"You've opened a door you don't know how to close. You don't know anything about what's coming." Victor Domashev
That quote should be used as a warning to the audience as this film is fast becoming the stuff of legend, and for all the wrong reasons.
The story behind the making is still unfolding, and in all probability the full truth will never be known, but what’s on screen is pretty much an object lesson in how not to make a tent pole summer blockbuster.
Director Josh Trank was the director behind Chronicle, a surprise hit that seemed to have come from nowhere a couple of years ago. It was actually one of the better “found footage” films, taking a group of young men as they develop super powers and document their change on film.
So far, so good. Fox wanted to reboot their Fantastic Four franchise with a new, younger cast (a big mistake in my opinion, because the two previous films had worked very well, delivering everything I expected them to and that cast totally nailed their characters).
Another factor playing in to this is that Fox needed to get a Fantastic Four movie out pretty quickly to prevent the rights to the characters reverting to Marvel Studios. This same contractual clause resulted in the less than satisfactory Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance which was another rushed venture.
So, marry up a hot director with an ensemble superhero movie to his credit with a reboot of The Fantastic Four and magic happens, yes?
This is what we know.
Chronicle was Trank’s ONLY film to date and although it’s basically the same circumstance that Colin Trevorrow found himself in when he was assigned to direct Jurassic World, Fox failed to align their director with an experienced mentor which is what Universal did with stunning results.
Trank also is not a fan of Marvel Comics, and chose, unwisely, to write the script based not on what the characters are in the source material, but what he thought they should be with no regard for the fifty four year history of the characters. Rookie mistake, reeking of arrogance.
Marvel at this point saw what was happening, had no recourse to alter the script or halt the film because they had sold the movie rights to the characters years previously. They chose to distance themselves by actually cancelling one of their best selling titles. The original Marvel title, actually – Fantastic Four #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was the first title to be published under the banner of the Marvel Comics Group in 1961.
Alarm bells rang when Trank isolated himself from cast, crew and studio, refusing all offers of help as the production spiralled out of control, forcing the studio to eventually take the film away from him.
The result was that they has an incomprehensible mess on their hands, and after filming had completed, new scenes had to be shot, the actors recalled – wearing a wig in the case of Kate Mara in the role of Sue Storm who had changed her style in readiness for her next movie. (The wig never matches the original colour or length, so it becomes a game when watching the film to spot trank’s footage with the post production footage. Her hairstyle, it’s length and colour can even change in a scene.)
So, all of this had to be rushed through, re-edited with a new ending in order to hit that all important summer blockbuster release date, while the disgraced Trank, (now officially no longer helming a Star Wars film as had been announced, nor the Spider-Man spinoff Venom as was once rumoured) snipes at Fox, while Fox snipe back.
But what about the film itself?
Well, if like me you came to this as a Marvel comic book superhero fan, you’re in for a colossal disappointment, as it fails on every single level.
Tim Storey’s Fantastic Four and its sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer caught the essence of the first family of superheroes with unerring accuracy. (I’m actually stunned that Rise was released eight years ago! Where did the time go?) Reed Richards had authority, Ben Grimm was cynical, Johnny Storm was a comically arrogant but likeable ass, Sue Storm was the glue holing the team together as partner/wife, sister, referee and all round mother while fighting alongside them. Sadly, the direction of the new team is a bland, unlikeable bunch of assholes. (Reports from the actors suggest that they were told to deliver their lines in a flat monotone by Trank. Nobody but Trank knows the reason why.)
The origin isn’t the original “cosmic rays from space bestowing powers and bodily changes” – our heroes in this outing are all of a similar age, (so Reed ISN’T the father figure) |Reed and Sue are scientific geniuses who’ve developed a means of transporting themselves to a parallel world and it’s on this parallel world named Zero that they acquire their powers. (This is a nod to the “Ultimate” reboot of the comic a few years ago. It’s also where any similarity with the Marvel characters begins and ends)
So, yeah – powers. Only not quite the same powers. Reed still stretches (but needs a special suit to keep his usual human form, otherwise it looks like he’s melting, Johnny still ignites into flame and can fly – but Sue’s powers of invisibility are downplayed at the expense of her force field transmitting abilities, which also allow her to fly. (Or float, whatever….it’s a new one on me and I’ve been reading the comic since the mid sixties.) Ben Grimm is hit hardest, turning into the Thing, but er…. Not quite the same Thing. He looks pretty much the same, but doesn’t wear the usual trunks which is a little disconcerting. That’s apparently not his real skin, that’s just a rocky protective shell.
One member of the parallel universe hopping party fails to make it back – their pal Victor Von Doom.
You can see how this is going, right?
But these changes to the characters and the distracting mutating hairdo of the leading lady are only the tip of the where did it all go wrong iceberg.
The setup of the characters takes up about eighty minutes of the film’s running time. This leads to one action sequence where a situation is resolved quickly and WHAM! – The film is over and the audience is wondering what the hell just happened. It’s all too obvious that Fox took Trank’s footage and tried to make sense of it and failed, then they realised they needed an ending to the film. So their $120 million movie is basically a long, tediously paced introduction to a film that doesn’t really happen. Those first eighty minutes should have formed the film’s opening half hour, rather the stretch off into infinity with characters that we fail to care about. It could have been a great film – I loved seeing the Torch exercising his flying skills against a drone, but it was not to be. Flashes of hope were just a cruel trick.
Literally, Trank has made his own film, his own story, it might as well be Chronicle 2 – only he paid lip service to Marvel’s characters by nodding at a newer version of their origins and using their character names and some of their abilities. And that’s it.
Fox have already taken the unusual step of confirming there will be NO sequel. (In the same breath, they announced their plans for a sequel to Deadpool which isn’t even released until February.)
Okay – some other things that bothered me, but for these, we need to go to The Spoiler Zone.
Usual rules apply – if you haven’t seen the film but intend to, please stop reading now, because I’m going to revel some details below that will spoil some surprises (or shocks).
Fair warning given……here we go.
YOU ARE NOW IN THE SPOILER ZONE!!!!!
So a second party goes to Zero and find Doom. His body is now covered in metal. What did he eat? How did he stay alive? And where did he find his hood and cloak? Did someone leave them there? Did someone make them for him? Did he take up weaving? If his body’s covered in metal, how does he expel waste?
When found, he’s limping and obviously injured. As soon as he’s back on Earth, he’s recovered (except for being covered in steel, of course). No explanation?
For the first time in his history, Doom has super powers? The powers to make people’s heads explode telepathically? How did he know he could do that if he was all alone on Zero? Who did he practice on – whoever made his cape?
He plans to make Earth a black hole with the device he’s somehow created on Zero out of rocks?
Speaking of the second party - why didn't THEY develop super powers?
Sue can cross over into a parallel dimension with one of her force bubbles and back again, yet Johnny can fly there unassisted – and there’s enough air around to keep his flame on? All it takes to get back is for Reed to say “Let’s get the hell outta here”?
All it takes for Doom to be defeated is to push him into his own rock machine and that’s it? He’s dead and the rock machine is destroyed?
The world famous Baxter Building is now like a Hogwarts for geniuses?
The Thing’s warcry of “It’s clobberin’ time” is what his bullying big brother said before beating Ben Grimm up as a child?
What were they thinking?
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