Sean K. Cureton

Another Potential Four

In Movie Reviews: 2015 on August 22, 2015 at 11:45 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Fantastic Four (2015)
Directed by Josh Trank
2 out of 4 stars

There’s something within the second act of Josh Trank’s third theatrical adaptation of Marvel Comics’ First Family that gets at the source material’s sense of wonder and awe with the possibilities inherent to scientific invention. After the viewer has forced themselves through the thankless task of watching a first act wherein Miles Teller as Reed Richards and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm grow up in a small, blue collar town just outside of the Big Apple, there is an extended dramatic movement wherein Richards and company pull together to establish a means by which inter-dimensional, deep space travel may be accomplished. Watching Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, and Toby Kebbell as Victor von Doom discover a means by which Teller’s childhood dreams might be accomplished is genuinely exciting and infectious in its spirited optimism that’s suggestive of a better film than the one that viewers will ultimately receive in the film’s third act. Unfortunately, once Richards, Grimm, Johnny Storm, and Doom make their trans-dimensional journey to a planet maddeningly ambiguous in its titular signifier of Zero, suggesting more than a mere lack of quantifiable objective matter, the film collapses in upon itself, with issues of plot and narrative consistency arising from the script’s illogical construction and rhetorical incoherence. The cast that make up the Fantastic Four team of the comics is capably handled by a cast of well seasoned young actors, but Trank’s film ultimately fails, for more than one reason and another, and the young Hollywood director in effect delivers one of the worst comic book films of the past decade, with the latest adaptation of Richards and company being more laughable than Rise of the Silver Surfer was in 2007.

It’s obvious from scene one that Trank wanted to make a different film than the one that distributor 20th Century Fox ultimately put together via professional coercion of their creative talent otherwise at the helm of the project. The issues that took place behind the scenes are well documented by now, with some of them seemingly more crucial than others, though based on the evidence at hand it becomes impossible to easily blame anyone or, for that matter, award anyone the title of sole creative director of a project such as this one. Watching the film becomes an exercise in self-laceration of the human psyche, as each and every line of dialogue is overburdened with the dead articulation of ideas and character archetypes that come with all of their narrative clichés in tact and utterly undisguised. Fantastic Four (2015) is boring without effort, largely because there was no seeming effort put into the writing and re-writing of the film’s impotent script that serves time and time again to strangle the better visual concepts and set pieces conceived by Trank initially and at times engaged earnestly by the film’s accomplished performers. The film’s shortcomings come across bluntly and without any seeming attempt being paid to aesthetic invention on the level of visual storytelling in marriage to the film’s script, resulting in a flaccid finished product that is an unfortunately made follow-up to Trank’s well liked superhero drama debut Chronicle, Fantastic Four (2015) a sad imitation of the director’s debut glory all around.

Like Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Trank’s new Marvel Comics caper for the big screen will be lethargically maligned for years to come, with a larger audience of moviegoers otherwise disengaged with a franchise that very well could have been. Without the meddling that occured from studio executives at 20th Century Fox, Trank’s First Family might have become something more in keeping with his super-kids in Chronicle, a film that married the visual majesty of special effects laden set pieces, observable in some of the more inspired scenes in Fantastic Four (2015), with a compelling narrative driven by intimate character studies. During the second act of Trank’s finished film, there is a cliche ridden but sustainably held scene between Mara and Teller in which the two future vigilantes flirt coyly via dialogue delivered with emotional tenderness and conviction only to be deflated by the sheer obviousness of what is an otherwise consistently mediocre script; and there are many more near hit scenes like it, including several held between Jordan and his movie father Dr. Franklin Storm, played by veteran character actor Reg E. Cathey. Despite such moments of melodramatic intention. the film always come off as laughably sophomoric and more in keeping with a meta-textual deconstruction of the familial and fraternal tropes being brought up again and again throughout the film’s runtime. Such scenes would be seemingly more at home on an episode of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! than they are within a more overtly sentimental coming-of-age piece, leaving Trank’s film unsuccessful in fully coming into its own on the merits of a net worth of any summation of its incongruous parts.

With a follow-up already in the works from 20th Century Fox, including a planned cross-over with the studio’s other Marvel Comics independent property X-Men, there is no sign that there will be any cessation of feature films featuring Reed Richards and his team of space traveling cosmonauts anytime soon. Yet such a turn of events isn’t necessarily bad, per se, as even Trank’s latest effort to bring the Fantastic Four to life is more interesting and self-sustained than any one of the efforts to be most recently included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Marvel Studios. Fantastic Four (2015) is a leaden, tone deaf adaptation of its source material, but in its brief moments of insight and narrative invention a greater film shines through the lesser production’s portentous shell. Certain moments and images are viscerally awe inspiring and existentially resonant throughout, though they never lead anywhere interesting due to the film’s underwritten dialogue and plodding progression of plot. When the Fantastic Four come back to the big screen in June 2017, it will be interesting to see whether or not another director might be able to salvage something from the promise upheld in Trank’s film’s second act without devolving into the messy cliché-ridden third, as Fantastic Four (2015) isn’t a bad film; it’s conceptually sterile, which is far more egregiously disappointing.

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