by Patrick Bromley
The new Fantastic Four -- the third cinematic adaptation of Marvel Comics' first family in 10 years -- is bad. Sometimes it's bad in ordinary blockbuster ways. Sometimes its failures are more spectacular. It's a superhero movie destined to be mentioned in the same sentences as Green Lantern and Catwoman.
The big story in so many of the reviews thus far seems to be "it's not all bad." It's rare that critics approach a film -- particularly a huge tentpole film like this, meant to reboot a franchise that Fox got wrong the first time around (and exercise their option to retain the rights to the property while they're at it) -- from a place of assuming the worst and then making excuses for the things that aren't terrible, but such is the toxicity of this film: bad press, massive reshoots, director Josh Trank basically being removed from the production and then tweeting out that the studio should be blamed for its failure upon its release. It is, in the words of the great Roger Ebert, a murdered movie.
But it is not my job to solve a murder. It is my job to examine the corpse. And Fantastic Four has a pretty shitty corpse. While it can help to know some of the context in which a movie was made, all we can really judge as both critics and audience members is what is on screen. It's not fair to blame Josh Trank for the movie's failings, just as it's not entirely fair to (as he himself has done) blame Fox for their handling of the film. This is a case where it seems like they are both wrong.
Miles Teller plays Reed Richards, boy genius who invents the first fully functioning teleportation device with his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). He is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to work alongside his children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), as well as the potentially unhinged Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), to build a teleporter that will travel across dimensions. After they succeed, they discover that the government is going to oust them and deny them the credit they feel they deserve for this world-changing discovery. So they get a little drunk and decide to teleport themselves (because someone has seen David Cronenberg's The Fly). Things don't go well, and the team returns -- well, most of the team, because Sue Storm gets left behind because she's a girl but don't worry still gets super powers just by being in the room when the machine comes back -- with horrifying new abilities.
Up to this point, the new Fantastic Four isn't terrible. There are bad decisions that are made and non-existent characterization and some of the worst lines of dialogue you're likely to hear in a movie this year (including explanations for the origins of both Ben Grimm's catch phrase "It's clobberin' time!" and, worse, the name Dr. Doom), but Trank seems interested in pushing the sci-fi angle of the usual superhero origin material. Once the team travels to the Negative Zone -- a boring-looking rock planet built from CGI and green screen -- and gets their super powers, Fantastic Four falls apart faster than you can say "Tim Story."
Trank's biggest contribution appears to be that he's embarrassed to make a superhero movie -- at least one that exists in the world of costumes and comic books. Everything about Fantastic Four desperately wants to be grounded and tied to reality, which doesn't work when you're making a film about people who get stretchy powers and orange rock skin from visiting an alternate dimension. The movie feels like a holdover from the early 2000s, when studios like Fox were dressing the X-Men in black leather and shying away from the more outlandish aspects of the source material. This means we get a Fantastic Four movie in which everyone wears black suits and Johnny Storm has a button on his suit that controls his flame, because how else could we explain how a guy could turn his fire abilities on and off? The scenes in which the team acquires their powers are treated like a body horror film (more shades of Cronenberg), a valid and unique take on a trope of the genre even if it's all wrong for this material. And don't get me started on the later -- and most Cronenbergian -- sequence in which Dr. Doom walks around making people's heads explode in this PG-13 comic book movie. Apparently someone's problem with previous adaptations of the Fantastic Four is that they weren't dark or hateful enough.
The drama that took place behind the scenes of Fantastic Four no longer matters. Whatever happened, the guilty parties gave birth to a very bad film -- one which appears to have destroyed the reboot of a franchise in one fell swoop. I can't give Josh Trank credit for making a movie that didn't get released, nor can I condemn Fox for "ruining" something that, based on what I could pick out here, I'm not sure was ever going to work. The end result is a movie with hardly anything going for it: the photography is repetitive and uninspired, the characters all wrong, the tone inconsistent, the action laughably bad, the plotting and pacing awful. The Fantastic Four have appeared on film three times prior to this -- once for Roger Corman and twice in director Tim Story's films for Fox. All three adaptations are often considered the lowest of what the superhero genre has to offer. Somehow, this new Fantastic Four manages to be the worst one yet.
I salute you for taking one for the team on this one. Everything about it looks and sounds dreadful. That's a shame, given the talent involved. here's hoping someday someone will figure out and understand the right way to successfully turn this property into a good movie.ReplyDelete
Could it be the source material itself being difficult to effectively convey to the screen as well? We're there any good cartoon adaptations of F4?Delete
I'm honestly not sure, but maybe the material might be more suited for that art form, at least. Perhaps someone should try that.Delete
But make it more of a fun experience than this seems to be.Delete
I agree with you on making it fun, John (good name, btw). A big part of my enjoyment of Avengers and GotG was the apparent joy of the characters on the screen; they actually liked having powers and being part of the team. I also tend to like my comic book heroes knowing that they are comic book heroes, but that just might be the postmodernist in me.Delete
It's 100% possible to make a great Fantastic Four film - just look at The Incredibles, which was undoubtedly and obviously inspired by Marvel's First Family. Perhaps the FF are better suited for animation?Delete
Someone get Lord and Miller or Brad Bird on the case, stat!Delete
"A pretty shitty corpse" is a great line!ReplyDelete
I want to echo that. This entire phrase -- "But it is not my job to solve a murder. It is my job to examine the corpse. And Fantastic Four has a pretty shitty corpse." -- is golden.Delete
I know you said all that matters now is what made it on screen, Patrick, but I believe there's something to learn from a tragedy like this. Here we have some B roll footage that has made it to the net. It shows glimpses of the aftermath of an action setpiece we never saw. And it shows a definite lack of that "abusive and combative behavior" we head so much about.
When I think of situations like the one surrounding Fantastic Four, it reminds me of similar travesties, like the one experienced by Joe Lynch on Knights of Badassdom, and it breaks my heart.ReplyDelete
This is one of those situations mention a lot that even though I know its bad, I heard online its not good and Now Patrick has examined the Shitty Corpse and has had the same reaction, but I still want to see it? I might need to seek help, I must be a gluten for punishmentReplyDelete
SPOILERS for an awful movie....ReplyDelete
The last scene ("what should we call ourselves guys") of this movie is hilarious to me. It is so desperately aping Age of Ultron it's embarrassing. I also love that in the scene before it (when they are in a conference room with the government) that the government put out a box of pastries for them. You never see that in a movie.
Anthony Anderson finished a whole plate of donuts left for him by the feds in that conference room in Michael Bay's Transformers.Delete
It's pathetic to see that the studio cliche of "they did such and such in their movie, we should do that in our movie," is alive and well. William Goldman is still right.
At the risk of repeating myself....we've entered an era of shit genre movies followed by documentaries about "....what a great film this would have been if only...."ReplyDelete
How long before this one comes out?
Like Patrick, I wanted to judge neither the negative hype or the behind-the-scenes but the movie right in front of me. And, what do you know, "F4" is not the piece of shit everyone says it is. It's a severely compromised movie, alright, but one that has more positives worth pointing out than the ones Patrick mentioned. Acting has some weak links (Toby Kebbell, Dan Castellaneta, etc.) but damn, Reg E. Cathey literally carries "F4" on his shoulders. What little affection the main characters endear with the audience comes from Dr. Storm interacting with each of them and not the group with each other. I saw this at a well-attended theater in Harlem, and the interactions between Dr. Storm, Sue and Johnny were received with audible, approving nods (shades of Dennis Haysbert's scenes with Omar Epps in "Love and Basketball") that made me realize maybe this was partly why Trank went color-blind with the casting. The same way an argument could be made Michael Douglas is the real star of "Ant-Man," I'd say "F4" is worth seeing for Reg E. Cathey's performance alone.ReplyDelete
The special effects and even the maligned reshoots aren't so awful or distracting (except for one scene of Human Torch taking down a missile that looks straight out of "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut") as to render the conclusion of the film unwatchable. Reed Richard's elastic powers are Cronenberg-caliber yucky at first (and especially back on Planet Zero), but when he starts bending and punching it's the best I've seen this character's powers represented on film. Yes, you can tell the last third of the movie comes from a different filmmaking team (including "M:I Rogue Nation" 2nd Unit Director Gregg Smrz, joined by his vowel-deficient bro Brian Smrz as co-director), but if you didn't know any better the conclusion doesn't seem completely out of character with the set-up. Everyone was stuck in dark interiors through most of the first hour, and they're still wondering dark hallways toward the end. I call that consistency.
It's questionable why Fox (either when Trank delivered his first version or when they ordered reshoots) would think an underwhelming third act battle could withstand comparisons to contemporary superhero movies' wall-to-wall action scenes. Within the rules it sets up in this universe, though, "F4" delivers a competent and fun couple of minutes of superhero action to cap an origin story in which they're not superheroes (or even a team) yet. I do literally mean a couple of minutes, though, as the 85 min. build-up results in a couple of melees that give way to a snappy (and unearned) coda followed by credits. Like last year's "Godzilla" there's action scenes glimpsed at in monitors (The Thing killed how many people?!?!), and for an action-starved film like this that's annoying but not deadly.
I'm not saying "F4" is a good or even bad-good movie (I don't need to repeat the flaws Patrick and every review mentions), but for the beating and critical clobbering it's taking the mediocre-at-best movie I saw earlier today is nowhere the 'shitty corpse' it's being called. It's the imperfect union of a director whose vision didn't quite match the source material (which doesn't mean Josh Trank pissed all over the "F4," as the reasonably-coherent first hour he directed bears out) and a movie studio trying to retain said IP by throwing money at the problem. And frankly I'm amazed that what ended up being released is as entertaining as it is (not in a jokey Marvel way, but in a moody sci-fi vibe that "Chronicle" showed is Trank's wheelhouse), yet almost everyone either chooses not to see the good parts or ignores them. It's as if everyone wants Fox to dump the property so Marvel can swoop it and bring it back to Marvel Studios... mmmphh. :-O
No, it's what I said.Delete
Ahem! I'd say people should see the movie and judge for themselves. Because before I saw "F4" I'd have said the same thing based on what I read, but seeing the movie changed my mind. It's not even the worst movie I've seen this summer, but C'est la vie.Delete
Sincerely, I think it's great that you want to stick up for this guy. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it.
But he still has to own the parts of the film that the studio didn't scrap.
Even though it wasn't a complete downer of a scene - the Mom saw everything and stepped in - Trank has to own the use of "It's clobberin' time" by the abusive brother.
Even though it ended with a realistic scene between Dr. Storm and Johnny outside the hospital, he has to own that he wants us to ignore that Johnny - a young Black man - just got into a street racing accident in NYC and instead of the cops standing on the hood and shooting 45 to 50 rounds into the car for no other reason than he's a Black male they simply take him to the hospital and call his Dad (we're being "realistic" and "gritty" here, remember).
Reed and Ben's friendship is never fleshed out. Reed learns from Ben how to build things - but does Ben learn anything from Reed? Since Ben is so good at building things why not have Dr. Storm (who believes in giving kids a chance) take on Ben as Reed's assistant and then he's a real part of the group instead of just invited in at the last second because we need a Thing...
Why is it that the only person Johnny shows any affection for - in fact, straight out hugs - is Reed?
I'm sorry but there's more here than studio interference.
I agree. Dr. Storm's character is a well-played real character in this. His reactions to what's happened to Johnny and Sue are moving - and make that scene with Sue that the studio shot all the more unreal (is this the first time they've met face to face? and even if it's not - that's your daughter...how about a hug? or were they worried about ticket sales in the South?)
I'll give the studio the least bit of credit though that they left no "cheat" at the end that Doom wasn't dead. Be interested to see if Trank did the same.
Great minds think alike....
And that Dr. Doom line was awful but if instead she'd said something like, "Thus spoke the Voice of Doom.."...
Kathy, I agree that Trank needs to own up to the scenes that he's responsible for. The ones we can see ... and the ones omitted that we may never see. Just because character relationships aren't fleshed out in this version of the film doesn't mean they weren't fleshed out in Trank's unexpurgated version. We know certain characters behave differently in the third act , and that the third act of the film is not Josh Trank's third act of the film. It's been corroborated and is a fact.Delete
I'd heard about Ben's abusive brother establishing the "it's clobberin' time" catch phrase.before I saw the movie. When I saw that moment play out in context, it never bothered me. I'm reminded of how it was established in the original Fox film -- with a toy Thing that a toy manufacturer made and just gave him that catch phrase off the top of their head. (Or did Johnny come up with it?) It was put to better use in Trank's film, I think.
So by your estimation, will every film involving a young black male getting into mischief, leading to police involvement, have to make some kind of passing reference to what we've been hearing about on the news almost weekly, even if that's not the focus of the story being told? Besides, when this movie was greenlit, had the events in Ferguson even happened yet?
It's been documented by several entertainment and news sites, judging from the trailers and tv spots, aside from the complete extraction of Trank's third act, at least 12 scenes from Trank's film were cut. TWELVE. There's no way Trank's version could have been of any incredible length, so twelve scenes from a possible two hour film is crippling. The movie we have now is, what, about 100 minutes? Extracting the horrendous last act and every scene with Sue where Kate Mara is wearing that nightmarish wig, that still leaves very little that can still be attributed to Josh Trank. Consider also the B roll footage that hit YouTube today which includes green screen footage that looked like the tail end of an action sequence (and involved the FantastiCar, which proves Trank was foreshadowing SOMETHING in the opening scenes of the film), it would be myopic to presume heavy studio interference did not occur, especially when we know, based on a multitude of emerging news through all of the entertainment news sources, that it did. How are we to know for sure that perhaps, in Trank's unaltered cut, Ben WAS a legitimate member of Reed's team? I know I have nothing to substantiate that on and I'm merely guessing, but I feel comfortable with my assertion, considering the circumstances.
The movie is a mess, absolutely. But it's a mess for a very legitimate reason. Judging it like any other regular movie that didn't have its story tampered with... I can't do that, simply because I know it's been tampered with. It's not a cohesive whole, so I can't treat it like it is. Half of this movie was gutted. Character relationships and plot points don't connect and don't make narrative sense? Wow, no kidding. That's because the studio wasn't interested in dotting every i and crossing every t anymore. They were just interested in winning production battles.Delete
This whole production was a fiasco. The studio wanted Miles Teller, Josh didn't. Josh wanted Kate Mara, the studio didn't. Once they were finally cast, after all the delays, Josh supposedly didn't get along with either of them, Kate especially. The studio halted set construction on more than one occasion. That's hours, maybe even days on the shooting schedule being wasted. And then they play their little mind games, fire crew without notice. It's understandable, albeit uncondonable that Josh would lash out at people while this going on.
At the end of the day, it's Fox's movie and they can do with it what they please. But if they didn't want to make the movie that Josh Trank wanted to make, they shouldn't have agreed on his take, and they certainly shouldn't have greenlit it if they were going to renege on almost every agreement the moment principal photography began.
The whole reason why the film probably went into production at all was because it had been seven years since Rise of the Silver Surfer was released, and if they hadn't gone into production on a new movie, the rights would have reverted back to Marvel, and they didn't want that. It was the Roger Corman situation, all over again.Delete
Mike...if you think that Ferguson was the first time such a thing has happened....Delete
Of course I don't. But if what happened in Ferguson hadn't happened, would your notion that a film, any film, approaching a situation comparable to what happened there and since then, have to confront the issue if that film wants to be deemed realistic? Even if the story doesn't pertain to it? Or should the film just concentrate on the story it's telling?Delete
Does Fantastic Four's story need to be put on hold and take a detour into Fruitvale Station to maintain its "gritty realism"?Delete
If what you described occurred in the film it would be judged a gimmick for why Johnny Storm is being played by a black actor. The whole reason Johnny is portrayed by a black actor is to prove the exact opposite: that race shouldn't be an issue.Delete
Michael Giammarino: It was the Roger Corman situation, all over again.Delete
Quite the opposite, actually. Making that cheap movie cost Corman and his producer partner (whose fingers are still on the Fox pie that owns "F4") under a million and they knew it'd never be released. Paying a penalty for not making the movie back in '94 would have cost a couple of million more. Fox just spent approx. $150 million plus (with marketing costs) to hold on to the "F4" rights, and will be extremely lucky to get half of it back. Advantage Corman. :-)
Thanks, J.M., I didn't know the specifics of the situation. I wasn't even thinking about the fact that that film was never meant to be released. I forgot about that part, but I didn't know all the rest, and I especially wasn't aware that Roger's producing partner is still involved with the films. But weren't the rights also going to revert back? I had always heard that.Delete
I really need to see the documentary about that film.Delete
The Tim Story films have always seemed to me like big budget versions of something Roger would have produced. Or maybe Cannon. Hell, the whole budget issue with the Josh Trank film sounds like something Golan and Globes would have done.Delete
* Golan and Globus... sigh... damn auto correct!Delete
I wonder if Bernd Eichinger was a hands on producer on the Tim Story films, or if they were name-only credits.Delete
Okay. The rights WOULD have reverted back, and that was really the only comparison I was making.Delete
Not sure if you can confirm this, J.M., but it sounds like Bernd was overseeing from afar, sort of grandfathering the Tim Story films, while Avi Arad was "in the trenches." Yep, good ol' Avi.Delete
It was my dad's birthday yesterday and near the end of the night we were catching up on Ray Donovan, talking about how many movies we've missed this summer. I've made it to the theater for Jurassic World (who didn't), Trainwreck (my most anticipated movie going into the summer and I loved it), and sadly The Gallows (my sister is a sucker for found footage horror and I can't say no when she asks me to go see something with her). That's it. We talked about how we missed the Avengers 2 and Ant-Man. Then he brings up 'The Fantastic Four' and I immediately had to say to him, 'I'm sorry, but that doesn't look like it's going to be good.' He was so disappointed. He went on to tell me that it was by far his favorite comic growing up and that he actually enjoyed the first two Fantastic Four movies. I did not, especially Rise of the Silver Surfer. It really does beg to ask the question, 'Can anyone make a good Fantastic Four movie?' Maybe some comics just don't translate well to film. Incredible Hulk anyone? Did anyone else just take a look at the poster and think, 'this is gonna suck, isn't it?'ReplyDelete
How about instead of F4, go watch Wyrmwood on Netflix. Perfect movie for all you F Heads who live for SMM. I personally have an aversion to horror (it scares me), but this movie had that mystical "every character is a character" quality about it, while juggling the Aussie zombie apocalypse and Mad Max. There were some scares, loads of blood/gore, black comedy, and poignant moments. The movie has a little bit of everything, and I dare say they made the main character a bit Ash-looking. The movie made me like it. I will probably re-recommend it in Friday's column comments.ReplyDelete
Wyrmwood is the shitDelete
Hell Yeah I love itDelete
"You made it ugly."ReplyDelete
Reed Richards looking at the re-built module? Or Miles Teller to Josh Trank when he didn't know the camera was on?
Since that scene came in the final third that Trank supposedly didn't shoot I'd say it's the former, and one of the few cracks at one-liner levity in the whole flick.Delete
Well, a new Hollywood Reporter article dropped, digging up more dirt on this woefully troubled production. It all but confirms that Fox only made the movie to prevent the rights from reverting to Marvel. It also describes Josh Trank's behavior on set in a little more detail, including a bit more of Fox's poor decision-making. But the article really gets interesting when it compares this troubled production to others, namely World War Z, and Doug Liman's problems on The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. But when the writer of the article contends that Fantastic Four can be thrown on the same heap as John Carter, that's where I draw the line... and I balk. John Carter was NOT that bad.ReplyDelete
If the same Hollywood Reporter article is to be believed Trank's diva behavior during the shoot (letting his dogs destroy a rental home, isolating himself from cast and crew in a tent, etc.) is intolerable. "Chronicle" wasn't that giant a hit for Josh to act as if he walks on water. Fox also looks bad, a studio full of suits that picked Tom Rothman's worst habits that persist even after Tom's golden parachute exit a while back. There's plenty of blame to go around, nobody's hands are clean in this debacle.Delete
Josh has been on Kevin Smith's Fatman on Batman podcast the past three weeks, discussing his journey breaking into the business. I have to say, I have a little bit of trouble believing that the guy I was listening to on those podcasts is as unprofessional as Fox says he is. As far as his rental is concerned, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the dogs were penned up and got out and made a mess of things while he was on set. He's working in the film business; he's not going to be home a whole hell of a lot. As for the tent and what not, yes, it's extreme. It sounds like a guy not used to big budget filmmaking and ill-prepared to big budget filmmaking took a studio job for his second film, got bullied, didn't know what to do, and shut down, isolating himself out of sheer paranoia. But -- again, the guy who sat down with Kevin for three hours so far doesn't sound like he went through the kind of shit being described. Which is probably why news broke today that he's lawyered up against Fox. Things are getting nasty now, and Fox released some really intense things they're accusing him of. One would wonder, if this is what went on, why they wouldn't have fired him midway through the shoot and had him replaced.Delete
^^^ Isn't that what Fox technically did when they reshot/reedited the last 1/3 of the movie without Josh around? It seems Fox didn't want the bad publicity of a director switch midway through production (or they couldn't find their own Richard Lester-type puppet director to do their bidding) which is why they kept Trank around for appearance's sake. The THR article mentioning that Drew Goddard was brought by Fox as a miracle worker of sorts to save the "F4" project was a surprise, but might explain why the final act reshoots still feel somewhat coherent with the first half despite being obviously done by an entire filmmaking team.Delete
If Warner can cash in on their Renny Harlin/Paul Schreider "Exorcist" prequel debacle there'd no reason for Fox to try and make a buck off interest on Trank's version. Unfortunately the lawyering up of by the director and his tweet the night "F4" opened may have poisoned the well between the two parties too much for artistic/financial issues to take precedence over good old showbiz pride.
They waited till the end of the shooting schedule. By that point, wasn't it too late? If they were so concerned, or if he was exhibiting what they considered to be questionable behavior from the beginning, shouldn't they have fired him then? Why would they wait till the end of the shooting schedule? If someone is acting as unpredictably erratic as they describe, they're not gonna keep him on, just because "Chronicle was such a big hit for the studio." Bad publicity be damned. They've got bad publicity NOW. If he is that bad, if he's such a powder keg, replace him before he does something really outrageous. What he really was dangerous, and he harmed somebody in the cast or on the crew? What would be their excuse then for keeping him on? It wouldn't still be "Well, Chronicle was such a big hit for the studio." The first half was still Josh, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg, I think.Delete
There was a big difference between what happened here and what happened with Schrader's Exorcist. At least Schrader was allowed to finish his cut. He wasn't bullied throughout production. He actually had a finished film he showed the studio. And it was then that the disagreements started, Schrader left, and the studio decided to start from scratch, using only little bits and pieces from Schrader's version to save a little time and money. With Fantastic Four, the studio was never letting Josh alone. Not even for a second. This was never a case of "make the movie you want to make, and we'll criticize it later." Far from it. They were hovering over him from the outset. Cutting his budget, removing action sequences, delaying production, firing crew without prior notice. It sounds like hell.
I agree it doesn't really seem fair to judge and criticize this movie like a regular bad movie, because it's not a finished movie. It's barely a movie at all, more like a live-action chronicle (heh) of a string of bad decisions. I guess more than anything else I feel sorry for the movie that could have been. I have a feeling I would have like it quite a bit.ReplyDelete