Breaking News: ‘Worst Blockbuster Ever‘ is Not Bad at All.
First of all, I must mention that for the screening of the new Fantastic Four movie I was sitting in row F in Screen 4. My ticket almost read ‘F4’, which felt like an omen. A good omen? Are any omens good? Well, the first one was amazing, and I quite like Damien: Omen II for its sheer uncompromising bleakness. The third one was shite though, wasn’t it? Anyway, forget that turkey, we’ve got a new one on the block. That’s right, Josh Trank’s long-awaited follow-up to Chronicle is apparently such a re-shot, re-edited compromise of his original vision that he even tweeted a quickly deleted warning that the film that was currently out in cinemas was not the one he wanted to make. Reviews have ranged from mediocre to savage, cast interviews have been reportedly awkward and there have been estimates suggesting that it will be the most notorious blockbuster flop since Catwoman.
Right, first things first. Fantastic Four is not rubbish. It’s good. Some of it is brilliant. It is, however, a clearly messed-with film. Something’s just not right here. It feels incomplete. The tone is akin to a great joke awkwardly told. You know, how the timing’s just a little off? The brief 100-or-so minute running time actually is something of a relief given the fatty over-length of most blockbusters, but there’s no doubt that the final act is disappointing. The first two-thirds however, are pretty successful. I particularly liked the flashback scenes to future Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic’s childhood as a prodigious scientist getting shouted down by his stupid teacher (Dan Castellanata, a.k.a Homer J. Simpson!) for daring to suggest that teleportation was possible. Scenes between him and new friend Ben as they escape the reality of their home lives and work on their invention felt like a darker take on Joe Dante’s Explorers.
Then we move forward to the two as teens (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell) as their progress has caught the attention of the Storms – chief scientist Franklin (a wonderfully voiced Reg E. Cathy from The Wire, who also played the homeless guy in American Psycho, you know – ‘Get a godamned job Al! You’ve got a negative attitude!‘) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara). However, since Ben isn’t a genius and more of a hired-muscle, he’s not required to join Reed at the new fancy laboratory to create a super-sized version of the teleporter, which has proved so far to have sent its inanimate subjects into another dimension… what lies on the other side? Something… fantastic? Er, no. Something pretty horrifying it turns out, as a reunited Reed and Ben, as well as Franklin’s tearaway son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and loose-cannon/forebodingly monikered genius Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) break on through only to encounter a decidedly hostile environment.
I suppose when a film is called Fantastic Four, you could be forgiven for expecting something bright, magical…fantastic, even. However, we don’t really get that and yet the criticised darker approach is the film’s greatest success. Forget the usual approach of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, Fantastic Four is clearly of the mind that with great power comes great horror. The moment when the new world’s intense energy source is unleashed onto the unsuspecting scientists is gripping, while the aftermath of the journey, as each member discovers what has happened to them is almost audacious in its ominous mood. This is definitely the finest stretch (pun intended) of the film, full of drama.
Then we suddenly jump a year, and things start to feel a little patchy, if nevertheless still entertaining. Character motivations feel unexplored and random. Still, when a brief but spectacular action sequence arrives, it’s only then that I realised the film had been getting by very well without relying on much of the genre’s usual use of outrageous special effects and giddying set-pieces. Unfortunately, a massive end-of-the-world crisis comes out of nowhere and all of a sudden we’re thrown into regular big-bang blockbuster spectacle that feels strangely unsatisfying. It’s like the film was getting darker and darker and then wanted to go all crowd-pleasing. Then there’s the presence of a newly-evil Von Doom, a nemesis whose ridiculous name made sense in the gaudy Technicolor Noughties versions but just feels wrong here. His attempts to conjure a supermassive black hole in order to destroy Earth just feels too by-the-numbers/beat-the-clock in a film that was threatening to go into some dark places of its own. Contrived moments like including The Thing’s trademark ‘It’s clobbering time!’ and the bit in the final scene when the team finally try and decide on a name don’t feel right. There’s an clumsy tension between the off-kilter, horror-tinged drama Trank seems to have been trying to make and the reassuring Marvel movie the studios want instead. Still, this is a noble failure of a film, hopefully one that will see Trank’s original vision restored one day. As for a sequel, well that’s very unlikely, and that’s a shame, because there is promise here.
PS: This is better than the Tim Story-directed Fantastic Four, which I quite liked.