Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fantastic Four (2015)

Year 8, Day 117 - 4/26/16 - Movie #2,317

BEFORE: Miles Teller carries over from "Whiplash", which could now be thought of as the film where J. Jonah Jameson teaches music to the young Reed Richards - or is that just me?  

I'm going to try to avoid my usual rant about reboots, because I'm sure everyone's sick of it by now - hopefully I can find something else to talk about after viewing.

THE PLOT:  Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

AFTER: I can't avoid the elephant in the room - I was in the comic shop yesterday, getting my weekly fix, and the cashier said to me, "Hey, how's that new Robin book, I've been meaning to check it out".  He was referring to "Robin, Son of Batman", which features Damien Wayne, Batman's son (long story) as the fourth (or is it third?) Boy Wonder.  I responded much more cynically than perhaps I should have, saying, "Does it MATTER?  They're only going to reboot the whole universe in a few months, anyway, so what's the point?"  (Which is true, DC's "Rebirth" storyline is the next "soft" reboot, scheduled for after the books from the current timeline, "The New 52", tap out after just 52 issues)  But the cheery clerk persisted, saying, "Hey, maybe it won't be that bad, they're going to keep some of the good elements from the current reality."  Which to me is approximately equal to saying, "Hey, that guy only killed FIVE people, so he's not so bad, he could have killed TEN."  

So it's only been eight years since the LAST "Fantastic Four" movie, which was pretty bad because they started telling the story of the Silver Surfer and never really finished it, I mean, Galactus showed up but he was just like a cloud or something, and it really didn't make much sense in the end.  But at least the actors (Jessica Alba, Chris Evans) were well-cast and looked the part.  But nope, let's erase the chalkboard and start over, because why the f*ck not?  There's a whole new generation of teens that were too small to go out and see the last incarnation, and that's the demographic we really want to target.  

The Fantastic Four started with a simple concept, back in 1963 - a group of four adventurers that were eager to win the space race, so they snuck into a rocket ship and headed for the moon.  The scientist, his best friend, his girlfriend and her brother, only they got hit with some wacky cosmic rays and crash-landed with superpowers - the stretchy guy, the strong rocky guy, the invisible girl and the fiery guy.  They became a mainstay of Marvel Comics, even if the roster changed over the years a little bit, they had some of the best villains - Dr. Doom, the Puppet Master, Psycho-Man, Annihilus, Kang, the Frightful Four, Galactus and his heralds, etc.  For a long while, it was known as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine", which during the 1980's, for me anyway, wasn't much of an exaggeration at all.

But to tell their story today, you need to do a little updating, because we've already BEEN to the moon, so I think in the last film series our heroes were attempting the first interstellar travel, and here they're attempting the first inter-dimensional trip.  Right, because that's a thing - shouldn't we go to another planet before we go to another dimension?  Just saying.  I can't help but notice this set-up's similarity to both "The Martian" (journey to another planet, one team member gets left behind) and the last season of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D", which also had a team member stranded after traveling through a wormhole.  Which is annoying, because it means that with a little more planning and coordination, this film's plot COULD have been easily worked into the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

BUT, since Fox owns the right to make "Fantastic Four" movies (as well as the X-Men ones), it means that they can't really play nicely together, they have to exist separately.  And as long as Fox makes a new crappy film every few years, it seems like they'll retain those rights, forcing Marvel to (allegedly) cancel the long-running "FF" comic book in order to devalue the property, eventually causing the rights to revert.  This could be true, because after the recent "Secret Wars" cross-over two members of the core Four joined other groups (Human Torch joined both the Inhumans and the Avengers, and the Thing joined the Guardians of the Galaxy) while Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman were tasked with repopulating the universe with new alternate realities, or something vaguely confusing like that. 

BUT, let's focus on THIS movie for a short while - I don't know if it's as bad as people all said it was, because it definitely qualifies as a Fantastic Four film, in that there are four heroes, and they have powers that make them resemble the characters from the comic books, and they do fight Doctor Doom, only he's not so much of an Eastern European dictator type, but rather an introverted computer expert from Latveria who likes to wear hoodies and keep other guys from dating Sue Storm.  And that's where the slippery slope of "hey, let's make this better" starts to affect the overall plan.  

Look, I don't care about the Human Torch being African-American now, if someone feels that will make the character more relevant, go ahead - but DON'T do it just because this is traditionally a comic-book full of white people, and you want to make the film more appealing to black viewers.  That's the wrong reason to do the right thing.  American movies want to do well in China, should we make the Invisible Woman Asian?  Once you start changing things to make the story more "relevant" (aka "profitable") where do you stop?  Reed Richards goes from his late thirties to his early twenties here, obviously to bring in more of a youth audience.  It's a seductive trap that eventually leads to compromising the quality of the story for the sake of the almighty dollar.  

Characters rise and fall in popularity, of course, and sometimes they come and go, and sometimes they change race, like there's a black Captain America right now in the comics (formerly the Falcon) and I'd like to think that was done for the right reason (diversity) rather than the wrong one (marketability) - but who knows?  Largely it seems that writers write what they want to write, and anyone writing a team book like "The Avengers" gets to put whatever characters he wants on that team, or whichever ones he needs to tell the best story, ideally.  

But as I saw in the documentary "The Death of Superman Lives", once you start making these little creative choices, each of which might be perfectly reasonable on their own ("Hey, what if Superman fought a giant spider?"  "Hey, what if polar bears guarded the Fortress of Solitude?") when you make too many changes from the original story, and you put them all together, you might realize that collectively, you've strayed much too far from the original intent of the story, and I think that's what happened with this version of "Fantastic Four".  

And too easily, all of those little changes can add up to a bunch of nonsense - for, like, a thousand reasons (OK, maybe 100) this is not the "Fantastic Four" I grew up with - Reed Richards is a young nebbish (hey, Ben Grimm's supposed to be the Jewish one), Ben Grimm is too short and non-Jewish, Sue Storm is from Kosovo for some reason, and seems to be more intelligent than Reed, and Human Torch?  Again, don't want to make it a racial thing, but he's not the Johnny Storm I grew up with.  Maybe this is the Fantastic Four that could have caught on with the millennials in the post-Gen X world.

But we'll never know, will we?  Because the director, Josh Trank sent out ONE tweet the week before this film opened, claiming to have a much better cut of the film that the studio would not let him release.  And honestly, it sounded like sour grapes, because he was a young director who had made just ONE feature before this, and suddenly he was filming a superhero movie and arguing with his studio.  I said it at the time, and I'll say it again - either you have final cut and you fight, fight for the edit that you want, or you don't have final cut, and you shut the hell up.  The right thing to do, if he didn't believe in the final product being released, was to say nothing - if the film was a hit, he'd reap the benefits and if it was a flop, he could blame the studio and push for the release of the Director's Cut DVD 2 years later, and prove his point that way.  But to sabotage his own film that way - jeez, now I don't know if he'll ever get the chance to make another one. 

OK, the IMDB "trivia" section on this film breaks down the way that Josh Trank's cut of the film would have been different.  I'm going to sign off now and go read that, out of pure curiosity.  

Also starring Jamie Bell (last heard in "The Adventures of Tintin"), Kate Mara (last seen in "The Martian"), Michael B. Jordan (last seen in "Red Tails"), Toby Kebbell (last seen in "The Counselor"), Reg E. Cathey (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "The Big Year"), with cameos from Dan Castellaneta (last seen in "The Pursuit of Happyness"), Mary-Pat Green (last seen in "XXX"), Tim Heidecker (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Chet Hanks. 

RATING: (an appropriate) 4 out of 10 lab coats

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