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Fantastic Four (2015)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"And You Thought The Esquire Article Was Embarrassing. . ."
1 stars

Like a gambler who continues to double down even after being left nearly penniless by previous ill-advised wagers, the film industry continues in its quest to try to transfer the Fantastic Four, the quartet of mutated superheroes created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, from the pages of the comic books, where they first appeared in 1961, to the big screen. The first attempt came in 1993 when the people who owned the screen rights to the property needed to make a film utilizing them by the end of that year in order to retain them and did so by hiring Roger Corman to produce one on the ultra-cheap with a no-name cast and a $1 million budget. Although the results were terrible (and never officially released, though finding it online is not exactly difficult), the flaws were related mostly to the circumstances of its weird production backstory and the insanity of try to produced an effects-filled spectacular on a budget that wouldn't have covered a Woody Allen film even back then. In 2005, Fox decided to try again but while this version had tons of money behind it and a decent-enough cast (including Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Spellcheck-killer Ioan Gruffudd), the story and direction were so awful that even though it made a lot of money, few people actually liked it and the sequel it spawned two years later, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," was only considered to be a slight improvement at best and the drop-off at the box office ensured the end of the franchise. Ironically, the perfect Fantastic Four movie--in spirit, if not in name--was already produced during this time in the form of Pixar's brilliant superhero epic "The Incredibles."

At this point, one might think that Hollywood might have decided to leave well enough alone and move on to more potentially promising things, like an "Avengers" spinoff focused on Black Widow (or at least a Black Widow action figure) or the long-awaited "Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League." Of course, you can't keep a potentially lucrative revenue stream down and so Fox, as a way of keeping the film rights to the property rather than losing them to Marvel, has decided to once again reboot the franchise with "Fantastic Four." What with the third time being the charm and all, one might assume that the wrinkles that had plagued the previous tries have all been ironed out and that this attempt might actually be, if not necessarily fantastic, at least a worthwhile bit of late-summer entertainment. One might be terribly wrong with that assumption because this iteration somehow manages to bring together all of the flaws and none of the virtues of the early films, adding in plenty of its own home-grown inanities to boot, and the end results are dire beyond belief.

Taking its inspiration from the origin tale laid out in the so-called Ultimate Marvel alternative timeline introduced in 2004 (one of the countless reboots and reimaginings that remind me of why I largely eschewed comic books as a hold to focus my attentions on gory Italian horror movies and women way out of my league), the film begins as pre-teen science whiz Reed Richards, along with best pal Ben Grimm, attempts to get his plans for a teleportation device up and running with the usual wacky results. Seven years later, Reed (Miles Teller) is discovered at his high school science fair by the eminent Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter, Sue (Kate Mara) and offered a scholarship to continue his research at the top secret Baxter Institute. Along with Dr. Storm's troubled son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan)--who just wants to be all fast and furious and stuff--and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel), a troubled computer genius who originated the research that Reed has perfected before going off the proverbial rails, Reed perfects his device and is able to send it to and from a planet from another dimension with resources that could help replenish those on our planet.

After learning that their project is now in government hands and that astronauts will be taking the first trip to Planet Zero, Reed, Victor and Johnny get drunk and decide to make an unauthorized trans-dimensional jump to show the big boys what-for and Reed even invites Ben (Jamie Bell) along for the ride. Not surprisingly, things go higgledy-piggledy and when Sue manages to bring the device back, Victor has been left for dead on Planet Zero and the others--including Sue--have somehow contracted bizarre powers. Reed can stretch his body to amazing lengths, Sue can become invisible and generate force fields, Johnny can burst into flame and fly and Ben has been transformed into a giant walking rock collection, dubbed Thing, that smashes things. Inevitably, the government (represented here by Tim Blake Nelson) wants to return to Planet Zero to harness these powers for military applications but when they do, Victor mucks things up by utilizing his powers and twisted genius to destroy Earth and it is up to the now-squabbling Four to come together and save the world.

This "Fantastic Four" was co-written and directed by Josh Trank, whose previous film was "Chronicle," a sort-of superhero origin story about a group of kids that encounter an alien device of some sort, are imbued with wild powers that they struggle to deal with and wind up going into battle when one of them goes crazy and threatens to destroy everything and everyone he feels has wronged him. This sort of explains why a director with one film under his belt would be put in charge of such a potentially big franchise--he has already done a similar version before to general critical and commercial success--but the trouble is that it seems that Trank used up all of his ingenious ideas on "Chronicle" and had nothing else to bring to the party this time around. Considering the rumors of behind-the-scenes troubles surrounding this production, one might expect to encounter a mess of a movie but it is more boring than anything else. For reasons that continue to baffle me, the screenplay generated by Trank, Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater spends so much time humor concentrating on the minutiae of the building of the transport device that a.) we never get any sense of the bonds growing between our heroes as they become the first family of superheroes and b.) it takes almost an hour of screen time before they acquire their powers.

In a properly paced film, this might not necessarily be a bad approach but since "Fantastic Four" clocks in at only 100 minutes or so--pretty brief by superhero epic standards--that means that there is only about forty minutes or so (less the time needed for the end credits roll) for those powers to be put to any sort of use. Since it can hardly come as a surprise to anyone paying money to see the film that our heroes will acquire odd powers, form a unit and battle Dr. Doom, it seems weird to make moviegoers slog through such a pointless, humorless and ridiculously extended setup to get to it. And since much time has to be devoted to the big final confrontation, a lot of seemingly important stuff winds up getting shuffled to the side or lost in the rush to get to the conclusion, such as an explanation of why Doom wants to destroy everything (other than apparently being born for it) or the exact nature of his own special powers, other than a brief glimpse of him popping heads a la "Scanners," a bit that does lend the film its one brief bit of life but which may prove to be too gory for younger viewers.

Also helping to sink the film is the generally terrible job of casting nearly all of the major roles. Casting younger seems to be the rage among superhero reboots these days but if anyone wanted to see an example of the perils of such an approach, they need look no further than here. If the movie had exploited the idea of young people with astounding powers (as was the case with "Chronicle"), this might have worked but as is, you just get the sense that you are watching the JV squad to run out the clock before the big guns come in to save the day. Individually, the actors aren't much better either. I admit that I have never been the biggest Miles Teller fan but even factoring that in, he is simply awful here--not only does he look too young and callow for the part, you don't even get the sense that his character is anywhere near as smart as he is supposed to be. As Sue, Kate Mara is so fatally bland that even before she acquires her superpowers, she is pretty much invisible as is. Jamie Bell is certainly unusual casting as Ben but once he transforms into Thing, the character becomes an entirely CGI creation and Bell has little else to do but contribute his voice.

Controversially cast as Johnny Storm (apparently there are people out there shocked to the core by the notion that the Human Torch could be an African-American guy), Michael B. Jordan (who also appeared in "Chronicle") acquits himself the best of the four but is hamstrung by the lousy script that tries to give him a moody rebel motif that flies in the face of the giddy elation that the character is famous for having. As the malevolent Victor Von Doom, Toby Kebbel is not so much a figure of fear as one of rich, unintentional humor--while I admit that my knowledge of comic book lore is shaky at best, I am fairly certain that the future Dr. Doom should not in any way resemble one of the background players from "Hackers."

Based on this franchise's checkered history in regards to screen adaptations, it is likely that anyone going into it will be doing so with markedly lowered expectations but even then, "Fantastic Four" still manages to completely miss the mark. Unless the sight of woefully miscast actors standing around in silly costumes trying to feign interest in the anonymous CGI imagery floating around them does something for you, there is absolutely no entertainment value to be taken from this one--there is no excitement, no humor and no justification for its existence. It is so bad, in fact, that it may actually accomplish what the rogue's gallery of villains that the quartet has faced over the years in the comic books have failed to do--destroy the Fantastic Four (at least their cinematic incarnation) for good.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24698&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/06/15 16:43:15
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User Comments

1/05/16 FireWithFire I thought it was quite magnificent entertainment. 5 stars
9/12/15 David As bad as everyone says it is 1 stars
8/27/15 Laura They shouldn't have done this remake. There are so many unknown s-heroes out there 3 stars
8/24/15 DillonG An embarrassment in every way. So much wasted potential. 1 stars
8/14/15 mr.mike Some effects are lacking but at least there is no forced humor. 3 stars
8/10/15 Danielsan Could have been better for sure, but not nearly as terrible as is suggested. 3 stars
8/08/15 Toni Should have listened to critics... awful awful awful 1 stars
8/08/15 Bob Dog Most underrated movie of the year! 5 stars
8/06/15 Tony Brubaker I want to bugger Kate Mara. 5 stars
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  07-Aug-2015 (PG-13)
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