Review - "Fantastic Four"


In 1997, Joel Schumacher released Batman & Robin, and the rest, as they say, is history. Batman didn't see another movie for years, and superhero movies as a whole were thrown into jeopardy until Sam Raimi saved them five years later with Spider-Man. Just saying the title of Schumacher's disaster-piece is enough to make anybody who knows their movies break out in cold sweats. Of course, I don't think it's that bad of a movie, personally, but that's another argument to be had another day.

I'm talking about this because now, almost one generation later, we might have something similar on our hands.


Only, this time, it's much, much worse. Because while Batman & Robin had spectacle, bombast and flair, this new movie is a joyless husk whose entire purpose is to set up sequels, at the expense of actually telling a story. But this is nothing new. Marvel's latest output could be summed up with that description. No, what's unique about Josh Trank's Fantastic Four is that it fails spectacularly in almost every possible department, in such a baffling display of incompetence that it makes the mind work overtime, trying to wrap itself around how a major release, in 2015, could be this absurdly, egregiously, overbearingly bad in every possible department. 

And that's not hyperbole. Let's leave the actual narrative aside for a moment and look at this from a pure filmcraft standpoint. If we're going to judge it by its special effects and action sequences, it's an abject failure. The CGI in Fantastic Four made me question if I had traveled through time to the mid-90's, which was basically the Wild West of horrible, unconvincing computer effects. Only, somehow, this is worse than even that. Reed Richard's stretching limbs look like something out of Sharknado. The Thing's rock-skin-stuff makes me long for the giant sand face in 1999's The Mummy. Entire CGI backdrops look like those cheap CGI shorts from 1990's bowling alleys. I could go on listing the different effects in this film that are absolute garbage, but there's no point in pointing out specific parts, because all of it sucks. A Michael Bay movie, while usually plotless trash, at least has fun special effects that manage to keep me engaged throughout an otherwise thoroughly awful film. But Fantastic Four can't even manage that. The thing that could actually be a saving grace ends up making the whole experience even worse, and pushes it over the edge into a veritable slideshow of laughable special effects that aren't special and have no effect other than to make the whole thing feel like a SyFy Saturday Night Movie on the big screen... only worse, somehow.

Fantastic Four's amateurish filmmaking doesn't end with the effects, either. The combined effect of the pitiable editing and cinematography is perhaps the second-worst thing about about the entire experience (next to the narrative.) It's so lazy and slapdash that it makes me have a greater appreciation for famed shlockmeister Tommy Wiseau (of The Room infamy.) The camerawork is claustrophobic and static, 90% of it lazily hovering on dull shots of characters talking when it should be focusing on... well, anything else, really. Even during action sequences (of which there are only 1.5 in the entire film,) the camerawork lacks any impact or urgency, leaving us to fantasize about what those brief, uneventful sequences would look like in the hands of somebody who knew what the hell they were doing. 

But nobody behind this movie knew what the hell they were doing. That much is made perfectly clear by the editing, which gets as close to Ed Wood levels as a major Hollywood production can in 2015. Kate Mara's hair magically changes colors, lengths, and styles several times in the same scene. Headphones drift in and out of ears with no attention to consistency. One character is magically playing a video game (ironically another abject failure, Assassin's Creed Unity,) without actually holding a controller or using a keyboard. The time of day changes without any sense of time passing, leaving the viewer to wonder how several hours just magically disappeared. It is unbelievable how utterly awful the editing in Fantastic Four is. Almost every scene left me gobsmacked at how abhorrently inconsistent everything was. I wasn't even able to laugh at most of it, because I felt sorry for whoever has to have this colossal failure of a film on their resume. This is the sort of movie that ends careers and ruins lives.


And that counts double for Chronicle director Josh Trank, whose decrepit garbage disposal unit of a film defines the very term "sophomore slump." Aside from his haphazard direction, his script is a trainwreck of unformed ideas, underdeveloped characters, and a nonexistent plot, all crammed together into perhaps the worst narrative I've seen in a movie of this scale since... well... I'm not even sure. The plot somehow feels too rushed and too slow all at once, mainly because there barely is a plot. Everything that occurs in Fantastic Four could be described in one, maybe two sentences, without leaving anything important out. Almost an hour passes without any major events happening, and even then, the major events are so predictable and dull that it feels like little to no payoff for the audience. We, as an audience, play the waiting game for things to happen, and then again once they actually start happening. That's why I can barely summarize the plot: to even provide the smallest summary would actually be spoiling the entire film, and that's no exaggeration.

But to save you a hundred minutes of your life, here you go: two childhood friends meet three other people, and they go to another dimension. They all get powers, but one goes rogue,  and the rest of them have to team up against him. Fate of the world hangs in the balance, power of teamwork is taught, blah blah blah. That's it. That's all that really happens. And trying to stretch out the description by focusing on smaller details actually makes the whole thing seem about ten times stupider. One plot point is literally, "three men get drunk and upset about not being famous, so they decide to go to another dimension while still drunk." Another is, "man turns evil because he is presumed dead and therefore wants to destroy the entire world despite people coming to save him." You can't make this stuff up, folks. Fantastic Four is a masterpiece of hackneyed writing.

A little hackneyed writing can go a long way, though, and I could see serious repercussions for 20th Century Fox releasing this cosmically irradiated abomination to theaters. This year was already feeling pretty rough for superhero movies, with Age of Ultron being an underwhelming heap and Ant-Man being an above-average but somewhat tepid little movie. The market is becoming over-saturated with big-budget comic book movies, each studio eager to out-do the other with their hot takes on pre-existing material. Comic book films are the new childhood toy and board game adaptations, in the sense that there's too many all at once, and any sense of fun and wonder is gradually becoming bogged down in an undeniable feeling of sameness. I'm a lifelong comic book fan, but after Fantastic Four, I'm not looking forward to any of the upcoming comic movies. Even the ones that look good, like Deadpool, or the ones I care about, like Captain Marvel. I just don't care anymore. I'm over it. Give me something new and fresh.

That's how joyless, rote, incompetent, lazy, uninspired, generic and, above all, fucking miserable this all is.  It made me hate something I've always loved.

Fantastic Four is many things. A joyless reboot cynically manufactured to crank out sequels. A failed attempt at making a more grounded, subdued superhero film. A fourth failed attempt at making a Fantastic Four movie that isn't awful. But, above all, it's a thoroughly terrible movie that fails at every possible turn, one that confounds a viewer at just how thoroughly awful in every department it is. In all my years of watching movies, I can't think of a Hollywood blockbuster that has failed this much since the turn of the millennium, and it's almost worth seeing just for what an unbelievable trainwreck it is.

But that would require actually watching Fantastic Four and, frankly, I'd rather undergo the painful process of actually becoming The Thing than ever see this simpering, pathetic joke of a movie ever again.

Grade: F- 


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