Sunday, June 12, 2016

Give Us Your Worst, Part 28: Fantastic Four (2015)

Welcome to the twenty-eighth installment in my ongoing series exploring despised superhero movies. If you'd like a better explanation, I'll refer you to my 2011 introduction post expanding on the concept.

There have been four attempts at adapting the Fantastic Four for the screen, and to date none of them have been good (if you seek wordplay or puns, try elsewhere - I take my responsibilities more seriously than that). At nine percent, this is the lowest-rated movie in its franchise by a factor of three. I skipped this in theaters last year but it finally showed up in my Netflix queue.

First of all, this movie is underrated. It's not good, but it's easily the best movie ostensibly about the Fantastic Four that's been made. I can't quite bring myself to say it's the "best Fantastic Four movie," because that would necessitate equating the characters in this movie to Marvel's first family. And, while this is the best film, it's the furthest from an accurate adaptation, at least of the classic incarnation of the team.

These aren't the FF, and this isn't a superhero movie. It's a science fiction film where the characters get powers halfway through, and the movie falls apart as a result.

Until then, I actually thought it was pretty good. It opens with Reed and Ben as kids. At this point, the movie feels like an 80's adventure story - think ET or Goonies - which is a fairly inspired way to re-imagine Reed Richard's childhood. Unfortunately, we only spend a few minutes with this before jumping ahead to them as young adults.

The movie doesn't lose all its energy yet - as it introduces the new Sue, Johnny, and Victor, it swerves into standard SF material. None of these characters resemble their comic alter egos, but they're likable enough as scientists in a cheesy genre movie.

It's when they get transformed that things take a quick turn for the worst. The plot falls apart, and the characters stop being interesting. As the movie careens towards a contrived and ultimately meaningless action sequence where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, it becomes tedious and dull. There are a few moments when the action and effects offer an interesting image or sequence, but not nearly enough.

I remember rumors that this production was marred by studio interference and altered plans - I can't imagine that wasn't the case. It felt like someone had a vision for what this could be, but that whatever that vision was, it got dissected by committee. There was no way this was ever going to be a perfect adaptation, but it could have been a solid re-imagining. For a while, it was exactly that, but it couldn't sustain that level of quality past the first act.

Instead, we're left with something that's hard to pin down. It's nowhere near as bad as its 9% score suggests, but it's not some sort of misunderstood gem, either. It's a movie that's got very little reason for existing - obviously, Fox was trying to keep the rights, but they had no interest in the classic version of the team. They turned to the Ultimate Fantastic Four for inspiration, then used it as an excuse to cast young actors. But the Fantastic Four were about nostalgia when Stan Lee made them in the early sixties - the name itself rejects attempts to modernize it. The hilariously pitiful box office response demonstrates that. If the world wants a Fantastic Four movie, it wants one that pays homage to the team's roots.

Hopefully, Fox will toss in the towel and hand the rights back over to Marvel, so we can finally get a decent cinematic version of the team and their nemesis. I'm sick to death of these technorganic monstrosities sullying the name of Victor von Doom.

No comments: