Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fantastic Four

2015, Josh Trank (Chronicle) -- cinema

Goshdarnnits, why do a bunch of bro's have to come into my theatre, sit directly in front of me and kill my quiet, enjoyable viewing of one. Texting, talking and laughing at each other's jokes, I almost got up and walked to demand my money back. But, as it turns out, even if they had been more civilized, I doubt I would have enjoyed the movie.

Yeah, Fantastic Four was a terrible movie. And not terribly bad but still fun. Just terrible. More so than I expected.

This movie has been getting a bad rap since Trank came on board. He did Chronicle back in 2012, and by my writing of it back then (dude, do some editing) you would think I didn't enjoy it. What I didn't enjoy were the characters; shallow, selfish and typical of today's commenting generation. No thinking, all action --- the kids, not the movie. They brought him in because he did "gritty superhero" well, but no, he really didn't. There is nothing fully "gritty" (whatever that means) about Chronicle, but for the fact it drops the trappings of the superhero genre, most obviously, the heroics.  But I did enjoy how he did the movie, the layout, the pacing and the run to the Akira style finish line. I had hope he would be allowed to do something very non-Marvel Studios, and definitely non-DC with this franchise.

After the middling lack of success of the other Fantastic Four movies, he was asked to make the characters a little darker, a little more grounded, and to draw just a little on the Marvel Ultimate universe, which did so well in Avengers. That quickly drew the ire of the fanbase. But really, when can you not draw the ire of some segment of the fanbase. Rabid fanboys (a cross gender term) are so very very tiring in their desire to have everything according to how they believe it should be. I am sure 1970s Fantastic Four fans hate Ultimate Universe and current prime universe fans find the old stuff boring. They will never be happy and the Internet is not happy unless they are complaining.

But then darker things started to come out of the reporting world, leveraged by today's social media. Trank was a tyrant, Trank was having issues with executives and resisting re-writes, the cast didn't like him. Not sure if I trust the earlier, and why wouldn't they resist the latter; that's Hollywood norm? And he wrecked a rented house? Sounds like Trank had issues across the board no matter how he interacted with the cast & crew. While being a jerk doesn't necessarily mean you make a bad movie, it sure sounds like it contributed.

The primary problem I have with this movie is the pacing and dialogue. There seem to be no real conversations, just line after line after line after line. Its all short sentences and exclamations. Nobody ever seems to really say anything to anyone else. There is no sincerity in any of their interactions, but for some heartfelt pleading from Franklin Storm. And its never really ever a story. Its just an introduction of characters, and conflict.

The plot seems riddled with "what the?" elements. For example, Reed Richards is a kid genius developing a teleportation machine in his garage. Through middle school all the way to high school he is working on it. But the teaching staff thinks he is an idiot. How can a supra-genius level theoretical physicist and engineer not get the top grades, not be seen as a shining star in his school? Someone would catch that. But no, useless conflict for the sake of it. High school science fair with nine year olds presenting beside him.

He is picked out of high school and sent on a scholarship to the Franklin Foundation. Scholarship; but one that barely seems to have any education to it, just a slaved assignment to work on their teleportation machine. There are so many times when the plot could have been served by some small details, to lead us gently from one scene to the next. Connecting threads. Reed might be really good at assembling junk in his garage, but apparently can magically carry that skill to bigger, more complicated equipment. He seems to have no engineering staff and does the welding himself. Seriously, why the fuck would he be welding pieces of metal together instead of working on the delicate machinery and algorithms that will make this machine transport matter from one place to another?!? For that matter, why the fuck is Sue Storm (whose only exposure to what her genius really is, is comments on pattern recognition) assigned to sew together the space suits?!?! She's a fucking genius, make some use of her!! Film creators have to step back and see the acts they are creating, and the follow up shooting fills in some details. That seemed to have been ignored here.

The dark, gritty part of the movie is supposed to come from the post-Get Powers act, where they turn Ben Grimm into a killing machine and are training Sue & Johnny to be the same. Reed has run/slithered away to Panama, and when we are supposed to understand it was so he could study what happened to them, to find a "cure". But we are never shown any emotional conflict on his part, for abandoning his friends, especially his best friend Ben. None of this would not have happened if drunk Reed hadn't teleported the gang into another universe on a whim. There should be some sort of emotion from Reed regarding this, but honestly, its because the stringing together of lines and scenes never allow for it. Try and explain it away with some references to Reed being an emotionally crippled genius somewhere on The Spectrum, but the actual movie doesn't support that.

Do I know whether to blame Trank or the second and third unit directors brought in later to reshoot and add and splice together the final film?  I have no clue. I am not skilled enough in Hollywood nuances to catch it, but I suspect both. We are left with a movie that has refraining to care about the characters, not even deeming to care about the Big Event that happens. There are little in the way of heroics, little in the way of emotional development and nothing likable to hold onto.

I am desperately trying to remember any scene that appealed to me, anything I enjoyed. The effects are serviceable, the camera work is acceptable. Ben Grimm looks good but damn, they should have given him pants -- he ain't no Donald Duck.