Tuesday, August 25, 2015

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg & Josh Trank


Directed by Josh Trank


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  August 18, 2015  7:25PM




The Fantastic Four are a group of superheroes, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, who gained their super-powers after being heavily exposed to cosmic rays during a space expedition. This collective became one of the most popular comic books in the Marvel Universe. After a low-budget Roger Corman production in the '90's that never saw the light of day and two more recent films that made some money but were far from critical favorites, the latest version brought to the screen is also far from fantastic. "Fantastic Four", directed by Josh Trank whose only previous feature was the low-budget hit, "Chronicle", is filled with too much silly science, dim-witted drama and not nearly enough fun or adventure.

We are given another origin story but it has been completely reworked and not for the better. This time, a teenage genius, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) along with his classmate, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter their high school science fair with his invention of a device that can transport objects. While not entirely successful but it works well enough to capture the attention of Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a scientific research institute. He offers Richards an opportunity to further develop his project at their lab. The idea is to merge Richards' invention with a failed device created at the Baxter by a sulking Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) with the hope of a working machine.

Franklin's children, Sue Storm (Kate Mara), his adopted daughter and hot-headed son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) also help work on the experiment at the lab. After the team successfully transports a monkey to a planet in another dimension with their space shuttle called the Quantum Gate, it's now ready to test on humans. Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), the supervisor of the Baxter, thanks the team for their hard work but informs them NASA will be taking over the project. After a drunken celebration, the boys decide they should be the first to test their invention. Reed calls Ben to join them and they sneak off for a trip to another planet.

Once they arrive, the scientists set out to explore this alien world. Their presence causes a serious disruption, setting off a series of violent explosions throughout the landscape. As they race to get back to their shuttle, Victor falls in to a void, forcing them to leave him behind. With Sue back at the base to help them return, their space craft explodes on re-entry, exposing them all to cosmic rays.

We know they all survive but each has been altered with strange powers. Reed now has a body that can stretch to great lengths. Sue has the power of invisibility, can create force fields and travel through the skies like Glinda, the good witch. Johnny's body is engulfed in flames and Ben has become a giant with brute strength but his body is covered with a rock-like substance. The big, bad government holds the foursome in confinement to observe them but Richards manages to escape, feeling guilty for their condition.

A year later, the remaining three are trained to learn how to control their powers. Grimm is sent out on secret military missions with the others soon to follow. Dr. Allen is actively trying to track down Richards so he can recreate their previous voyage. The young scientist is found, mislead to return to planet with the goal of finding them a cure. After they arrive, miraculously, von Doom is found still alive. Not only has the doctor been changed, he is pissed.

"Fantastic Four" can't shake the feeling of rushing it's narrative even though the pacing moves at the speed of molasses. Even by comic book standards, the characters are non-existent with the plot over-the-top and full of gaping holes.

Social media expressed it's outrage over the casting of the African-American Jordan in the role of the usually blond, blue-eyed Johnny Storm. I didn't mind the switch (in fact, I found it the one inspired moment in this film) but what I did mind was the lack of an expressive wit the Human Torch usually displays in comics or even in the previous films. Here, Johnny Storm plays one note, unpleasantly sullen. The rest of the cast is equally lackluster with Mr. Teller, coming off his amazing performance in "Whiplash", faring best which isn't saying much. The only thing notable about Ms Mara here is the distracting change of her hair color and length throughout the film. This is the first time that the rock-covered Thing actually looks believable on screen but the complete waste of the gifted Mr. Bell (who first made an impression as a boy in "Billy Elliot") is unforgivable.

Much like the recent remake of "Spider-Man" that starred Andrew Garfield (which is incredibly getting rebooted again), this latest "Fantastic Four" feels commonplace and marginal. It may not have started out that way but after the well-publicized friction between the studio, the director and the actors, this film was a disaster that didn't have much of a chance. The results is a problematic adventure that has been salvaged the best it can.