Easily the worst superhero film in memory and in fact a very strong contender for one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s as if they asked a nine-year-old fanboy to scribble the entire story on the back of a milk carton and then accidentally put the entire thing into production. It’s so bad it almost parodies itself – but not in an amusing way, rather the movie sends you through a Dante-esque descent through seven hells of depression before you finally manage to climb out in a torrent of rage just in time to kick the chair in front of you during the one-dimensional finale. You could probably make a better Fantastic Four film with your mates, a Handycam and twenty quid for special effects (try if you like – call it the ‘FakeFour Challenge’).
This is 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to the milk their Fantastic Four intellectual property which they bought from Marvel years ago and then proceeded to do nothing much of value with thereafter: 2005’s ‘Fantastic Four’ and the 2007 sequel ‘Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ far from doing the source material justice. Here, they’ve foolishly eschewed any input from Marvel legend Stan Lee and instead relied on a screenplay from the film’s director Josh Trank (‘Chronicle’ 2012) but rumour is Trank not only behaved erratically onset, he also published a critical tweet slating the final version of the film the day before its international release before quickly deleting it – his treatment ultimately having been rewritten by the producers themselves.
Whatever the truth of the matter the existence of behind-the-scenes issues really, really shows and indeed it would hardly be the first time meddling producers had helped torpedo their final product – although it’s interesting that you rarely hear of producers stepping in and making large-scale positive changes, and directors saying ‘hmm, actually I like what you did there’ … In any event the story concerns itself with the four youngsters: Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), as they gain their superpowers by travelling to another mysterious world all before having to combine their talents to defeat their arch-enemy and old friend Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), and they will of course learn the value of working together in the process in order to avoid the aforementioned certain Doom.
The film opens with primary school age Reed actually developing the prototype inter-dimensional doohickey that he’ll eventually be paid to develop, so it doesn’t exactly get off to a believable start, but as the film progresses there are really only two locations used throughout – the lab (which then gets moved to a military base, but for all intents and purposes is the same place) and the other world they visit, but they explore no more than, say, one hundred metres of the place and it contains nothing other than volcanic primordial superhero-making goo. They leave Doom behind because nobody likes him, and so he tries to exact brutal revenge by destroying the entire Earth and everything living there, which makes no sense whatsoever but there you are (he says he’d prefer to live with the goo).
Arguably pointlessly controversial, asides from the innate terrible nature of the movie, is the casting of a black actor, Michael B. Jordan, to play a white character (they changed that aspect obviously, it wasn’t a reversal of ‘blackface’ although they could have had a lot of fun with that – ‘what’s your superpower?’, ‘I ignite myself, Oh and I’m black now – and yep, it’s completely true what they say about black men. Now, where’s that white chick? Oh, I guess she’s still my sister. Hmm..’). This is hardly the first instance of this happening – Marvel famously did the same thing with Nick Fury in its cinematic universe of course, but there he was played by Samuel L. Jackson and nary a peep of complaint was heard due to the respect carried by the performer, which is ultimately the point – if they have the right actor for the part the colour of the skin is essentially irrelevant unless it pertains to the story somehow.
It’s interesting, however, that the argument used for the character change is that it’s more reflective of modern day American society in terms of ethnic diversity. I mean, that is a valid point in general terms, but for the Fantastic Four, really? Is there a person alive from any background at all that gives a damn that Richard Reed and co are/were white? Seems unlikely…. but when we consider that Trank also directed Jordan in their biggest success at that time, Chronicle, and that Jordan and Teller starred together as buddies in the equally loathsome ‘That Awkward Moment‘, it seems rather likely that they simply wanted to cast their buddy and used this somewhat flimsy racial argument to justify it when really ‘That Awkward Moment’ ought to have been the justification for not casting the two of them together in anything again (they are equally poor in tandem here, in fact Kate Mara is the only one who doesn’t suck tremendously in this).
Having Jordan play Johnny Storm is also curious – seems somewhat daft when the character is not only originally white but also has a sister, who is oddly enough also white, thus forcing them to break two original character traits (they make Sue Storm adopted here) instead of the one that would be broken with either Ben or Reed, ah but would casting him as Ben leave them open to attack given what happens to the character and would casting a black man as the lead who gets the white girl, as Reed would represent, be too big a risk for their predominantly white main market? Does this suggest that this is effectively still a ‘token black guy’ character?
Ultimately, the film isn’t good enough to care a jot about, but for an interesting take on this concept watch ‘Suture’ (93) where two brothers are played by a black and a white actor but they are described onscreen as looking identical by all the other characters – it’s quite a nice little exploration of the theme.