Saturday, March 24, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #21: Fantastic Four

I thought this movie was pretty good when it came out.  Not perfect, certainly weak in spots, but on the whole enjoyable.  Color me an optimist.  This movie is not good.  Not good at all.  I think where I was deluded was in the fact that the movie is very light, has fun moments, features "good enough" special effects, and is easily forgotten.  When you don't have many other super hero movies to compare it to, this makes for a good superhero film.

But see, therein lies the problem.  The Fantastic Four isn't a superhero story.  Heck, at its very best it wasn't superhero comic book either.  Oh sure they all have incredible powers, they go off into space and places like the Negative Zone, they battle incomprehensible bad guys like Galactus and Annihilus,  but at their core what makes the FF great, and likeable, and relatable is that they are a family and their story is a family drama.  They may not be your conventional family unit, but they are a group of people sharing a common bond and as a result of that bond, are confronting life's troubles together.  They do not always get along and they often quibble amongst themselves, but at the end of the day they are a unit.

The FF movie tries hard to get this notion across.  It tries too hard and in the worst possible ways.  Instead of allowing the actors to develop characters with chemistry, the film forces conflict upon individuals and then tells you that they are a family.  If the movie has to tell us they are a family then it is failing to do its job.  And if the movie fails to get the essence of the FF right, then all we are left with is a bad superhero movie.

And we are.  I'll not bore you with details, but I will ask you a couple of questions.  Why is Victor Von Doom part of the origin story?  He isn't part of it in the comics and it makes no sense for him to be part of it in the film.  As a matter of fact, him being part of the origin completely undermines the family concept entirely because if he is part of the origin, that makes him part of the family and therefore the story should become one of healing the family by bringing Von Doom back into the fold.  But that's not the story.  Instead that leads to my second question, why does Dr. Doom have lightning powers?  In the comics he has no powers, he is an evil, tyrannical Iron Man.  The End.  He is a dictator who dabbles in the arcane and builds armies of robots to do his bidding, some of which he makes in his own image.  Which leads me to my final question, if Dr. Doom is our villain, where oh where are the Doombots?  Exactly.

This movie honestly feels like it was written by about eight people, with maybe three of them having read one or two FF comics.  None of the characters are quite right, the plot is confusing and meandering, and the scripting is shallow at best.  Case in point, early on when the Four's powers are revealing themselves, we are treated to a comical scene where Johnny Storm (the only really likeable character and hands down the best performance in the film) discoves his powers.  Perfect.  That is exactly how it should be, and if executed well it can really set the tone for the film and his character.  But instead, this scene is executed by giving the same lame joke twice, each instance within about 15 seconds of each other and slapping some action in between hoping no one notices.  I kid you not.  The joke is funny once, mainly because of who Johnny is, but back to back it just comes across as poorly written.  "You're hot." "Thank you" is funny, and the way Chris Evans delivers the line is spot on.  It works.  But then, mere seconds later to have the same exchange: "You're on fire." "I know," is either bad editing or sloppy scripting.  It makes the characters look like they have already forgotten an exchange they just had.  Of course, I won't bother to go into the performance by the "actress" who portrays Johnny's nurse...

The Fantastic Four is not a superhero movie, it is a family drama with superhero dressing, but when you do not get the core right and you miss the mark with the dressing, all you are left with is a bucket of crap.  Fantastic Four isn't the worst comic book movie out there, clearly, but it certainly is symptomatic of what can go wrong when people try to make a movie based on a comic book, but fail to understand what makes the comic book appealing, and end up with a superhero movie instead, and a bad one at that.

Aimee's Take:

The five of you reading this know the drill by now: Stan takes the hard look, and I pick one thing I don't like and complain about it for a short time. Well, today, what I'm going to complain about is how the Invisible Girl/Woman was terribly miscast. 

I'm a big fan of the Invisible Woman. I only fairly recently discovered how nicely her character was allowed to develop in the 1980's. She dealt with all the problems a mundane woman might have, along with all the problems that stem from being the "team mom". Strong, and incredibly powerful, Susan Storm battles her own feelings of inadequacy as she recovers from a miscarriage, struggles to create a "normal" family environment for her son, and faces her husband's often aloof super-genius intellect. Sue is part of the glue that holds the Fantastic Four together--although it's not always easy to make that happen. During my favorite run, Thing is replaced by She-Hulk. The cast rotates fairly often, because, like any family, sometimes there is conflict, and sometimes people have to follow a different path than the one their families would make for them. Through most of this, Sue is a rock. She grapples with being both powerful and unappreciated. She grapples with being herself and being "normal". There is something about Sue that grabs me, as a woman. It wasn't always true of her character and it certainly hasn't always continued in her stories, but Sue is a tremendously accurate avatar for the average woman. 

 So by all means, let's make her the goddamn bitchiest character in the history of cinema. To say that her character is unsympathetic is an understatement. She is so unfeelingly fake and horrible, switching her "affections" from Victor to Reed, leaving everyone in the audience to wonder why EITHER of them would want anything to do with her.

She's too young, looking roughly three-four years younger than her kid brother, Johnny. This makes her ceaseless nagging mothering all the more annoying. (In reality, Jessica Alba IS older than Chris Evans--by a couple of months.) Reed isn't quite old enough by comparison to seem "fatherly" (believe me, this is an important component of their relationship, and a significant source of real familial conflict). Besides, with Alba in the role, Reed could be 65 years old--this Sue Storm is 100% right all the time, and if you disagree, she will ice you out. She's not just the team mom--she's the team dictator. 

Plus, there's the universal truth that goes: "An astonishingly beautiful girl with olive complected features will look one-hundred-percent convincing as a blond scientist of some kind." What, that's not a thing? Well, I'm not saying that Sue can't be beautiful, but she cannot be intimidating. She is the girl next door. I don't know why we had to have her dye her dark hair blond... it looks really, really unnatural and I see it as very unnecessary. Sue being blond is a very small detail and it has nothing to do with her character. Of all the things we could have gotten right--this is the thing we decided to stick to? 

I'm also not sure why we had to make Sue a scientist. It was ok to leave Johnny as...whatever the heck Johnny is. It was fine to have Ben be a lovable meathead type. So why do we have to have Sue be roughly as intelligent as Reed? You know, it's ok to have a female character who isn't "having it all"... I know that Sue gets a makeover in the "Ultimate" incarnation--but here's the thing. This movie follows, roughly, the original origin story. Why attempt to blend the two so unsuccessfully?

But enough about this. I want--no, need, need--to tell you about the most astoundingly insane cinema "fuck you" in the history of cold-hearted bitches. 

Ok, you may be familiar with the scene where Ben is on the bridge. There is a big special effects show down and all the team members show up and realize that, hey, we can use our powers as a team and to do things that are good. It's the FF "ah-ha". But, towards the end, Ben's fiance walks up to hand over the engagement ring, basically saying, "you're a big freak, I can't deal with you, I'm leaving," after presumably having witnessed this big event on TV.

Ok, first of all--this scene creates an ENORMOUS traffic jam. Traffic is backed up indefinitely. Probably for miles. Assuming that this woman saw only the first part of a news report (cluing her in to Ben's location), she would have likely hopped on a car or bus and been stuck for several hours trying to head in that general direction. I am left understanding, then, that this bitch WALKS the entire length of a police-blockaded traffic jam, just to say "fuck you" to Ben Grimm. 

If we are expected to believe that this woman's dedication to throwing this ring down--wordlessly--in front of her obviously distraught fiance is so great that she will go to such an extreme length, then I have news for Ben Grimm: she's not worth being upset over. She just saved you a lifetime of extreme bitchiness. Too bad you have to basically go home to Sue...

I'm not saying she shouldn't have a right to leave with the dramatic changes going on in her life. It's probably reasonable to say that she can't deal with her fiance becoming a rock monster, and that she shouldn't be blamed for her reaction. But she could have written a letter. I mean, Ben can't be that hard to find. She could go visit Reed and say, "Here's the ring, I can't face Ben, let him know this is about me, not him..." She could have called him on the phone, maybe. But instead, she decides to dump him on television, and she is willing to walk miles and duck police lines to do so. And she does so without so much as a "sorry about your luck". 

That, ladies and gents, is just nuts. 

I'd have to say, one reason this movies isn't on the very bottom (and it was, for a while) is because it contains the above scene. It's really quite amazing, once you work out what it really means. You won't see it the first time, it just kind of works. But when you really think about it--it's insane. It's the greatest, coldest break-up scene I've ever witnessed. Cinema gold. Unintentional, but entertaining.

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