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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four

Okay, I had a bet with myself going that this couldn't be as bad as everyone said it was. I mean, for starters, even bad superhero films, like X-Men 3 and the like, tend to still be enjoyable, in the same way that eating three poorly made pizzas is enjoyable, but still something you regret doing. Also, the film has Michael B. Jordan - who is an excellent actor and whose casting for Johnny Storm was pitch perfect - in one of the leading roles, and Jamie Bell, who I wouldn't have chalked up as an actor for Ben Grimm but who is always a joy to watch, in another. And Toby Kebbell! I love Toby Kebbell!

But also, as a colleague pointed out, it shouldn't be that difficult to do a Fantastic Four film. Maybe back when the last one, with Ioan Gruffudd and Chris Evans, released when the Golden Age of Comic Book Films hadn't quite started, and studios were still convinced that the kitschy ridiculousness of the whole thing would put people off. But not now: In a Hollywood market where The Avengers and Batman v Superman can happen, The Flash can be one of the most popular shows on television, and Guardians of the Galaxy can become a blockbuster, there's really no reason why you shouldn't be able to do the Fantastic Four justice on the big screen, because there is a proven market for ridiculous superhero kitsch, and that is the lifeblood of the Fantastic Four.

As it is, I've never seen a squeamish about its own content before. I've said before how I find DC's live action films intolerable because they're so squeamish and nervous about their own subject matter that watching it always feels like the director is next to you, sobbing and apologising for it all being so silly, but my word. The scales have fallen from my eyes, people, that was but the tip of the iceberg as far as comic book film squeamishness goes, and Fantastic Four is the great, jagged mass of ice and dust beneath the surface.

This is the weirdest super hero suit.

Set in roughly the modern day, the film follows Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, two teenage boys who build a functional teleporter for their school science fair (yes, you did read that one right), leading them to be recruited by scientist Franklin Storm and his university-slash-science-think-tank-slash-interdimensional-teleportation-laboratory the Baxter Foundation. Teaming up with Franklin's children, Susan and Johnny Storm, and dropped-out Baxter Foundation student Victor von Doom, the five teens set out to build a quantum gate that can teleport them to another dimension. But when they're told that they won't be the first ones to visit the other dimension, the four boys set out to secretly travel there themselves, with disastrous results.

Did you notice how I didn't mention superpowers there? Well, that's broadly speaking because I don't like to put late-film plot developments into the synopsis, and none of the Fantastic Four exhibit any superpowers until fifty minutes in. The film's an hour and a half long. In a superhero film about superheroes, the eponymous superheroes have superpowers for less than half of the film's run time.

Their supervillain, presuming we're not counting good guy Victor who is in most of the film, only shows up an hour and five minutes into the film. The eponymous team only all appear on screen with their superpowers an hour and twenty minutes into the film. 

This is what Victor von Doom looks like by the end of the film. I'm - I'm just speechless.

This is what I mean by squeamishness: This is a film that doesn't want to be a superhero film. It wants to be a film about teenage scientists discovering an alternate dimension, and you know what, there is a film in that. Not a good film, or at least not if the same writing team got their hands on it, but a more tolerable film than the superhero film that clearly hates being a superhero film. Even after they get their superpowers, there's a distinct sense that the film is flinching whenever it has to show them, like it doesn't really want to have these characters use their abilities, but they're contractually obliged to.

That kind of approach is so irritating to watch that even if the film was brilliant in every other sense, and this film is terrible. There is not a single character in this film who talks or acts like a rational human being, from the first scene where a random teacher habitually mocks a small childl to the scenes where Reed casually tells someone whose biological parents are dead that he wishes his were; to the scenes where Victor responds to the idea of sending trained astronauts on a mission to another world by screaming "MAYBE WE SHOULD WATERBOARD PEOPLE TOO," and nobody replies with "That's a slightly odd jump to make, Vic,"; to the final scene where Johnny makes a frankly cruel and mean-spirited joke to Ben and everybody just laughs it off.

Whenever there are multiple ways a scene could go, it either goes in the most boring direction or the most absurd direction, and there is never a middle ground. Not ever.

Unlike Reed, Victor, Johnny and Ben, whose fields of expertises are all well defined,
all we're given for Susan is a nebulous 'she can see patterns', so that's - weird.

The acting weirdly starts to degrade over the course of the film, as well, as if by the final scenes the entire cast just wanted to leave. Miles Teller and Kate Mara, playing Reed and Sue, are always terrible, from start to finish - but Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell actually start off all right, and just get worse as time goes on. By the time the last few scenes were playing, every line they spoke sounded like they were rattling off shopping lists.

When the story isn't being ridiculous, it's being boring. The pacing is glacial, with long stretches of the film where almost nothing happens, with scenes that are meant to be character development but just fall flat again and again and again, with the result being a film that is about one third ludicrous and two thirds dreary. Deeply, depressingly dreary.

It shouldn't be this difficult to take a promising property and turn it into a good film. It shouldn't, and yet we've ended up with this, the absolute worst film of the year so far. That might seem like an odd thing to say coming from somebody who watched Insurgent, but it is, it's just - god, it's just terrible, don't watch this film.

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