Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Fantastic Four" (2015) Somehow Makes Superheroes Boring

Fantastic Four (2015), Source: Fox
Summary: When a group of teenagers enter an alternate dimension, a freak accident grants them superpowers. Bound together by their new abilities, they become a Fantastic Four. But when one of their team plans to destroy the world, they must work together to stop him.

I'd read all the reviews, and seen all the news about the debacle that became Fantastic Four (sorry, that should be Fant4stic, according to the movie poster). I thought it really couldn't be as bad as everyone said. And I was right. Fantastic Four isn't the worst superhero movie ever, despite all the negative press. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace still holds that crown. If anything, Fantastic Four is actually okay up to a point. The problem lies squarely in the middle and end, which is why it's so disappointing. There was plenty of potential to this movie, which makes its wasted resources so frustrating.

The movie starts out well. We see a young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm working together to create a teleportation device, and succeeding. Cut to when they're teenagers, when their experiment at a science fair draws the attention of the Baxter Group, another organization working to perfect an interdimensional transporter, which Richards (now Miles Teller) can help to perfect. Richards gets to join the organization, where he meets the beautiful Sue Storm (Kate Mara), the wisecracking Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and the antisocial genius, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Together, they work together to create the interdimensional gateway and secretly transport themselves to another world nicknamed Planet Zero. But in the alternate reality, a mysterious energy attacks and transforms them. Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), pelted by rocks, becomes a rock-like humanoid Thing. Johnny, set on fire, becomes a never-ending flame. A Human Torch. Richards...for some reason...becomes elastic and Mister Fantastic. Sue Storm, hit by some sort of energy wave, turns into an Invisible Woman. And Doom gets lost in Planet Zero, seemingly dead.

There's a real sense of horror to their transformation, as they can't control their powers. Richards is strapped to a table with his arms and legs stretched out. Johnny screams in horror as he watches himself seemingly being burned alive. Sue fades in and out of existence while her adoptive father watches with dread. It's a great moment where we see how superpowers can be like an illness instead of something cool.

Up until this point, it's all good. There's a sense of excitement and direction as they head towards the moment when they become the Fantastic Four. But here's where the movie loses its way.

The military, as we all know from thriller movies and TV shows, loves to exploit superpowers for military use. Because that's what they do, right? Yeah, that cliche knocks the movie onto its butt. The military takes over, imprisoning the scientists to turn their powers into super-soldiers. Richards manages to escape, but the others remain behind. The movie picks up a year later as Sue and Johnny are given suits that allow them to control their abilities, and are subjected to experimentation. Grimm has become a reluctant warrior, fighting on the battlefields for the Army. Richards is hiding in Mexico, trying to cure them.

This part of the movie is far too long and dull. It's basically just the superheroes sitting around, complaining about what's been done and how to escape. They never fight anyone, except for a brief moment where Richards is re-captured by the military, and punches them with stretchy arms and legs. But then he's taken back to the lab, where he works to send them back to Planet Zero to find a cure. For some reason.

So they go back to Planet Zero, and discover Doom is still alive. He's been fused with his environment suit, which I guess is their way of doing a different take on Doom's classic armor, except it doesn't look anything like his armor. That's a fail. And somehow, he has weird powers which allow him to blast everyone in the lab and return to Planet Zero. He plans to open a portal to destroy the Earth. For reasons not immediately clear.

It's hard to describe how uninteresting all this is. With the Fantastic Four, you expect them to be fighting crime and supervillains. Not sitting in a lab having debates about morality. And Doom is really too much of a cipher to be scary. We don't understand why he suddenly wants to destroy the world or what he plans to do once that's done. Why would he want to return to the desolate Planet Zero? What was up with that mysterious energy, which seemed like it was alive? Is it controlling Doom? Is it teaming up with Doom? And what exactly are his abilities and how does he get them? And how did Doom survive for a year on this world, which looked like it had no food or water? And if you took Doom out (which is entirely possible since he only shows up at the very end), you have a movie about people with superpowers doing nothing with them.

Bottom line, this movie somehow manages to make a guy made of rocks, a guy who can shoot flames, a guy who can stretch, and a woman who can shoot force fields look about as dull as that can be.

Some other random thoughts:

  • I wish they'd followed through on the "this is why they got their powers" theme. Rocks, fire, that made sense. But how did the energy turn Reed stretchy and Sue invisible? Why did it fuse Doom into his suit and give him telekinetic abilities? It's like they just gave up.
  • Mister Fantastic is known for his ability to change shape, but this movie really just makes him a guy who stretches out his arms and legs. At one point, he changes his face to disguise himself as someone else. But for some reason, he never does anything like that again.
  • They never actually gave their super-names in the movie. I guess they were trying to be low-key, but why not just say it? It's like watching X-Men where no one calls Logan the Wolverine.
  • Apparently, the ending was changed due to reshoots because the studio said the ending was dull. But considering this ending was still kind of dull, I can only imagine how dull the original ending was. Given the tone of the rest of the movie, I'd guess it involved Doom and the Fantastic Four sitting around a table, arguing about the morality of U.S. military intervention in global affairs.
  • They couldn't spend five minutes to explain what's going through Doom's head? He was lost on an alien world for a year with only a green energy pool for companionship, and he doesn't have anything to say about that?
My Rating: Two out of Five Stars

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