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Friday, August 7, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)



Fantastic Four is a Negative Zone, dropping dead on arrival on movie screens. Directed by Josh Trank, who has since become estranged from 20th Century FOX and disavowed the theatrical cut, Fantastic Four is a dour monster movie about supposedly smart teenagers doing something really stupid and causing havoc to themselves and to others. The ostensible hero of Fantastic Four is the brilliant Reed Richards (Miles Teller), whom we meet as a ten year old boy genius misunderstood by his parents and outwardly despised by his teacher (Dan Castellanetta, who, like Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World, is somehow still Richards' teacher 7 years later). Richards' greatest invention is an inter-dimensional teleporation device. Reed created a functioning one in his parents' garage when he was 10. Seven years later, he's still perfecting that exact same device and somehow believes the proper showcase for such a potentially world-altering invention is a high school science fair. 

At that very science fair, Richards is recruited by the cast of House of Cards - Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg. E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) - to join the Baxter Foundation, some sort of think tank in New York City that has a virtually identical device as Reed created, but lacking the ability to bring organic matter back from the other dimension (creatively dubbed "Planet Zero"). Franklin Storm has a bunch of crazy ideas about Planet Zero possessing the answers to the mysteries of the universe and questions about the origins of our own world, as if current science already hasn't sussed much of that out. Planet Zero is a gruesome, post-apocalyptic wasteland of craggy cliffs, nightmarish lightning skies, and yeah, let's go there, that place looks awesome. Franklin Storm pairs Richards and Sue (whose special science talent is pattern recognition) with the guy who created Baxter's teleportion machine, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a moody, angry, pouty genius whose speeches about the world deserving to die raised red flags that got him kicked out of Baxter, but Dr. Storm brings him back anyway. Completing this fantastic foursome of science is Franklin Storm's biological son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), a fast and furious street racer who wiped out his whip and is doing his dad and sister's science-y stuff to get his ride back. 

The fantastic foursome of science get the inter-dimensional teleporter up and running, successfully sending a brave chimpanzee to Planet Zero and back. (Sue pointedly tells Reed at one point that one of her jobs is to design the environmental suits to be worn by the people going to Planet Zero to protect them, but they send the poor chimp over sans any protective wear.) When Tim Blake Nelson, one of Baxter's big wigs, witnesses the successful demonstration and decides to contact NASA so they can send qualified astronauts, Reed, Johnny, and Victor get drunk off a tiny flask of booze and decide they need to be the Neil Armstrongs of this brave new World Zero. Reed then recruits his loyal-to-a-fault best friend since childhood, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), to join them on this fantastic voyage, and Grimm goes along unquestioningly. The sexist jerks left Sue at home, but she's naturally alerted to the teleporter machine suddenly going online, and when the inevitable disaster on Planet Zero occurs, Victor is seemingly killed and cascades of unexplained energy come through the dimensional rift, striking Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Sue and transforming them in different, ghastly ways.

We know how this turns out: Reed can stretch, Sue can turn invisible and project force fields, Johnny can burst into flame and fly, and Ben is bombarded by alien rocks and turned into a giant orange rock monster. Now under the supervision of the US Government, Reed runs away from the secret facility they're held in, while the other three find themselves in service to the military. Ben in particular becomes a valuable operative in the field, and Johnny is next up to join him, finding their abilities weaponized. A year later, Sue locates Reed living on the run in South America, trying to scrounge the materials to build yet another teleportation device. Super genius Reed Richards only knows how to invent one thing. Reed is reacquired to join his fantastic friends, just in time to watch a military team teleport to Planet Zero and meet... Dr. Doom, who somehow survived, encased in his containment suit, sporting vaguely defined psychokinetic powers, and has become completely insane. Hey Victor, how was Planet Zero? What'd you do for that year? Oh, it doesn't matter. Victor's plan is to open a wormhole that will suck Earth into Planet Zero and destroy it. Then Victor will be the only one left, and yeah. That sounds pretty great. So the Fantastic Four combine their fantastic powers and stop him and that's that. Bizarrely, Fantastic Four ends almost identically to Avengers: Age of Ultron, with the newly minted team looking over their new headquarters and the screen cutting to black before Reed can say their new team name out loud.

Fantastic Four is a drab, lurching bore. Taking place mostly in laboratories, cramped hallways, somber, dimly-lit rooms, with the occasional field trip to a horrible alternate world of death, Fantastic Four lacks any of the joie-de-vivre of Marvel's superhero movies or even the sly wit and self-awareness of  studio-mate FOX's X-Men franchise. As Reed Richards, our leading man, Teller has all the charisma of inert Flubber. Chemistry between Teller, Mara, Jordan, and Bell is sorely lacking, be it in their interpersonal relationships (Mara and Teller, destined to be married in comic book lore, ignite as many sparks as a mouth full of Pop Rocks) or as a collective unit. As brother and sister, Mara and Jordan barely even look at each other, much less project any familial bond. Also, Mara's Sue Storm was born in Kosovo, for reasons the movie has no idea what to do with. The storied rivalry between Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom is practically nonexistent; just a quick scene of jealousy over Reed flirting with Sue and a quickie exchange over who's "smarter." The pathos of Ben Grimm, transformed into the monstrous Thing, is reduced to him moping in a dark cell in between going on black ops where he gets to smash enemy tanks. More than half the movie expires before the Fantastic Four actually gain their powers, but as per usual with this franchise, Fantastic Four drops the ball once again in imagination, rushing into the final confrontation with Dr. Doom and resolving it with uninspired action and minimal drama. As for hoping Fantastic Four ignites a reinvigorated franchise for FOX, pffft. This reboot of Fantastic Four is one and done. Back to the old drawing board.