14 August 2015

Fantastic Four review

Expectations can be a funny thing when trying to evaluate something, and to say that expectations were low for Fantastic Four would be something of an understatement. Between the extremely negative critical reaction and the poor box office takings that the film has seen so far, Fantastic Four will probably end up being the go-to bad film of 2015, another talking point for people who have chosen superhero films as their particular hill to die on. But knowing this going in to Fantastic Four (as well as hearing about the allegedly severe issues that director Josh Trank faced in production) makes the viewing experience a completely different kind of beast, leaving me to wonder about what could have been rather than what was provided. Because although the final product was on the whole a bad film, it would be dishonest to act like Fantastic Four doesn't show real potential at times.

Fantastic Four follows child genius Reed Richards, who after being discovered by Franklin Storm, director of the government funded Baxter Foundation, helps Victor von Doom, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm complete their work on a "Quantum Gate", a teleportation device that transports matter to a different point in space. After their initial expedition using the Quantum Gate goes horribly wrong, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Reed's best friend Ben Grimm learn that their biochemistry has been altered, the change manifesting itself as the emergence of super powers.

Fantastic Four is quite obviously a film of two distinct halves, a placard in the middle of the film reading "One year later" marking a significant drop in quality that claims responsibility for many of the awful reviews that the film has been receiving. Before that stage, Fantastic Four is a slowly building science fiction / body horror movie, and although I doubt that could be classed as a faithful adaptation of the comics in any world it would be wrong to say that this half isn't interesting in it's own right. The introductions we are given to each of our main characters work for the most part, and I like this cast in these roles - I'm no expert on the comics, but the dynamic between these characters feels right during this part of the movie, regardless of how close it is to the comics.

After the aforementioned placard is an entirely different story. A complete shift in everything from tone to genre to character personalities and motivations to writing, pacing and acting quality creates one of the most disjointed and uneven back halves of a film I have ever seen, a rushed and incoherent mess of awful scenes that have completely earned the scorn thrust upon them. The emergence of the central antagonist is marked with a particularly unflinching sequence that works really well when taken out of context - but the scenes that set up why he might be doing what he is doing have apparently been cut from the film, and as such his actions lack even the smallest amount of reasoning. Even worse, the entirety of the "grand finale" is set up, started and finished within the course of about 10 minutes in what must be the most disappointing and lack lustre final confrontation ever committed to film - I've taken shits with a more satisfying sense of conclusion than Fantastic Four.

It's difficult put into perspective how jarring and sudden this monumental drop in quality actually is in Fantastic Four. In effect, it's the cinematic equivalent of a buggy game - regardless of how interesting the game itself is from other perspectives, its effectively unplayable, glitches tainting everything they touch. Some game critics will often give something of a pass to buggy games if the game itself is still otherwise good,and  I'm tempted to try and make allowances for the Fantastic Four's second half - but films don't get patched, and a bad film will almost certainly stay a bad film forever, especially true in the case of Fantastic Four when the soured relationship between Trank and 20th Century Fox makes the release of a directors cut incredibly unlikely.

It's so frustrating to not only see a film nosedive this hard, but to know that its an issue almost certainly caused by executive meddling. It's clear that director Josh Trank had a very specific vision about what his take on the Fantastic Four was to be, only for 20th Century Fox to lose faith and enforce a rumoured 40 minutes(!) of reshoots after initial filming had wrapped. Regardless of your opinion on if Trank's vision was a good idea or not (the growing backlash against grim and gritty and "realistic" has been building for some time now, and Fantastic Four feels old fashioned in a post Avengers Assemble world), it should be clear to anyone that the final film isn't what anyone wanted - a sentiment echoed by Trank himself in a quickly deleted tweet that many think has torpedoed any future career he may have had as a director.

It's impossible to recommend Fantastic Four to anyone, because when taken as a whole it would be folly to pretend that it is anything other than an awful film, potentially the worst attempt at adapting Fantastic Four for the screen so far. But when broken down and inspected at a smaller level, there are some interesting ideas and examples of quality film making in the first half of Fantastic Four that echo some of the originality seen in Trank's previous film Chronicle, my gut reaction telling me that this could have been something really interesting if given the chance. Instead, cold feet from the higher ups at 20th Century Fox has helped create a movie with split personality disorder, a film defined by it's squandered potential and wasted cast rather than it's potentially interesting take on the source material. I'm not sad to see a bad movie - those are 10 a penny - but to see a film that could have been good stripped of all personality and potentially ruining the career of a budding film maker? Unacceptable.

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