quite different. Johnny and Sue are brother and sister with a rich background. By casting Jordan and Mara together the filmmakers are tossing that history aside to create their own. It’s a pointless and unnecessary change.

Between the two, Jordan intrigues me a lot more than Mara. So why not cast one of several talented black actresses to play Sue Storm and keep that defined brother/sister connection as a key part of their story? Look, I know there is adoption and biracial families which can explain away the differences. But frankly, I won’t be watching the Fantastic Four reboot for its deep and intellectual social and family commentary. This seems like a silly and unneeded move as well as a missed opportunity.

Obviously these are just first impressions. The filmmakers do know the story they are telling and maybe it will work out fine. But both of these castings look to be taking mammoth-sized creative liberties that really seem unnecessary. Are there attention-getting motivations behind them or are the filmmakers throwing aside the source material that made these characters worthy of big screen treatment. Time will certainly tell and regardless of my hesitation maybe these choices will work out.

THE END