It was the Saturday of opening weekend for the Fantastic Four. We went to a matinee. We even went a little early because when we went to the same showing of Jurassic World, we were turned away. Make no mistake, my expectations for Fantastic Four were nowhere near as high as for Jurassic World. The underwhelming audience response, however, was even more of a surprise than the complete about face that Fox took in its approach to this movie. Fantastic? Not so much, though it did have some really solid moments.
The Fantastic Four was one of my favorite Marvel properties when I was growing up. I liked it for a lot of reasons, but I think it was primarily because of the relationships. The bond between the Four was family. Perhaps because of the grit Fox decided to inject, or perhaps because it was yet another retelling of their origin (so the characters were all new to one another), there was not an ounce of family to be found. As a matter of fact, in order to contrive the grit they manufactured the opposite of family. Instead they filled the movie with dysfunctional family. Reed Richards was the product of a broken family with the stereotypical, beer swilling step father. Ben Grimm was brought up in a junk yard with the abusive older brother. Johnny had a strained relationship with his father who paid more attention to his military industrial complex, weapons developer job, and Sue was the adopted daughter.
Controversy wracked this production from the beginning. The mixed race Storm family was the most obvious. I have to be honest, it didn’t bother me a bit. What bothered me was that, again because of their desire to inject grittiness, I didn’t buy that Sue and Johnny were brother and sister. It wasn’t because of their mixed race–it was because either through the script or the final edits, there wasn’t enough brotherly and sisterly moments to establish the family relationship. Make no mistake, this was not the fault of Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara. I thought their acting was quite good.
I felt the same about the relationship between best friends, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm: There just was not enough built into the script for them to work with. Either that or it ended up in the editor’s recycle bin, hopefully to show up in a director’s cut on the DVD. More importantly, we never got to a point where there was an inkling of Reed and Sue being Reed and Sue. It’s the family relationships that put the fantastic in Fantastic Four.
Additionally missing? Banter. Johnny Storm is a smart ass. The banter between Johnny and Ben is another essential element in the Fantastic Four story. It’s fun, it’s funny, and any FF story is lost without it. Do you know why it was missing? Witty banter and gritty don’t necessarily work well together. So, whether it wasn’t in the script or it was edited out, it wasn’t in the film.
This was the fourth installment of the Fantastic Four on the big screen, although the first was a 1994 film that had a budget similar to Sharknado. That film was never actually released to the public, but right now, at least until someone finds out, it is streaming in its entirety online. I actually watched all of it before I sat down to write this. It isn’t for everyone, but I actually enjoyed it for what it was. And while it lacked money or a script, it did have the family elements that Josh Trank’s version lacked.
What wasn’t missing in the film? Dr. Doom. Four films total, and four appearances by Doom. It’s as if he was the only villain the Four ever faced. Even in the second installment of the Tim Story films, when the story was about the Silver Surfer and Galactus, they had to shoe horn Doom into it. I’m Doomed out. A lot of other choices were possible here.
Let’s talk a little about the forced grittiness of the film. Grit is in now (thanks, Christopher Nolan), but there is a time and place for it. Batman is the perfect vehicle for grit, and Nolan was brilliant with it. It is also working well in Netflix’s Daredevil and CW’s Arrow. Not so much in Fantastic Four. It is hard to believe that whoever chose to go that route had ever actually read one of the comics. By choosing a darker version, it forced the creative staff to cut ties with the spirit of the campiness that makes the Fantastic Four fantastic.
In the final version of this film, either the studio or Trank forced into place the trademarks of the Human Torch and The Thing. Exactly once each, Johnny said “Flame On” and Ben said “It’s clobberin’ time.”
The final version on this film has the trademark catch phrases viewers and readers expect from The Thing and The Human Torch: “It’s clobberin’ time” and “Flame on!” respectively. In fact, they said their trademark lines exactly once each, almost as if the studio was trying really hard to force it, and they felt extremely out of place. It was more sad than a tiny string connecting this film to the actual subject matter. I was certain (and maybe, it happened in the film Trank, in a now deleted tweet, claims he created), that there was more of that. In the very earliest of trailers, there is a scene where Ben is playing baseball. That scene, among others in the trailers, never made the final cut. It would have been a perfect place to establish that Ben said the words “It’s clobbering time” before he said it once later in the film. You either have to be all in with those connection points, or don’t bother doing them at all.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice things in the film. Cinematically, I thought it was excellent. The special effects were fun, and the CGI used to create the Thing made him so much better than the foam rubber suit, reminiscent of a Cheesehead hat, that Michael Chiklis wore in the 2005 and 2007 films. The science was excellent. As a geek, I appreciated that. Toby Kebbell nailed it in the early parts of the film as a younger Victor Von Doom. He was part of the team, and when he and Miles Teller’s Reed Richards were doing their calculating, it was a joy to watch the genuine friendship and admiration the two had for each other. Overall, I liked the cast, but I just didn’t feel like they were given much to work with.
So, what’s next? Will this incarnation of the FF be limited to one film (probably), or will Fox make another go at it? This isn’t the first time that a cast was good, the creative decisions were bad, and a franchise was later turned around. Truthfully, I thought “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solice” were on the low-end of films in the Bond franchise, and I thought “Skyfall” was the best 007 flick to date. What changed? They actually tied the film back to the source material. We got Moneypenny, and a cool car and a lab full of techs creating cool gadgets. Most importantly, we got a villain who was over the top like the baddies in the early films. The threat of world domination or world destruction is the key to a good Bond outing. Point being, they got rid of the grit-for-grit’s-sake-Bond, and reconnected with the Bond that people actually wanted to see. The same needs to happen with the Fantastic Four. It’s absolutely doable. Full disclosure, I didn’t hate the 2005 and 2007 versions. I actually kind of liked them. Not Avengers liked, but not Ben Affleck Daredevil disliked either.
Also worth discussing in the “What’s Next” category: Will Fox give the rights back to Marvel, or team up with Marvel Studios like Sony did with Spidey? Jess Chobot over at the Nerdist takes the words right out of my mouth when she says “Aw hell no”.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to money. Where the 2005 and 2007 films had budgets of $100 million and $130 million respectively, this new version needs $175 million just to break even. The first two opened with weekends of $56 and $58 million, and last weekend saw the Four open at $25.6 million. It might just be too much of a swing in either direction for Fox to take another chance, and that would be too bad.
This franchise is 100% salvageable, even with this cast. Lose the grit, make it fun, bring back the banter, leave Doom on the bench for one film, and get a damn Stan Lee cameo back in there. There’s the real secret.
+ It’s the Fantastic Four
+ The Cast
+ Visuals were great
+ The science.
– Gritty. Using grit in the Fantastic Four is as good an idea as using it in the Ghostbusters reboot.
– Blah script. You guys at Fox need me to write a quick one? Tweet at me.
– No banter ,family, or love between the title characters.
– No fun. Come on, it was a little fun in 2005 and 2007 when Jessica Alba kept ending up naked when she was learning her powers.
– Doom. Send him to the locker room. He’s turning into Brett Favre, never knows when to quit.