Yesterday I took my two sons to see Fantastic Four, Josh Trank’s ‘reboot’ of the much ridiculed film series. Dispensing with Jessica Alba et al, and replacing them with a younger – potentially more talented – group of actors and ensuring that the camp nature of the originals is beaten to death with the remains of the Fantasticar it had everything going for it.
Well, sort of.
The film that I saw yesterday was not the film that was originally intended, with Trank himself tweeting:
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”
Which was taken down pretty swiftly, no doubt following a quick visit from the good folks at 20th Century Fox.
So is the film so horrific? What went so wrong? Should you go see it anyway?
No, Lots and Definitely.
That’s the short answer.
So. Let’s start with the film itself, as it stands. There is a point in the film where a title card appears on the screen stating “One Year Later”. Up until this point it is absolutely fascinating, engrossing and handled with the correct balance of fun and drama. Victor von Doom and Reed Richards’ working together is brilliant; one in pursuit of glory, the other in pursuit of science. Motivated and manipulated in equal measure the film is deftly handled and up until that title card I couldn’t fathom why any of the reviews were so scathing. It made zero sense as EVERYTHING worked well.
Once that title card hit though, well… something clearly went very wrong.
Now we have heard the rumours of Trank becoming difficult to work with, and hasty reshoots – including the dropping of the 3D version a few weeks before launch – and it seems that the first half of the film was likely as he intended. Or as close as he could get.
I can’t help but think that the biggest issue here was his lack of big studio experience, coupled with his wave of support following the release of his exceptional sci-fi film Chronicle, a film that has an end sequence that rivals ANYTHING you’ve ever seen on a screen, and captured through a variety of camera sources, resulting in a frenetic piece that astonished me. The lacklustre ending of F4 certainly didn’t ring the same tone. If anything it felt like a quick plug to end the production, and get the film out. The pacing made it seem like it should have been well over the 100min run time it released with, and the lack of a mid/post-credit scene also reeks of a rush job.
But that’s not to say that there’s nothing to like in the post ‘one year’ point. Doctor Doom is dark. His walk home through a secret facility makes Darth Vader’s presence at the beginning of A New Hope look like a visit from a kindly uncle. With blood and gore he emerges from the shadow of the old Doom, while also managing to annoy the comic book purists who wanted Doom Bots and a scarred face. The inspiration clearly taken from the Ultimate Fantastic Four run means that this Doom is somewhere close to the mark, but the terrible hatchet job removes the threat that he seemed to promise. The final fight is the least fantastic thing about the film as the four team up to save Earth from Doom’s insane plot – which actually makes a lot of sense, if you look at it from his point of view.
Jamie Bell is excellent throughout, and while I was a little perturbed by The Thing’s lack of clothing – something that makes not a drop of sense really – the fully CG Thing was a major improvement over Chiklis-Thing.
The film is not afraid of killing civilians, military folk or heroes.
When my partner’s son came back he cited it as the second-worst Marvel film he has seen, because it wasn’t very funny and was too violent.
Which is true, but it isn’t grounds for complaint.
Only people are using that argument, and many use it coupled with images from the Kirby originals. You see the original Fantastic Four was as camp as Christmas. Hell, Christopher Biggins would look like Hugh Hefner in comparison. It was silly, it was Silver Age as fuck and it was average at best. Yes, I said it.
The need to cling onto this campy backdrop is mental, and to cite an original comic run as the reason why a film fails is also stupid. Has any Batman film to date come close to the greatness of the Alan Moore/Grant Morrison runs? No. Does that mean that there hasn’t been a great Batman movie? Nope.
I won’t go so far as to call Fantastic Four (2015) great, it’s not even close, but I enjoyed it. Greatly. The first half of the film was brilliant and very much how I imagine the Fantastic 4’s early days. So while Trank may be nursing a heavy case of the ‘should have walked’ blues, and 20th Century Fox may have one hell of a PR nightmare to contend with, but then they have also secured the franchise for a while longer (unless the rumours of trading F4 for permission to create an X-Men TV show are true) the truth is that the film is disappointing *because* of the promise on display early on.
Trank’s involvement in the film is also a bone of contention for many, but then Chronicle WAS brilliant. I just think it was a case of a big studio seeing an opportunity to exploit the new found critical praise for the director, and have an element of control over a relatively new auteur. The same could be said of Colin Trevorrow’s involvement in Jurassic World, following *Safety Not Guaranteed, only he had a lot more studio support/was more willing to work to their aims a little. He was also highly critical of the way the final product was handled and marketed. So while some would easily blame the ‘Indie director with ideas above his station’ I would argue that maybe if Trank had been allowed to make the film he wanted to make, this article would be very different. Just ask David Fincher.
So, should you see the film? If you are a fan of Marvel, absolutely. It’s not perfect, but it is also better than the previous two films combined. Doctor Doom will never be a great villain on film, so they needed more of a threat in the picture, but all in all the film has enough redeeming features to at least recommend it.
Oh, and don’t believe the ridiculous rumours about The Thing not saying ‘It’s Clobbering Time!’ as he absolutely does.
Go in with low expectations and some alcohol in your system and you will find something to enjoy in Trank/Fox’s effort.