I knew there was trouble when the opening line was, “… like my personal hero, Eli Manning…”
With all due respect to the two-time Superbowl Champion, this is something one should never hear.
I had seen the signs. I had heard the rumblings. I had taken to Twitter briefly to see the director bashing his own film. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m just looking to be entertained. Plus as the only member of Media Brew Pub who can go watch a film in the theaters for less than $10, I felt it was my duty to save the rest of my crew from suffering through what has been, thus far, a universally panned movie. And this time, Jessica Alba was not there to save me (although Kate Mara ain’t half bad).
Picking up from the Eli Manning line, the viewer is dropped into the world of young Reed Richards; a brilliant but clumsy fifth grader who receives support neither from his teachers nor his parents as he navigates his way through out-of-this-world science experiments. It seems like this takes place about ten years ago. We get a very brief look at the way his relationship with Ben Grimm originates and there are some fun nods to pop culture of late 90s early 00s (who would have thought that a wall of N64s could change the world?). Now let’s say for a second that I can believe that ten years ago, a kid that shows the talent to actually make an object disappear would not be an internet sensation or at least supported by his educators. Let’s say for a second I believe that Nassau County is such a backwards place that a relatively likable, albeit awkward, kid like Reed would be ostracized for his genius. Let’s say that… actually, let’s not. This part of the story, while not altogether un-charming, is not believable to me. But hey, let’s say it is…
Fast forward seven years (seriously, that’s what it says on the title card), and you get Reed and Ben at their high school science competition. Using technology that he’s improved upon since his fifth grade self, he makes a model plane disappear and, spoiler alert, reappear a moment later (It actually goes to another dimension and then comes back)! Coolbeans, right? Wrong. The teachers don’t get it and they disqualify them. I think this is supposed to be roughly a few years ago realtime at this point. Does anyone really believe that this would happen? Maybe if they had chosen a legitimately backwoods place but certainly not a place that close to New York City. But hell, let’s believe. Because I kind of like Miles Teller’s goofy, awkward nerd routine and Jamie Bell’s (Ben Grimm) whole strong, silent buddy attitude.
Now here’s when things start moving. Reed is recruited to be a part of a research organization (it’s hard to understand if this is a school or just a lab, he’s given a “scholarship” but does not attend any classes) to bring his technology he’s created out of his garage, and into big bad world. He is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter, Sue. You’ll meet Johnny later.
This moves into the introductions of the remaining characters. There seems to be no impetus to share the equivalent amount of background on the other members of the Fantastic 4 or Dr. Doom. You really just get quick scenes that allow you a brief glimpse at their personalities. That’s okay, I’m sure the movie builds them up later (Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t):
Sue Storm (Kate Mara) – Brainy love interest. Likes music. Is pretty.
Johnny Storm (Michael Jordan) – Hot-headed engineer, smarter than he looks, good heart. For some reason, doesn’t have a great relationship with Doom. Wants to bring back Initial D.
Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) – Troubled genius, arrogant and brilliant. Has the hots for Sue. Thinks the government sucks.
The montage of the group putting together the machine that allows them to jump through dimensions is actually not too bad. While Marvel tends to slam humor, awkwardness, chemistry, and all other types of human contact down your throat like a bull in a china shop, things seem to be a bit more subtle here. The group feels kind of believable. I was surprised. I thought this was supposed to be shit.
One particular piece of the movie that I feel like people will get pissed about is how the filmmakers kept Ben Grimm relevant by having Reed text him periodically with updates (at least we’re inclined to believe). For those of you who think this is a cop-out, take it from me, that’s how this works. I appreciated this specifically because I am currently living that life. If your friends are far, it’s how you keep connected.
So they complete the machine and send a chimp to this other dimension. Chimp comes back, seems okay. Big bad government guys say, “thanks for getting the work done, we’re going to have NASA astronauts who are adults take it from here.” They get pissed, Sue goes off to try to help fight for them and the three dudes, well, they do what any normal three dudes would do if they had just gotten “no vaselined” – they get drunk. Genius, pure genius. This might be my favorite thing that happened the whole movie.
So they get drunk and decide it’s time they went through the portal themselves. But wait! Reed can’t do it without the guy that stuck by his side this whole way (I kind of buy it, kind of…). They jump through, explore the dimension, there’s disaster, they’re exposed to new energy, they leave Victor behind, Sue gets exposed to the energy upon return (because they left without her but took Ben… again, let’s just say…), and now they’ve got legitimate powers. Trust me when I say that this whole sequence was actually not terrible.
So now, I’m a bit interested. I like the characters for the most part, I like that they’re supposed to be young and can see the brashness that comes with it, and I’m thinking – “hey, this might end up being not so bad.” They’ve got powers now and so far, they look cool, not too cheesy. Even Mr. Fantastic. And that is hard to do. So right now I’m ready for shit to start get interesting.
Fast-forward to the end of the movie and I’m sitting there like, “What the fuck just happened?”
Well here’s what happened: “One Year Later” happened. Reed abandoning his friends happened. The middle of the movie disappearing happened.
How do you tell a superhero origin story without showing the characters learning how to cope with their powers? How do you take Reed Richards and turn him into a character that would abandon his best friend in his time of need? How do you not explain how Dr. Doom becomes Dr. Doom?
The movie goes from introduce the characters and group to the final battle sequence with one line on the screen: “One Year Later.” You’re forced to try to figure out what has happened during the course of the previous year through scenes of the characters using their powers in training labs and covert operations. How is Reed re-introduced? Oh, they need him to get back to the other dimension because it’s his technology.
So they find his ass, drag him back, and he fixes the machine. This time they send astronauts back and Doom is still there, still alive, and still an asshole. But this time he’s an angry asshole. Big battle time. Reed becomes the leader somehow (why the hell would anyone follow him at this point?), Doom is a fucking beast for some reason or another, and the Earth is in danger. The four save Earth, come home, and convince the government that they deserve their own space to work. Then, they say almost say it, “We’re going to be the…”
What the fuck just happened?
That’s how I feel about this movie. It’s not so much that it’s terrible. It just feels like they’ve got the beginnings of a decent Act 1, an exciting Act 3, and they left Act 2 somewhere along the way to making the movie. It’s too bad, really. Because unlike the other iterations, Mr. Fantastic doesn’t look ridiculous when he’s using his powers. It’s too bad because the Invisible Woman’s powers are used in a very interesting and effective way to help ensure the survival of the group. Jessica Alba was great eye candy but Fox definitely missed the boat on making her useful. It’s too bad because The Thing looks like real rock and that’s cool! It’s too bad because you could almost see the group having chemistry. It’s too bad because Michael B. Jordan could be a kick-ass Johnny Storm! It’s too bad because it wouldn’t have needed to be “fantastic” to be appreciated; it just needed to be something. Comic movies don’t need to be amazing, they just need to be complete. It’s just too bad the movie was killed with one line:
That title card took away about thirty minutes of character and relationship development. Took away the opportunity to allow the audience to understand how the Fantastic 4 become the Fantastic 4. That title card… it fucking blows. Drop in an Act 2 and I think this movie makes it, I really do. Unfortunately you only get a slight peek at what makes the characters tick. A tiny glimpse at the magnitude of Dr. Doom’s power. Unfortunately, you don’t really get a movie at all.
I don’t hate Fantastic 4. I can see there was something there. But it watches like I left the movie to go drop a gigantic deuce only to realize I had missed the most important parts of the story while I was away. Maybe I had left it in the porcelain when I went to the can.
Fantastic 4 leaves me with a feeling that this could have been something bigger. Too bad it wasn’t really anything at all.