FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

What makes a bad movie?

Typically, a bad movie results from multiple elements coming together to produce a poor viewing experience for the filmgoer.  It doesn’t matter if it’s lousy acting, unusual out-of-place dialogue, choppy editing, cheap special effects or any other lackluster parts of the filmmaking process, when these pieces are arranged into what the director calls a “film”, the public will then see it as anything but.  At the very least, it’s referred to as bad.  Hobgoblins is bad. Tommy Wiseau’s legendary disaster The Room is bad.  Admittedly, films like these are so bad they’re often rather humorous (albeit unintentionally), but when it comes to the core execution of the filmmakers’ duties from start to finish, these movies are still quite bad.

Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is not a bad movie. There, I said it.

There’s no need to go into extensive detail regarding the film’s troubled production, which includes reports of Trank’s allegedly erratic behavior on-set such as tension with nearly all the primary cast members and a number of clashes with 20th Century Fox over the direction of the film. In the latter case, this resulted in script re-writes, re-shoots, and a studio who allegedly took a promising director’s project and turned it into something...else.

Critics were quick to pounce on Fantastic Four, trashing nearly everything from the performances to the pacing.  It didn’t help that, the night before the film’s release, Trank took to Twitter to make mention of how his original version of the movie, which he claimed was better than the final product, would likely never see the light of day due to the studio’s meddling.  Taking this Tweet into consideration, the general public’s consensus was that this film was a tremendous mistake. 

The thing is, while Fantastic Four may be a strange film, it’s not a bad one.  In fact, it’s actually a bit fascinating for a number of reasons.

The cliché-ridden plot deviates from the origin story adapted for the screen in 2005, this time taking a different page from the comics and removing the cosmic rays.  Reed Richards is a high school science prodigy who, along with his friend Ben Grimm, may have discovered a way to teleport to an alternate universe.  Recruited by the ambitious Dr. Storm and his daughter Sue, Reed is now given the resources to bring his dream to life, which includes assistance from Sue’s brother Johnny and brilliant outcast Victor Von Doom.  However, after completing the necessary device required to make the journey to what is referred to as “Planet Zero” (a change from the “Negative Zone” featured in the comics), Von Doom is left behind on Planet Zero following an unexpected cataclysm and the remaining four are accidentally gifted with unique powers.  Eventually, the also-superpowered Von Doom is recovered from the parallel dimension/planet as well-naturally, this newly self-crowned, "Dr.  Doom" declares his desire for worldwide destruction, prompting the four friends to come together in order to stop him.  You know, typical comic book stuff.

Watching the movie, you can tell the cast is trying-desperately-and why wouldn’t they?  The five main cast members, which includes Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now) as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain, We Are Marshall, 127 Hours, The Martian) as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan (TV’s Friday Night Lights, Trank’s 2012 found-footage superhero epic Chronicle, Fruitvale Station, Creed) as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tintin, Snowpiercer, King Kong, Jumper) as Ben Grimm/The Thing and Toby Kebbell (TV’s Black Mirror, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom are all supremely talented and doing the best with the script they’ve been provided.  The special effects aren’t terrible either-while the Storm siblings’ and Richards’ powers don’t look all that different from the decent VFX presented ten years ago (not a bad thing), the advancement on The Thing’s appearance from what we saw on Michael Chiklis in 2005 deserves at least some recognition.  Additionally, as stated the entire cast is not at all mediocre by any means, however it’s Jamie Bell as The Thing who provides the best performance, employing motion-capture and some real emotion to portray a young man now drastically physically altered.

The real problems lie in the runtime, the editing and what appears to be entire portions of story completely missing.  Watching Fantastic Four, one may get the sense that the film feels rushed, almost unfinished, sentiments that have been echoed by many others. It’s almost as if a handful of bespectacled studio executives stormed into the editing room and demanded the film be released as is.  The backstories of the main characters are hardly touched on, and the origin sequence-and subsequent recognition of their predicament by said characters-goes by all too quickly.  Moments of real action are sparse, saving everything for the final 20 minutes when we meet our villain, find out his motives, the team engages him in battle and the stage is then set for further adventures. Yes, you heard me right-all in a mere 20 minutes.  It doesn’t help that the movie flies by in just over 90 minutes total, a runtime that, in other superhero films, merely scratches the surface of the story-the mighty Dark Knight trilogy, for example, consists of three films all clocking in on average at around 150 minutes each.

It’s been said before that Fantastic Four feels almost like a trailer for a better film.  I do agree with this to an extent, however I also believe that, somewhere inside this movie does indeed lie a better film, one that could be aided by the inclusion of the many deleted scenes clearly displayed in the trailers seen earlier this year (The Thing dropping from a military aircraft into a war zone, Reed visiting Von Doom in the hospital, a glimpse of the FantastiCar) but never seen in the cut released to the public.  Trank’s now-infamous Tweet seems to indicate that said film does exist, but whether it will eventually see the light of day is anyone’s guess.  Another movie with a similarly-troubled production, David Fincher’s 1992 effort Alien 3, also suffered from behind-the-scenes drama and an underwhelming public reception before an “Assembly Cut” of the film was released that restored 37 minutes of lost footage to the movie in 2003.

When a movie enters the production phase, it’s usually met with a combination of hype and apprehension.  Some sure-fire blockbusters, like last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, seem to approach their release date with little to worry about-such films will obviously make truckloads of cash, n matter how bad the film turns out.  Others, like last year’s Ex Machina, might boast a tantalizing premise that results in people commenting on the film’s “potential”.  Rarely can you apply the word “potential” to a film already released, but I believe Fantastic Four is a movie that warrants such a description.  It truly does have the potential to be great-or, at the very least, pretty good. 

Furthermore, aside from the acting, there’s plenty of other things that Trank and his young cast should be proud of.  The very last minutes of Fantastic Four feature some decent banter any fan of the comics will immediately latch onto.  The few moments of action do indeed leave the audience wanting more, not just during the last battle but even in a mid-point scene where a reclusive Reed is tracked down by Ben.  The score appropriately accompanies the story unfolding on-screen and helps to keep things at least somewhat interesting.  Sure, some of the dialogue may be a bit awkward (such as the moment between Richards and Von Doom where Richards reveals the teleporter is finished) and the board room scene towards the beginning may be cut-and-pasted from roughly every other superhero movie in existence, but that’s nothing a little more editing couldn’t have helped.  Plus, putting the aforementioned deleted scenes back in would help to emphasize my belief that the film is bursting with hidden greatness and may very well assist in overlooking any minor shortcomings.  After all, no movie is perfect, and it’s those minor flaws that make even the best films all the more endearing to us.

It’s interesting to note how similar the majority of reviews have been.  I feel that most critics have jumped onto a negative bandwagon without giving the movie a truly fair shot.  If you intend to take in a viewing of Fantastic Four, unfold your arms, lower your raised eyebrow and approach the film with an open mind. 

Maybe you’ll find something that’s not too bad.