Review - Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four (2015), PG-13, 106 minutes - Every once in a while, a movie comes out that I'm generally looking forward to, but am not terribly psyched for.  This reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise by 20th Century Fox falls into that category.  In all actuality, I became more interested in seeing this film over the past week as word began to spread that it was less than stellar.  I have read some wonderful stories about Marvel's 'First Family' in the pages of the comics, but they have never been characters that truly caught my imagination.  As a result, my anticipation for the film was tempered by my not being as familiar with the characters as I am with others in the Marvel Universe.  Well that, coupled with the luke-warm reception (which may actually be putting things nicely) of information revealed during production.  Despite that, I tried my best to go into this film with an open mind.  After all, I was intrigued by the cast and have heard wonderful things about director Josh Trank's previous work.  Specifically 2012's Chronicle, which I have admittedly not yet seen.

The film's opening sequences may be the strongest in the film, providing a wonderful foundation for the characters and their story.  It begins with a scene portraying your typical grade school career day and a young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) explaining how he plans to invent a teleporter when he grows up.  Not surprisingly, this is met with mockery from classmates and instructions from his teacher to come up with a 'realistic' job that he could present the following day.  For those not familiar with the comics, even before he gets powers, Reed is considered one of, if not the smartest guys in the room so this was a great way to begin.  We then see the genesis of Reed's friendship with Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann) when Ben catches Reed rooting through the Grimm family's junk yard in search of a power inverter in order to power his prototype teleporter.  Flash forward seven years to the high school science fair where Reed (now Miles Tellar) and Ben (now Jamie Bell) present the pet project to the public for the first time.  Their presentation is deemed a 'magic trick' and not true science by the panel of judges and is disqualified from the competition, but at the same time catches the eyes of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara).  Dr. Storm recognizes that Reed's work is extremely advanced and beyond the faculty's comprehension and offers him a scholarship to the Baxter Institute on the spot.  As it turns out, one of Dr. Storm's former students, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) had been working on a similar project that he called a 'quantum gate' before a falling out caused him to part ways with the institute.  Franklin convinces Victor to return to Baxter and join his team in efforts to crack the key to quantum displacement.  It is around this time that we are also introduced to Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Dr. Storm's other child.  Johnny is a charismatic guy who can 'build anything' but who is a bit of a loose canon and whose talents are being misplaced in Dr. Storm's mind.

At this point I was honestly wondering to myself where the film would go wrong.  It had set up all of the major characters very well, and the one major change from the comics (Sue being adopted and a mixed-race sibling of Johnny as opposed to biological sibling as in the comics) worked well in the story that was being told.  I continued asking myself that question as Dr. Storm's team had successfully completed development and construction of the quantum gate and even managed to use said gate to teleport themselves into another dimension.  A dimension that would be deemed 'Planet Zero'.  The same thought occurred to me as an accident in their return to Earth left Victor stranded on Planet Zero and left Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue with new-found physical abilities and/or appearances (Reed the ability to stretch and contort his body like a rubber band, Ben with super strength but now in a monstrous body made of rock, Johnny with the ability to burst into flame, fly and manipulate fire, and Sue who could now become invisible as well as being able to manipulate force fields).  Reed escapes custody and secludes himself in an attempt to find a cure for his friends, but they feel as though he has abandoned them (especially Ben).  A year later, after Ben, Johnny, and Sue have been working with the military while they tried to rebuild the quantum gate, they come to grips with the fact that they need Reed's genius if they have any hope of returning to Planet Zero.

The group recreates the quantum gate and another team is sent to Planet Zero to collect data that could be put to use towards a cure.  They find that Victor has somehow survived over the past year and the mission is aborted in order to bring him home.  The accident that had caused him to be left behind had fused his spacesuit to his body and imbued it with extra-dimensional energy.  As one can imagine, over a year of solitude on 'Planet Zero' he had plenty of time to master his new ability to control said energy.  He breaks free, murders his way to the quantum gate and uses it to return to Planet Zero.  It was at this time that it felt like I was watching an entirely different film. The nice moments of character development that had earlier reminded me of the comic book adventures I was familiar with disappeared.  Things began to feel rushed, forced, and clich├ęd.  The script became overly simplified and the final third of the film suffered drastically as a result.

After poor reviews started circulating earlier this week, director Josh Trank implied on Twitter that the studio was heavy handed and that the cut of the film making its way through theaters was not the version that he wanted to go with.  He also said that his version would likely never see the light of day.  These comments where deleted shortly thereafter, but not before screen shots of the posts were making their way around the web.  Who knows what actually happened, but it is clear that the film takes a turn about two thirds of the way through.  I don't know if hands were forced by a target run-time (only an hour and forty five minutes, where as many other comic book films push beyond two hours these days) but I personally feel that the same story could have been told fairly successfully with better scripting, editing, and by adding few more minutes to the final few scenes in order to provide the depth seen earlier in the film.

It's a shame that this relaunch of a classic comic book franchise was not able to live up to its own potential.  The cast, which I admittedly questions when first announced (along with many, many others), filled the roles pretty well.  The visual effects were also quite good most of the time.  It reminded me of the 2003 Daredevil film in that the ability of the cast was not an issue, but the structure behind the scenes was.  I'm not even going to try and assess who is to blame, I just know that we the viewers did not get to see the movie that could have been.  

Unless you're an FF fanatic were planning on seeing this film no matter what, I would highly recommend saving the cost of admission and waiting to rent it down the road.  The framework is there - which we can only hope will be built upon for the already announced sequel in 2017 - it just falls flat over the final act.  At this point I honestly think that I would prefer that 20th Century Fox gave up on the franchise and allowed the rights to revert to Marvel Studios so that they could relaunch it in the way they have proven capable of doing with all of their other films (or at least strike a co-production deal like Sony recently did allowing the shared-cinematic rights of Spider-Man).  This iteration of the Fantastic Four is probably a better interpretation than the two previous attempts (2005's Fantastic Four and 2007's Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer - which, in hindsight I was overly generous to), but it still falls short of what such legendary comic characters deserve.












*****SPOILERS*****

- If you should decide to see this film in theaters, don't waste your time sitting around afterwards, there is no mid/post credits scene.

- There is also no Stan Lee cameo.  I know that this is not a Marvel Studios film - but neither were the previous two FF iterations - and he still had cameo's in those films.

- Documentation that Dr. Franklin Storm has on Victor Von Doom states that he is from Latveria - the same fictitious European country that he hails from in the comics.

- I thought that the personifications of Reed, Ben, Sue, Johnny, and Victor were pretty accurate to their source material counterparts.

- At the beginning of the film, when young Reed is making his career day presentation, his teacher asks him about his flying car.  Reed replies that he's not working on that any longer.  In the comics, the Fantastic Four are known for flying around in a flying car known as the Fantasti-car.

- Tim Blake Nelson plays Dr. Allen, who is part of the board that oversees activities at the Baxter Institute.  He previously also played a character named Samuel Sterns in Marvel Studios' The Incredible Hulk in 2008.  So while these roles are in no way connected, he has appeared in a Marvel Comics based film before.

- At one point, after sharing a negative thought, Sue refers to Victor as 'Dr. Doom'.  This is the only reference in the film to Victor's villainous name from the comics.

- When Ben punches Victor in the final battle on Planet Zero, he says 'It's Clobberin' Time!' just as the Thing says in the comics when he's about to beat up on something.

- The Baxter Building in the film is the education and research institute in which Reed, Sue, Victor and Johnny work on the Quantum Gate.  In the comics, the Baxter Building is the FF's base of operations.

- A Mario Bros. fire flower power up can be seen dangling from Johnny's rear view mirror while he is street racing.

- He only says it once, but Johhny does drop his 'Flame On!' line when he activates his containment suit.

- Johnny and Sue's father is named Franklin.  In the comics, Sue and Reed go on to have two children.  One, a girl named Valeria, the other a son named Franklin.

- There have been talks (but no confirmation) that 20th Century Fox may try to produce a cross-over film between the two Marvel franchises they own the film rights to: X-Men and Fantastic Four.  That could potentially created a shared cinematic universe similar to the one Marvel Studios has created with their films.

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