Monday, August 10, 2015

A selection of negative bullet points about the horrible new Fantastic Four movie

I left a screening of Fantastic Four (which I will no longer be jokingly referring to as Fantfourstic because at least the movie's own title card doesn't do the stylization seen on the posters) earlier tonight dizzy with anger and frothing to put my complaints into words. Since I don't have the energy to write a formal review of this, I'm just gonna list the things I hate about this movie as eff-you bullet points. I was considering stealing Rob Bricken's Spoiler FAQ format, but I'm still holding out hope that he'll write one himself. With a mess of a movie such as this, it'd be a wasted opportunity if he didn't.

• Okay, first of all, why are we doing the dark-and-gritty routine with a superhero franchise in which the main character is a stretchy man and the lead villain is named "Victor Von Doom"? Did Fox not learn this lesson over a decade ago when they downgraded the X-Men's attire to a bunch of boring black leather suits? Call the Marvel movies formulaic all you want, but at least they understand their source material.

• Also, no, Mr. Fantastic is never once referred to by that name.

• And on the subject of names, I noticed during the opening credits that the title was never revealed, which led me to guess that the movie would cut to it at the end just before the credits, Nolan-style. This led me to guess that the title would flash right after the four are discussing what to call themselves as a superhero team. And then I guessed how the scene would play out: One of them would casually use the word "fantastic," and another, eyes agape with inspiration, would turn and say, "Could you repeat that?!" I was more or less correct.

• So Miles Teller, then. I'd only seen him in Whiplash, and he was excellent in that, so he's got value as an actor, but man is he miscast here. He handles being a gawky teenager well enough, but anytime he's tasked with carrying an action scene, he looks completely lost. I realize that the movie's climax was basically shot entirely in front of a green screen, but he seems to be making no attempt to even guess what's going to end up around him in the scene.

• The rest of the cast is fine, I guess, albeit given absolutely nothing to do. The characters in this movie are only ever mildly anything. Sue Storm is mildly standoffish. Johnny is mildly hotheaded. Ben Grimm is mildly a tough guy. Jamie Bell is decent enough when he's not covered in CGI rocks, though the movie wants us to believe he's a bruiser even before his transformation, and he's kind of a shortass.

• So Reed Richards is a whizkid depicted here as having invented a teleportation machine by fifth grade. Nobody cares, which is kind of the opposite of what would happen in real life if a fifth-grader made an earth-shaking scientific discovery, but okay.

• Reed spends seven years perfecting this technology, then, rather than becoming a goddamn billionaire, he flaunts his invention at a high school science fair, where it works, but not without shattering a basketball backboard. His teacher (the same teacher he had in fifth grade, I'll add) dismisses the teleportation thing as an illusion, charges him for the backboard, and disqualifies him. Which is weird, because even if the teleportation bit was just a magic trick, he'd still have a machine that can shatter a backboard from a considerable distance, which has got to be at least kind of impressive.

• But! As luck would have it! Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue just happened to be at this science fair, just happened to be within earshot of Reed's demonstration, just happen to be working on a similar teleportation device at this very moment, just happen to be carry a small sample of sand from the same alternate that he's been teleporting things to, just happen to have the authority to offer him a full scholarship at a fancy school, and just happen to want to offer him one on the spot!

• So now the team comes together. Johnny is a hothead, so of course he's a street racer. Sue listens to Portishead and Reed asks, "So you like music? Is that, like, your thing?" Because that's weird for someone to like music.

• Also, Victor Von Doom is just some weird guy who hangs out in a dark room playing video games all day. Apparently he founded the whole teleportation project, and it's suggested that he's super-smart, but everything bad that happens in this movie can be blamed on one incredibly stupid thing that he does, so I'm not so sure about that. I get the sense that the people who wrote this script didn't realize that Dr. Doom being a freaking dictator is one of the things that traditionally makes him cool. This character is actually spectacularly mishandled from every direction, but we'll get to that.

• There are a couple of fake-out moments in which the other characters appear to be impressed with Reed and then finish their sentences. So, Victor walks in and takes a look at Reed's work and says, "It's amazing." Reed thanks Victor, who then says, "Amazing that you almost destroyed the world with that thing." This happens a couple of times.

• By the way, this movie apparently cost $120 million to make, and I have no idea where that money went, because the CGI is both weak and minimal, and most of the film takes place in these drab grey labs.

• Reed and Sue are traditionally romantic interests. In this movie, they smile at each other a couple of times.

• In fact, you know what? I don't buy any of these people getting along. One of the defining characteristics of the Fantastic Four is their togetherness, the sense that they're a family, that their individual powers are pieces of a whole. Here, the only thing even remotely resembling chemistry is between Reed and Ben, and only because they're childhood friends. Their relationship makes less sense as the movie goes on, but again, we'll get to that.

• They get a full-scale teleporter up and running, and they test it using what is very obviously a CGI chimpanzee. The chimpanzee doesn't actually do anything, so I have no reason why they couldn't just use a real one. Come to think of it, I think I know where the budget went.

• The machine works! But while Dr. Storm promised the kids that they'd be the first human subjects, the military steps in and insists that trained experts will be the first to go through. Which is, like, completely rational, but the kids are understandably disappointed and rectify this by getting piss drunk. Victor notes that while Neil Armstrong is world-famous, nobody remembers the engineers who actually got him to the moon. He uses this nugget to encourage Reed and Johnny to sneak in, fire up the machine and be the first ones to set foot on Planet Zero. It's maybe the only solid piece of dialog in this movie.

• Ben hasn't been involved in any of this, by the way, but Reed invites him to come be part of the experiment, uh, just because. Also, Sue knows nothing about this and doesn't travel with them. Get your feminism sticks ready.

• Now, up to this point, I considered the movie dry, dull and a bit dumb, but not nearly as awful as the hype had suggested. Then, at around the 40-minute mark, Reed, Johnny, Ben and Victor travel to Planet Zero and Fantastic Four just goes to hell.

• So firstly, there's a big pool of mysterious green fluid right in front of them when they exit their pods, and Victor, who's hyped to be even more intelligent than the guy who invented teleportation by fifth grade, just sticks his goddamn hand in it. This creates a chain reaction that results in the entire place erupting. Victor falls into the green goo and presumably dies (ha!), while the other three barely make it back to the lab alive. It's during the warp back that they obtain their powers.

• But wait, how? It's suggested that Johnny and Ben gain their abilities by merging with whatever else got caught in their pod during the warp (fire for the former, rocks for the latter), but then what did Reed come in contact with that made him all stretchy?  And how does getting zapped upon re-entry result in Sue (remember her?) being able to turn invisible and cast force fields? I guess it's for the better that the movie doesn't try to explain all of this. Just roll with it, I guess.

• So here comes one of the most bizarre tonal decisions in the film as the Fantastic Four are confronted with body horror. That kind of makes sense for Thing, especially since his appearance being so drastically altered is one of the driving points of his character, but like I said before, Reed is a stretchy man, and that's just silly. Trying to make the effect look horrific only amplifies its silliness. We can either laugh at you or laugh with you, movie. Take your pick.

• Reed catches a glimpse of Ben, aka Thing, and then escapes the facility through the air ducts, as one does. He promises Ben he'll help fix this, but he just kind of takes off and doesn't seem to have any interest in returning. The government suit guy breaks this news to Thing, and then offers to continue their research and help cure Thing of his ailments if he'll work for the military.


• Wait, what the fuck?!

• Are you serious? These people just got their powers, and we didn't even really see how Sue and Johnny reacted to theirs, and now you're just jumping ahead a year, to the point where the three still in the government's hands are totally adept with their powers? Has anything important happened in this time? Where the fuck is the entire second act of this movie?!

• So yeah, now the Fantastic Three are still stuck in the same grey labs, occasionally putting their powers to military use. The government guy (who's played by Tim Blake Nelson, by the way) explains what all of their powers are and runs through some TV footage of them using their abilities on missions. Seriously, where is the entire fucking second act of this movie?

• Also, why doesn't Thing where any clothes? And why doesn't he have a penis? I get that sex would probably be out of the question no matter what, but like, how does he urinate?

• Presumably, Thing has resigned to the fact that his appearance will leave him shunned from society, and it's suggested that being a military tool is the entirety of his life until they can rebuild the teleportation device, go back to Planet Zero, and hopefully study it enough to find a cure for Thing's condition. I say "presumably" because, again, the movie kind of skips all of that.

• Sue explicitly says that she's only staying here to help figure out a cure for her condition, and that she will not become a military weapon. She says this literally a couple of seconds after completing a military training exercise for her powers. Also, she can free-fly now, for some fucking reason.

• Johnny seems okay with powers. He has daddy issues with Franklin, see, because he was always getting himself hurt in street races while Franklin wanted him to explore scientific research, and now Johnny is doing something scientifically incredible and Franklin doesn't want it. Johnny also suggests that it's Franklin's fault that this happened since he forced Johnny to work at his lab, but it was kind of Johnny's own fault that he got drunk and went for a joyride in a prototype teleporter that the fucking government told him not to use, so hey.

• When Reed fled the facility a year ago, he was naked and stranded in the mountains. Now he's in Panama and living independently because he's smart, I guess? Also, his stretchiness allows him to shapeshift into other people. What?!

• Sue locates him by doing whatever.

• Thing airdrops in and knocks him out by headbutting him. How does this still work on a person who is made of rubber?

• Earlier in the film, we saw Reed use his stretchy-man powers to escape restraints, but this time he just kinda rolls with it. I would try to figure out where this entire team stands with one another emotionally, but like I said, the entire second act of this movie is missing, so let's just move on.

• Also, Reed justifies his abandonment of his friends with his guilt over the accident. He blames himself for their conditions and wanted to distance himself from them to prevent further trouble. That's vaguely true for Ben, who only participated in the experiment because Reed invited him along, but come on. The trip went fine until stupid Victor stuck his stupid hand in the stupid green goo and screwed everything up. You could blame him, but he's dead, right?


• No. Fucking no.

• Give me a second to collect my thoughts on the final act of this movie.

• Okay, so they find Reed and get the machine rebuilt because they couldn't do it without his help, and everyone instantly forgives him for running away because we was scared or whatever, boo-hoo, but hey! The machine has been rebuilt! And this time they're sending actual trained experts in like they originally planned! Experts who won't stick their stupid hands in stupid green goo and screw everything up!

• So they teleport in and Dr. Doom's just standing there, I swear to god. After surviving a whole year on a supposedly inhospitable planet, after falling into a pool of boiling green goo, he's just standing there waiting for people to teleport back. What was he eating this whole time? How was he breathing? And where the hell did he get that cloak that he's now wearing?

• But whatever. I'm sure the other characters are just as confused as we are. The scientists recover Dr. Doom and bring him back and he looks just as stupid as he is. They explain that his protective suit has fused with his body, and the result is one of the most iconic comic book villains of all time looking like a fucking cyberpunk crash test dummy.

• And while I won't try to understand exactly how he got his powers since we've already covered that this aspect of Fantastic Four is a bit muddled, I'm confused about what exactly his powers even are. He can apparently just make people's heads explode whenever he wants provided they aren't important characters; we see him strutting through the lab nonchalantly popping people's brains, which would maybe be scary if he didn't look fucking stupid. He can also deflect bullets, put out lights and, okay, fuck it, he's just got telepathy, okay?

• He kills Franklin, by the way, because of course the father figure must die, but I can't figure out how he kills Franklin. Dr. Doom looks at Franklin, and Franklin's skin turns a bit sickly-looking, and then Franklin just sort of falls over dead and that's it. Again, what exactly are Dr. Doom's powers?

• And seriously, what the fuck? Why is Dr. Doom evil now? How did he survive on that planet for so long? What happened to him? Why is he evil now? Why is the landscape on Planet Zero different than when they first arrived? What is Planet Zero? Where is it? What happened there while they were gone? What was that green goo? What does it do to people? Why did drowning in it graft Victor's suit to his skin and give him psychic powers? Why is he now condemning the human race as having doomed Earth? Why does he need to destroy Earth if it's already doomed? Why does he want to destroy Earth anyway if all he wants to do is fuck off back to Planet Zero? And why does he want to fuck off back to Planet Zero? What does he do there? What's this giant energy beam that he's building on Planet Zero? How does it work? How is it hitting Earth? What the fuck is going on?!

• I swear all of these developments are just as sudden and slapdash as I'm making them sound. I know this movie went through production hell and endured reshoots, but how did anyone look at this final act and think that this movie made any sense or was fit for release?

• So the Fantastic Four pursue him and a bunch of CGI happens. Dr. Doom pins them all down with telekinetically-propelled rocks, obviously, but Reed is able to break free because the movie needs him to take the lead, and then he uses his stretchy powers to punch Dr. Doom from a slightly farther distance than a normal person would be able to.

 They try to talk Dr. Doom down at one point by addressing him as "Victor," at which point he says, "There is no Victor. There is only Doom." I feel like I've heard that somewhere before.

• Also, I guess they no longer need protective suits on Planet Zero because Dr. Doom changed it or whatever the fuck? But it's still cold enough that Dr. Doom insists on putting his cloak back on as soon as he returns. Either that or he's ashamed of looking fucking stupid.

• By the way, this confrontation with Dr. Doom on Planet Zero is essentially the only action sequence in the entire movie, though most of the marketing stills depict the Fantastic Four battling in a war-torn cityscape, which is, like, kind of a lie, you know?

• They manage to knock Dr. Doom into a big crevasse, but Reed postulates that he can't be dead because the energy beam is still running, which, what? Do you know something I don't know?

• But yeah, Dr. Doom is still alive. The team notes that he's more powerful than any of them, but Reed counters this by saying that he's not more powerful than all of them, because now, after 100 minutes of these characters having absolutely no chemistry, this is the part where it needs to be hammered home that they're a team.

• So Sue turns Thing invisible, whereupon Thing sneaks up on Dr. Doom and defeats him by punching him once. He precedes this with "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" and for exactly one second, Fantastic Four is unashamed of its comic book heritage. By the way, even after his transformation into a giant rock monster, Thing is portrayed as an extremely reserved figure, in stark contrast to his traditional personality, so it doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense for him to bellow a cheesy one-liner just before delivering the deathblow.

• So Dr. Doom disintegrates in his own energy beam that he was using to I still don't know what the fuck was going on there. In that whole time, the beam only managed to produce a medium-sized crater in an isolated forest area, so no biggie.

• There were bystanders, by the way, who saw trees and cars being sucked up into the portal, but the government guys (not Tim Blake Nelson, because Dr. Doom made his brain explode) insist that this was a covert affair and that the world doesn't know what the Fantastic Four did for them.

• Then they have the scene that I predicted at the very start of the movie and then the credits roll. Then there's a post-credits scene. Or maybe there isn't. I don't know. I left pretty quickly.

• Then I checked my phone and read on Twitter that cops shot someone in Ferguson on the anniversary of Mike Brown's death. Eat a dick, universe.

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