Fantastic Four

| August 7, 2015

As I write this, Fantastic Four has a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and honestly I don’t know why it’s being so universally panned.  It’s not perfect by any means, and I’ll get to my issues with it, but the predominant criticism I keep reading is that it’s boring.  I was never bored by it.  I liked director Josh Trank’s (Cronicle) take on the beloved superhero team, and the casting of the titular heroes are all spot on.

I barely remember watching 2005’s Fantastic Four, but I vividly remember the experience of watching it.  The film had practically no effect on me.  I didn’t like it, and I didn’t hate it, but over the course of the two weeks following my viewing, I grew to loathe it.  It’s possible that my problems with this version will fester in my mind until I end up disliking it, but right now I’m completely in favor of the choices made in this movie.

The casting of the fantastic four is perfect.  I’ve become a massive fan of Miles Teller these past few years with his roles in 21 & Over, 2 Night Stand, and of course the amazing Whiplash, and I was really excited to hear he was cast as Reed Richards.  You completely buy him as the smartest person in the Marvel universe, but also a semi-typical college student.  His relationship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell; The Adventures of Tintin) has a lot of heart.  It’s funny because Reed and Ben are really the romantic leads of the movie.  Their relationship has more passion and emotion than Reed has with future wife Sue Storm (Kate Mara; House of Cards), which I also really like.  Getting pretty tired of throwing two characters together and having immediate sparks and yearning.  Sue and Reed here are colleagues that respect each other completely and there practically no flirtation in their relationship.  Back to Bell for a second, his portrayal of The Thing has a humanity to it that I haven’t seen in the character yet.  He’s big and indestructible, but the emotional weight of his transformation weighs on him constantly in a way that’s present but not overpowering.  It’s one of my only criticisms of the film that he copes with his transformation and his mixed feelings towards Reed really quickly in the climax of the film.

This brings me finally to Michael B. Jordan (Cronicle) as Johnny Storm, which I only originally thought was odd casting because he and Kate Mara are supposed to be siblings.  The movie solves this with one line about Sue being adopted from Kosovo so we’re all good.  I really like Jordan in most everything I’ve seen him in and he is exactly the Johnny Storm character.  I appreciated them giving Johnny a higher IQ in this version of the story though, letting him play a more hands on role in Reed’s inter-dimensional travel project, which ultimately gives the team their superpowers.  I really like the casting of Jordan not just because of the diversity it brings to the mix, but because he’s the best actor for the job.

My biggest problem with the film is its pacing.  Again, not boring, and actually the structure of the movie takes a couple of risks that I think pay off well.  The bulk of the film is about Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) building an inter-dimensional teleportation machine.  When the government attempts to step in and take the project away from them as soon as they prove it works, Reed and his team decide to hijack the project and make the first manned mission to what they call Planet Zero in a parallel dimension.  The planet proves too volatile and explodes with massive amounts of energy that gives the team their powers as they return to our dimension.  I think I speak for a lot of comic book movie fans when I say that we’re sick of seeing origin stories.  Marvel Studios has promised that Ant-Man will be its final origin story film and from now on it’s going to trust its audience to know the origins of any new characters it introduces, starting with Spider-man and Black Panther in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, which is really exciting and I can’t wait to see how that’s going to work.  I think a lot could have been gained by not making this movie so much about the origin of the fantastic four, and maybe just dove into the time after they got their powers and they’re training to use them properly alongside the military.  Then again, I did enjoy seeing the team come together to work on this inter-dimensional project so maybe it’s no problem at all that we see their origin again only 10 years after the last time.

I did find it interesting though that the movie launches into the climactic battle so fast the audience can barely register it.  We have a ton of origin stuff, and then we get to the military training stuff, and then suddenly all hell is breaking loose and team has to come together to save the world.  It’s a similar theme as in the other two live action Fantastic Four movies – that the team can’t do much individually but are perfect as a group, and given how rushed the climactic fight feels, that doesn’t get capitalized on as well as I would have hoped, but being thrown into the battle like that was an interesting choice.

Josh Trank brings some changes and reinterpretations to the Fantastic Four here, and maybe that’s what has fans of the comics at ends with his vision, but as a fan of adaptations that aren’t afraid to step away from the source material a bit and exist on their own, I appreciated his willingness to take risks.  Plus, you can tell he’s a fan of the comics by how imaginative he is with the rules surrounding the four’s powers.  A couple of things were confusing to me, like I couldn’t tell of Johnny needed his suit to control whether or not he was encompassed in flame, but mostly I was on board.  I would definitely be okay with Fox giving up and letting the rights to the Fantastic Four lapse back to Marvel Studios; this film’s blend of humor and real-world stakes would feel right at home in the Marvel Cinematic Universe I think, but I also hope they stick with it and give this cast and director a chance at a sequel, or we could split the difference, give up the rights, but keep this team when the Fantastic Four becomes MCU canon.  That’s really the best way to go.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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