Bombs, Disasters & Flops: FANTASTIC FOUR

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From the disappointing to the bad to the absolute disastrous, sometimes big blockbuster movies just fail to deliver on even their absolute basic ambitions. All this week we're looking back at some of the worst offenders and one or two that are maybe unfairly considered a disaster. Today Matthew Kresal picks the short straw...

Like many of you, I suspect, I skipped Fantastic Four when it was released last year and caught up with it recently on DVD. It was one of 2015's biggest disappointments and was effectively given a total write off from fans and critics alike. With a reputation that large hanging over it, coming to the film was difficult without wondering if it would be as bad as both its reputation and critics suggested. So was it?

The answer is...sadly yes.

Rarely have I see a film with such potential (if one can say that) go to such waste. The film, based more off the Ultimate Fantastic Four run than anything else, manages to utterly mangle the origin story of one of the strongest superhero teams out there. It does so thanks to hackneyed dialogue both between characters and every time someone decided they're going to give a speech (especially Franklin Storm), as well as some major plot holes and failures in logic. Indeed the entire film after its opening five or ten minutes becomes a series of ever compounding issues. Those issues are further compounded by disjointed editing that jumps around all over the place with leaps in time that lead to “telling” not “showing”, and leaves actions and events largely unexplained. All that before Fant4stic decides that it's going to introduce its villain and big threat with all of maybe a half hour of its running time left. The result is a film where the plot is even more nonsensical that one expects even out of the poorer quality superhero movies of old.

It's perhaps possible that if other elements had been strong enough they could have at least partially salvaged the film. Sadly though, the problems only compound from there. The quality of the performances is incredibly variable ranging from decent in the case of Kate Mara's Sue Storm, to adequate in the case of Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm, to incredibly wooden in the cases of Miles Teller as Reed Richards. Some of the performances can't rise above the writing and dialogue, such as is the case with Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson. Then there's performances which are hard to judge such as Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm who starts off being slightly miscast but whom seems to excel once he becomes his mutated member of the Fantastic Four. Perhaps because of the script and obvious re-shoots (obvious from Mara's changing hair and Teller's facial hair), performances were lost or partially lost, but whatever the case the result is incredibly mixed.

The same can be said for the film's production values. Fant4stic tires so hard, from the direction of Josh Trank to the cinematography of Matthew Jensen, to be a darker, grittier take on the Fantastic Four as compared with the two films from a decade or so ago. Indeed the visuals remind one of Bryan Singer's earlier X-Men films with a similar color palate, but the rest of the movie leaves one feeling cold and removed from the action. The special effects are a mixed bag as well ranging from excellent (in the case of The Thing) to iffy (The Human Torch who looks weak compared even to the effects from a decade ago) to laughable (Victor Von Doom and Planet Zero). Backing everything up, or perhaps trying to hold it up, is a strong score from Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass which might well be the best thing to come out of the whole film.

Buried in the midst of its 99 minute time are the occasional nuggets in a wasteland, such as the score and some of the effects. For all of the good or even decent elements in the film, it seems a shame the rest was a mess of bad scripting, wooden performances and a generally disjointed feel to the whole enterprise. The result isn't so much “fantastic” but an utterly mixed bag that's only for die hard fans of the superhero genre...and this would be a hard way to die.

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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