Friday, August 07, 2015

Fantastic Four

I didn't have any great expectations when I saw a preview showing of Fantastic Four a couple of days ago, so at least I wasn't disappointed. A reboot of the 2005 film, apparently made so that Fox could hang on to the franchise, it makes some radical changes to the origin story of Marvel's first superhero team: Reed Richards, supergenius elastic man; Sue Storm, with the ability to become invisible and generate force fields; Johnny Storm, human torch; Ben Grimm, stone-clad golem. But none of the changes are improvements, and the film fails to weld together three different narrative sections into a coherent whole. It starts with a slice of Spielbergian wonder as schoolboy Reed hooks up with Ben while searching for an essential component for his teleportation device; then jumps forward a few years when Reed is recruited to a hothouse academy and falls for Sue Storm; and finally takes a turn into grimdark territory after the teleporter accesses the weird energies of an alter Earth, and transforms the four heroes and the villain (as in the comics, helpfully called Victor Von Doom).

The major problem is that this version of the Fantastic Four's origin story isn't as much fun as the original, in which Reed developed an interstellar spaceship that ran into trouble as soon as it left Earth, exposing Reed, Ben Grimm (who was piloting it) and Reed's fiance Sue and her brother Johnny to the radiation of the Van Allen belts. The 2005 film was a variation on this - exposure to cosmic radiation on Reed's privately-owned space station. In both, Reed's wealth gave them independence and allowed them to become celebrity heroes: having superpowers could be troublesome (especially for Ben Grimm, with the world's worst skin problem), and the four squabbled and fell out in the way all families do, but on the whole being one of the team was pretty swell.

Not so much in the new version (and here, I guess, mild SPOILERS), where the transformation doesn't happen until more than halfway through the film, and the four nascent superheroes become pawns of the military-industrial complex. Despite the lead actors' best efforts to breathe life into their characters, it's a disjointed mess, focusing on construction of the plot MacGuffin and gloomy moral quandaries at the expense of the bits where the superheroes strut their stuff and the crucial annealing of the four as a team. If only it would put an end to the formulaic origin story - hero gets power, fights villain they've accidentally created, establishes franchise identity - repeated across original film treatments and reboots. But it probably won't even succeed in that.


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