The Not So Fantastic Four

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I’ve been saying for a while now that I wanted to go see the Fantastic Four movie.  Not because the movie looks interesting or that I’m a huge fan of the Fantastic Four, but rather that I need to see the movie for myself.  There has been so much about the making of this movie during it’s production and rumours leaked onto the internet that some people had written it off before it had even finished production.

To be honest, I was never a huge Fantastic Four fan so I was not worried when I heard the casting announcements or some of the rumours about the direction of the plot.  Now I have seen the movie and I had to give my opinion.

Spoilers ahead.

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This movie is not good.  But, it’s also not completely terrible either.  This is not another Batman & Robin, where it is as Shakespeare said “sound and fury signifying nothing.”  This is more like the last few Spider-man movies, where choices were made, but a lot of the choices were bad.

The movie itself opens with Reed Richards and Ben Grimm as kids in elementary school.  We immediately see that Reed is a genius, or at least he thinks he is one.  I do have to wonder why he is not in some kind of gifted program or special private schooling.  It’s implied later that his parents don’t seem to really care or notice him.  I guess we can blame this one on the failures of the education system.  Considering what happens later in the film, this is minor.

Turns out Reed has already begun to work on a teleportation device but has mostly only succeeded at causing blackouts and blowing up toy cars.  Ben is intrigued by Reed and goes to help him.  After what looks like a successful one-way teleportation we cut ahead 7 years to them in a High School science fair.  Reed and Ben have been working on the project for all this time and they actually managed to teleport a small paper airplane to somewhere and back.  Yes, this is all happening at a High School science fair.  The teachers, including their same fifth-grade teacher, don’t believe him, even though they just saw it appear and reappear.  But, Reed does get the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue who have been working on the exact same project.  Dr. Storm asks Reed join his private genius school at the Baxter Building.  Better late than never I guess.

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A quick note on the most controversial aspect of the movie, it’s casting.  In the comics and in the movie Johnny and Sue are brother and sister.  In the movie, Sue is played by Kate Mara and Johnny is played by Michael B. Jordan.  In the movie, it’s said that she was adopted out of Kosovo.  This drew the ire of many fans went it was announced.  The casting is actually one of the movie’s strong points.  There is a sense of family among the characters, what little time we actually see them all together.

Just like in Age of Ultron we get a science montage in the first act as they all come together to work on the big project.  Adding to the mix of our three main characters is Victor Von Doom (it was originally reported that he was playing Victor Domashev, but it seems that was either misinformation or a last minute change).  Again the casting is good as Toby Kebbell plays him as someone who is aloof and bored due to him being smarter than everyone else in the world and he knows it.  He immediately dislikes Reed.  However, Reed seems to be oblivious to any rivalry or problems between the two.

The project is finally finished, but the suits come in and say that they need to send proper astronauts instead of the people who have been working on the project, which in reality makes perfect sense but they take it as an insult and decide to go anyways without permission.

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Ben Grimm has been mostly absent from the movie at this point, apparently helping Reed work on the device for 7 years wasn’t enough to get him at the Baxter Institute.  A late night drunken phone call brings Ben back into the plot and he joins them for the trip to planet Zero, no really that’s what they call it.  Ben, Reed, Johnny and Victor all hop in the pod and head across space and time to be the first ones to plant the flag before the whole project gets handed off to the feds.

This is where our heroes all get their powers.  An accident causes Victor to fall into a strange glowing pool of energy.  The remaining three try to get back, but Ben’s pod won’t close all the way because it’s full of rocks, Johnny’s pod seems to explode into flames and something stretchy related seems to happen to Reed’s pod.  As they are making their way back to Earth an explosion hits Sue.  Thus all our heroes and our villain have their powers.

The movie opens as a very sci-fi type of story, but after they get their powers it takes an almost horror turn.  As they try to deal with how they’ve been changed.  The Thing is mostly kept in the shadows at first and it helps us to see him as something more monstrous.  After waking up and realizing what’s happened, Reed escapes the facility they are being kept in, leaving the others to fend for themselves.  He disappears from the movie for a good amount of time.  He must’ve read the rest of the script.

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So far up to this point the movie has been uneven and poorly paced but it’s still mostly coherent.  Choices are made by the creators and they are following through with them.  They may not be the following the comics, but the movie does seem to be following it’s own internal logic.  However, shortly after Reed runs away the movie jumps ahead with a “1 year later” time jump and this is really where the wheels begin to fall off.

During our missing year Sue, Ben, and Johnny have all been learning how to use their powers and we get a pseudo-montage with a voice over showing how they what they are capable of.  Sue and Johnny are still in the lab, but Ben has been deployed by the Army and we see he has 40 confirmed kills.  I may not know the comics and the characters very well, but that doesn’t feel like the Thing from the comics.  Johnny is the next to go out in the field and that is what gets Sue and Franklin to begun hunting for Reed.

The feds are trying to rebuild the transporter to take advantage of the other world, but it seems only Reed knows how to fix it.  We get one scene of Reed on his own trying to find a way to cure everyone before the army swoops in and captures him.  There are some interesting fights as he tries to avoid capture, but it’s over in a flash.  This is what becomes the biggest problem of the movie, especially in the final act.  We get just brief glimpses of them using their powers and then much longer scenes of them standing around talking.

After Reed is captured he quickly becomes a team player again and fixes the machine.  There is almost no mention of why he ran away, what he did, what he was trying to do or why he so quickly joined up again.

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A team goes through the machine and discovers Victor alive on the other side, but he has been changed.  Once he is back he starts to open up a portal between the two worlds to do something.  It’s never really clear if he wants to destroy the Earth or rebuild on the new world.  It’s a shame really because although Doom looks silly, he makes a pretty good, menacing villain and has a penchant for exploding people’s heads.  So many heads explode (think a standard action movie gunshot to the head, but no bullets) that I’m surprised this movie wasn’t in danger of an R rating.  He kills some people and then starts up to the machine to head back to the other world.

The four heroes chase after him and begin the final fight.  The fight doesn’t make any sense.  Doom has been trapped on this world for over a year, but yet he seems to know exactly what the powers of the 4 heroes are and how to defeat them.  He was only back on Earth for a few minutes before popping some heads and leaving.  The other major problem with the final fight is that Reed becomes Mister Exposition and is constantly explaining everything about what’s going on and what they need to do, even giving a rousing speech to rally them all together.  Just as you are ready for Doom to make his big comeback and escalate the fight, it’s over.  They saved the day even though we were never really sure what was going on or what was at stake.  Add in some forced character interactions as they try desperately to act like the characters from the comics and the movie collapses on the finish line after a brief 100 minutes runtime.

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The movie’s first act is uneven but good, the second act starts promising but quickly falls apart, the third act and finale are simply a mess.  It’s painfully obvious that there were reshoots and rewrites.  The musical score tries to sound like the Avengers but just feels like a bad copy.  The casting is mostly strong with good performances in the first half, but everything feels forced and phoned in towards the end.  It’s unclear if the director simply lacked a strong vision, if the script was weak or if the studio was interfering.  Although I feel it may be a mixture of all those factors.

Simply put, it is not a terrible movie, but it is a bland and boring movie.

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