What the Fantastic Four Got Wrong (SPOILERS)
By Joe Glass
I cannot make it any clearer, this article contains MASSIVE spoilers for the new Fantastic Four movie, directed by Josh Trank. So let's get this out of the way at the start: if you are planning on ignoring pretty much every review out there and go and see this film anyway, go do that first. Come back to this article later, it won't go anywhere (unlike said director's tweets), I promise.
I saw the film a couple of days after release, after reading the copious negative reviews and comments on it. This happaned after my own misgivings for months after the first trailer was released, as that trailer to me felt too oppressively dark and dour, and again for me, that is not what the Fantastic Four are.
Amazingly, I actually quite enjoyed the start of the film (although even in that first act, there were one or two things that I felt were wrong), and thought maybe, just maybe, the critics were all wrong and this was going to be good. Then the interminably boring second act happened…followed by that studio-constructed, slapped-in final act and ending, that are unforgivably bad.
It's worth noting that I will not be making comments so much on whether it's the studio which got it wrong, or Trank who got it wrong. It's hard, nay, impossible for us to really tell the truth of that, and we may never know, though I would say certain choices/scenes/acts I have my suspicions about.
But anyway, enough preamble – let's get into the biggest, most horrendous errors of this film that proclaims itself to be about the Fantastic Four.
- "It's Clobberin' Time"
As you may have read in Rich's previous reviews and elsewhere, in this movie, the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing's famous catchphrase is initially spouted by his older brother who beats him in the opening of the movie.
Now, admittedly, when I read about this I got the impression that the young Ben Grimm gets completely wailed on. It is in fact a slap around the head, from an incredibly aggressive older sibling; but it implied that this is a common occurrence. But abuse is abuse, and linking this catchphrase to childhood domestic violence was a massive misstep.
The audience, or at the very least the FF fanboys in the audience, should have been fist-pumping the air when Thing says this phrase, muttering 'yes!' under their breath – instead, this corny but beloved phrase is made dark and painful.
And when Thing does utter it, against Doom, and undoubtedly the creators of this scene/act (whomever they may be) assumed it would bring resolution/revolution to the cycle of abuse and have the audience cheering, it falls flat, because the audience remembers he learned that phrase from years of abuse – and he is not using it against his abuser either.
In short, they ruined what should have been a fan-favorite moment from the get go.
- All of Susan Storm's agency as a fellow fantastic explorer is removed:
The Sue Storm in this film overall is pretty bad, though well-acted by Kate Mara. She's pretty quiet a lot of the time, and when she does talk it's often to be snarky or even rude. True, she does show some strength in some scenes, and she does have sweet moments, but overall, she comes across as a little cold.
However, the biggest mistake for me was that the creators decided to remove Sue Storm from the exploration party all together.
When they are preparing to use their transdimensional bridge to cross over to Planet Zero (why was it not just named the N-Zone or Negative Zone I'll never know), I spent the entire time thinking, "Where's Sue? She should be here. How will she get her powers if she's not here?".
Instead, in the film, the exploration party is Reed, Johnny, Victor Von Doom and Ben, who Reed calls in the middle of the night to make a forty-minute journey into the city on his drunken insistence. Sue is relegated to staying behind, and trying to stop them/save them when the trip goes awry. She is affected by the pan-dimensional whammy when the machine explodes on the rest of the team's return (minus Victor), and she's caught in the blast wave.
So in other words, instead of Sue Storm being a brave, if brash, explorer looking to show women pushing boundaries in science, and being affected on her courageous journey, she is now the don't-push-the-established-boundaries, stay-at-home woman whose powers were inflicted upon her by the rashness of others (i.e. four men).
Sue Storm is one of the biggest, most well known superheroines in comics, and instead of having her be massive in everything she does and every aspect of her personality and origin, she's a superhuman wallflower and, ultimately, victim of circumstance.
Just everything about Doom in this film is completely wrong.
Now don't get me wrong: Doom in the last Fantastic Four films wasn't right either…but it was certainly a lot closer than this mess.
We are first introduced to Victor Von Doom as he's casually slumming it in his warehouse squat; unshaven, slovenly, lank, greasy hair, as he plays Assassin's Creed with a Google Glass (somehow) and also is 'hacking' – which we can tell because he's surrounded by computer monitors covered in HTML code and such, because hacking.
The scene even ends with Victor being told to clean himself up, which he visibly takes to heart.
DOOM! Doctor Victor Von Doom lets himself look like a Cheetos-eating internet troll and allows mere mortals to tell him off about his appearance! DOOM!
Once he's cleaned up and brought into the thick of things, he's kind of an ass, kind of insinuated he has a thing for Sue (ugh!), and again, kinda rude. But then he's suddenly friendly enough with Reed, who in this version of events he's never close to, to get drunk with him and go on an ill-fated transdimensional adventure.
When he makes his reappearance in the end of the second act, he now looks like a badly burned crash-test dummy. Not at all threatening, or visibly Doctor Doom in any way at all. He's also suddenly power-mad and certain the Earth needs destroying, with no explanation. He's just destructively evil now. Oh, and his abilities are never fully explained, but appear to have something to do with telekinesis, maybe? Except he kills Franklin Storm by, I dunno, petrifying his body somehow? Oh, and not once does he even try to use this 'instant kill' brain explodo power against any of the core Fantastic Four. Not. Once. I'd forgive it if for some magic reason he tries it and it doesn't work on them for reasons, but to have him not once try to use it against them after slaughtering about seven people on camera with that one, same method? Unforgivable.
Doom in this film is not just completely not the Doom of the comics; he is also a character with no development or motivation at all, making him one of the most bland, blend-into-the-background villains in comic book movies to date – which for Doom is unforgivable.
- The team does nothing original or fantastic with their powers:
They get their abilities in the second act-and proceed to do nothing with them at all.
There are comments from some of the crew involved that the film actually came in under budget. I believe this, because for most of the second act, and indeed the film, the Human Torch, whilst aflame, does nothing spectacular with his abilities. In fact, a lot of the time, he's just sitting or standing still, but on fire, like this should wow the audience.
Sue floats around in a bubble a lot. In fact, she gets absurdly good at it fast. When we first see her doing it, she's holding her breathe, implying she needs to to keep it active. However, by the third act this is entirely forgotten, as she talks and breathes with ease while performing her duties as this films Glinda the Good Witch.
Thing…well, I was concerned about the design initially, but it actually worked okay in the film, though why he has no pants is beyond me. His eyes are maybe a little too big though, looking like his powers somehow stretched his eyeballs to fit his new head. But the most amazing thing he does with his powers (though totally not original) is drop from a plane…but this is not seen in the film, it's actually only ever in the trailer.
Reed…well, he does change his appearance by stretching the flesh of his face at one point, though this does also inexplicably change his skin color too. Other than that, he stretches legs and arms in silly little punches or to climb over railings, like a gray-clad Stretch Armstrong. Nothing really original or amazing happens once, unlike, say Elasti-Girl in The Incredibles whose flexibility and speed could wow, or even the Ioan Gruffudd Mister Fantastic, who could stretch as long as a skyscraper, or flatten his arm to fit under a door.
In fact, the most they use their powers is in the appalling final act, and again it's not especially impressive. You have to realize, this is an audience that has seen a teleporting assault on the President in the White House; we've seen the Hulk punch out a space leviathan; hell, recently we've seen fight scenes where one of the fighters can shrink and return to full size at random – an audience comes into these kinds of films with an expectation of spectacle.
Fantastic Four never once delivers this in any kind of original fashion. In fact, for the largest part of the film, it doesn't deliver it at all.
- 43 confirmed kills:
There's no way around this. No need really to explain it. Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew is a confirmed killer in this film.
Would the military try to use Thing as a weapon if they had him? Of course. Would the Thing agree to it so easily, even with the promise of a cure? No, never. And certainly, Johnny shouldn't be as eager to follow him on the confirmed killer list, as he is in this film.
This was just wrong, and should never have been done.
Now, I will leave it there. I won't discuss how the third and final act of the film was all wrong, because we'd be here all day. But needless to say, it feels completely out of place, the change in dialogue, characterization and action (even color scheme) makes the whole act feel like it was lifted from a Spy Kids movie, and has nothing to do with this one.
It's also worth noting that there are things this film does right. They're almost exclusively in the first act of the film, so read into that what you will. But the relationship between Reed and Ben is perfect; I felt I could watch a whole film of Jamie Bell's Ben Grimm (the film needed more of him); the casting as a whole is pretty spot on, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller were equally enjoyable in their roles, and they all do a good job with what they're given (though that is all thrown out the window in the final act). But that was it for me. The film as a whole was too dark, and had too little spectacle or action in it to make it a worthy entry in the superhero movie library, let alone the worthy of the Fantastic Four name.
With now three attempts at the franchise, it may be worth Fox letting this one go, and let Marvel have their own crack at the characters. Hell, it would at least mean we'd get a Fantastic Four comic again too.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor, and creator/writer of LGBTQ superhero team comic The Pride, which is available on Comixology and at The Pride Store. He is also a co-writer on Welsh horror-comedy series, Stiffs, which can be bought at the Stiffs Store and is now also available on Comixology. You can follow him on twitter and tumblr.