Movies

Peter Suderman Reviews Fantastic Four

It's bad. So very, very bad.

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Marvel Entertainment / 20th Century Fox

It's bad. So bad. So very, very bad.

Here's a clip from my review:

At the heart of "Fantastic Four," the latest big-screen reboot of Marvel Comics' foundational superhero team, there is an important lesson: Don't drink and teleport.

Seriously, kids, it leads to bad things — like this movie, which is perhaps the most ill-conceived and poorly executed superhero film of the modern era. (And I've seen the Ben Affleck "Daredevil" as well as both of Nicolas Cage's "Ghost Rider" films.)

"Fantastic Four" — which, based on the odd marketing, you might think was actually titled "Fant4stic" — is a superhero film with very little superhero action, a $120 million blockbuster with spectacularly shoddy special effects, an ensemble piece starring promising young actors that wastes their talent on a cringeworthy script.

It is a failure in practically every way.

It all starts when some gifted young scientists make the mistake of drinking too much and deciding to venture to another realm in their newly created teleporter.

Granted, the machine they refer to as a teleporter is really more of an interdimensional gateway, but this just reinforces the main point: If you're about to transmit your person through a tear in the fabric of reality, you should probably do it while sober.

This movie, on the other hand, may require a drink or three to numb the pain.

The film follows Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Susan Storm (Kate Mara) and Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), all of whom were recruited by Sue and Johnny's father, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to work at a secret facility for young geniuses. Their project is to build a machine that will transport them to a mysterious alternate dimension, which the elder Storm keeps insisting, for no apparent reason, will lead to an energy revolution.

When they succeed, a sneering suit announces that they will be sending trained astronauts on the first manned mission. Out comes the flask, and soon the members of the group, along with Reed's friend from school, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), are on their way to the world's first interdimensional TUI — teleporting under the influence.

When they return, they've lost Victor, at least for the moment, and they've all developed strange powers: Reed can stretch his body to extreme lengths, Johnny is a human fireball, Susan can turn herself and other objects invisible, and Ben is grotesquely covered in orange rock, or at least a computer-generated simulation of the stuff.

The characters have the same names and essentially the same powers as in the comic books, which helped launch Marvel Comics in 1961, but otherwise the movie barely resembles the comics that inspired it.

At its best, the comic was a family-driven soap opera with the pulpy aesthetics of golden-age sci-fi. The visuals, as drawn by Jack Kirby, who helped define the Marvel style for decades, were feasts of spaced-out imagination. It was a story about the bonds of family, about crazy adventures in far-out space and science, about human struggle and cosmic wonder.

(Read the whole thing in The Washington Times.)

The filmmakers have suggested that Fantastic Four is a hard property to adapt. I don't think that's wrong; certainly the fact that this is reboot number three suggests that it's not an easy project. 

But the mistake, as I argue in the review, is to try to make FF into something it's not. The most successful movie adaptations, particularly when it comes to comic books, tend to capture the spirit, if not every detail, of the source material. The new FF reboot totally rejects that spirit in favor of a grim-and-gritty put-on. A dark, brooding tone works for a character like Batman, but not here. 

Why reject the source material? It's great! Sure, getting the right balance of soap opera and pulpy science fiction might be a little tricky, but there's so much to work with. Jack Kirby's spectacular art on the series alone provides a great foundation. One of the things I admired most about Joss Whedon's Avengers sequel earlier this year was the way it slowed down the action at key moments to stage Kirby-esque superhero tableaus—the cinematic equivalent of splash pages. The Kirby sensibility is not impossible to put on the screen. You just won't find any hint of it in the new film.

If you're looking for a Fantastic Four kick this weekend, your better bet is to stay home and watch the the ultra-cheap 1994 adaptation by low-budget auteuer Roger Corman.Corman's movie was never released, and Marvel execs were so embarassed by the film's low production values that they not only blocked its release entirely, they also attempted, unsuccessfully, to track down and destroy every existing copy

Still, there's something charming about the 1994 film. Yes, it's bad, but it's hilariously, delightfully, honestly bad, and it at least makes an attempt, perhaps too much of one, to respect its source material. Watch the trailer below, or catch the whole thing online here