The FANTASTIC FOUR make a triumphant return with MARVEL's next generation of heroes - four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate universe, their physical forms altered in shocking ways. Their lives changed forever, Reed Richards (MR. FANTASTIC), Sue Storm (INVISIBLE WOMAN), Johnny Storm (THE HUMAN TORCH) and Ben Grimm (THE THING) must harness their incredible new powers and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy, the infamous DR. DOOM.
"I like this book," holds up a copy of Jules Vern's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, "it's about this guy, Captain Nemo, he invents a submarine that goes deeper than anything in history."
It was bound to happen sooner or later. When you start churning out superhero films at a rate of 6 to 8 per year, Hollywood was destined to experience a cataclysmic failure of epic proportions. One could argue that the Sony 'Amazing Spider-Man' films were "failures" to an extent in that they tried to muster up the Disney-Marvel expanded universe experience, but they were at the very least financially successful. In the case of Fox-Marvel's reboot 'Fantastic Four' film, "failure" doesn't even begin to describe this fascinating train wreck of a superhero film.
For young boy-genius Reed Richards (Owen Judge) life basically consists of being browbeaten by his lowbrow science teacher and his classmates for having bigger dreams than becoming a fireman or a professional football player. Reed wants to become the first person to conquer inter-dimensional travel. And with the help of his buddy Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann), he does - only on a small scale. After successfully transporting a toy car to god knows where, the boy dreams big. Eight years later Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) have perfected the process; now they're able to teleport an object through space and bring it back. While this fails to impress the same science teacher they had in the fifth grade, it catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) of the famous Baxter Institute for scientific research as well as his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara).
Since Reed was the one that perfected the science, he's invited to go to school at the Baxter Institute while Ben stays at home and works at his family's junkyard - because apparently his mechanical know-how wasn't as valuable. It turns out that Dr. Storm has been working on a similar project for years with a young delinquent hacker-scientist by the name of Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). While Dr. Storm, Sue, and Doom could transport an object, they couldn't get it to come back through the folds of time and space - so Reed is a bit of a life saver since men like Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) are keen to shut down the research since it poses no valuable military application. Now that Reed is on the scene, they can finish perfecting the science while Dr. Storm's other child, the rebellious Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) can take care of the mechanical side of things because apparently Ben still isn't good enough.
Once they're able to successfully transport a monkey to the mysterious primordial Planet Zero and back, Reed, Sue, Doom, and Johnny are angry to learn that they won't be the first humans to use the transporter. After getting drunk on a single mini flask of booze, Reed, Doom, Johnny, and the now invited to the project Ben think it's the perfect time to use the transporter themselves. Of course, this is a bad idea as the team isn't prepared for the experience. When Planet Zero starts spewing cosmic radiation, Doom is lost on the planet and Johnny, Ben, and Reed barely make it back to Earth and in the process expose Sue to the same radiation. Reed awakens to learn his limbs are super-stretchy and can make his face look like a Hispanic man at will as a disguise (this actually happens in the movie), Ben is now made out of solid rock, Johnny is on fire, and Sue is invisible and able to create forcefields. When a later trip to the planet allows Doom to return alive, the four friends learn their former colleague is hell-bent on destroying the Earth and in order to stop him they're going to have to set aside their differences and learn to work together - as a team.
I wish I could say that everything listed above made for an interesting film with well-rounded characters and follows a traditional three-act narrative structure that allows suspense and action to build to a rousing crescendo of superhero action. Unfortunately, 90% of what I wrote in that summation is the first act of the film which leaves all of twenty or thirty minutes to take care of acts two and three. 'Fantastic Four' is essentially what would have happened if the Kryptonians from 'Superman II' suddenly appeared for ten minutes at the end of 'Superman: The Movie.' 'Fantastic Four' is a film that fails on virtually every level from story and plot structure, to casting, to producing, to directing and the results are fascinating.
When I was in film school, I had a beginning production class that analyzed the sordid production history of 'Alien 3' and it's various incarnations before the AIDS-metaphor prison planet final product went in front of cameras. From the wooden monastery to the Ripley-absent William Wisher draft that turned the Alien into a virus, we dissected, analyzed, argued, and even sought to find a way to "fix" the story problems and theoretically make a better movie. This 'Fantastic Four' reboot is a strong candidate for such a class. While it's a fair argument to suggest that the first half of the film works better than the second, it's also easy to argue that in the time allotted for this film, none of it works. Had that first 70-80 minutes been used as a pilot movie for a multi-episode television series, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't, this was a movie that aimed to see our heroes meet, get their powers, become enemies because of getting said powers, learn to be friends again, meet a villain, and then learn to be a team in order to save the world, and then defeat said villain all inside of 100 minutes. Way too much plot, nowhere near enough time to adequately or even interestingly conquer that much material.
So where does it all go wrong? Honestly, page one of the script is a pretty easy place to start things off. 'Fantastic Four' is one of those movies where it becomes increasingly easy to Monday-morning quarterback the entire feature. You don't have to be a plot structure storytelling genius to start picking apart the film's numerous faults and offer up suggestions as to how to fix it. As with the numerous and easy to spot reshoots (look for Kate Mara's gigantic wig), it's quite clear that an effort was made to salvage the already sunken ship and make the film interesting, the only problem is that they focused on character development instead of plot or action.
Normally, character development wouldn't be a failing mark for a film, but in the case of 'Fantastic Four,' it is. The script follows the "Save the Cat" formula in all of the wrong ways. While trying to make the characters seem relatable to the audience, the filmmakers forget that seeing these individuals with unique powers actually doing something with them is far more interesting than them talking about how '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' is their favorite book or "pattern recognition" is their special science ability or how the "government is bad." Somehow in this interminable process to establish likeability through conversation, the filmmakers forget to have key characters such as Ben Grimm/The Thing and Sue Storm even speak a single word to each other. Then you have the failure to make the heroes remotely interesting, likable, or even executed well. With some early PS3-level CGI, there is a cheapness on display that is staggering, and that doesn't even touch the treatment of Dr. Doom - one of Marvel Comics' most iconic super-villains - who ends up looking like a mouthless Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo with green lights covering his body.
When I saw 'Fantastic Four' in the theater, I repeatedly thought of the scene from Oliver Stone's 'JFK' where Kevin Costner analyzes the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. "Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left." The entire effort that went into the forming of the creative team behind 'Fantastic Four,' hiring producers, writers, a director, casting, editing, reshoots, editing again, marketing, and release of the final product deserves that level of scrutiny. In the lead-up and following the release of 'Fantastic Four' there was an amazing amount of finger-pointing as to who was at fault. In short - everyone is at fault here, from the producers who concocted this mess to director Josh Trank, all the way up to the executives who allowed this thing to reach cinema screens. Say what you will about movies like 'G.I. Joe Retaliation,' 'World War Z,' or even 'The Exorcist: The Beginning' for that matter - at the very least those movies had a team behind them that recognized they had a bad product on their hands and did everything they could to fix it rather than rush things to meet a release date. I don't think I have ever seen a movie like 'Fantastic Four' that put me into a state of such clinical detachment. I wasn't bored. I wasn't entertained. I was simply fascinated that a movie with such a huge budget could be this much of a cinematic mess and actually exist to be viewed over and over again in its current state. As someone who has seen 'The Room' no less than 15 times in the theater, I sincerely hope this 'Fantastic Four' finds a place as a midnight movie sensation, it's a fate this movie deserves because that is an audience who will appreciate it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fantastic Four' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to 20th Century Fox and is pressed onto a Region A locked BD50 disc. Now, there are a couple of retailer exclusives (amazingly) to be aware of. Target - which is the one I picked up for this review - offers Digibook packaging and slipcover with a 26-page photo diary which is just a bunch of pictures from the movie with random quotes. Best Buy has a Steelbook edition and to my knowledge doesn't feature any extra bonus content. And then there is the standard Blu-ray case with slip cover. All editions come with an Ultraviolet Digital HD voucher. The disc opens to trailers for other 20th Century Fox release before arriving at the animated main menu that honestly and truly features video clips that show all of the action from the final act of the film. So if you want to be surprised, close your eyes and press "play" on your remote if you don't want to see what happens.
Due to the obvious hasty reshoots and frantic editing, the 2.39:1 1080p image for 'Fantastic Four' can actually look like you're watching two separate films. During what I will call "Film A," 'Fantastic Four' displays a wonderful amount of image clarity, fine detail levels, accurate and pleasing colors, with solid black levels that create a wonderful sense of depth. For the obvious reshoots that I will call "Film B," things don't hold up nearly as well. For starters, Film B features an odd softness to it that doesn't sync with Film A, even when the shots are intended to be contained within the same scene as facial features, clothing and set details noticeably change. This is especially obvious when any CGI effects are used as the Film B effects would appear to have only gotten a single-pass rendering while Film A's are far cleaner and blend into a given scene. Film B's colors don't hold up nearly as well, again part of the reshoots the cast looks different as some actors were already working on other films, but also, the black levels don't reach the same level of saturation so during these moments the image can look quite a bit flatter. Considering the hodgepodge nature of the movie, it shouldn't really be all that surprising that the image quality for the film as a whole looks the way that it does. It's just one more aspect of this film to watch with a scrutinizing eye. It's not necessarily something that should be faulted to this Blu-ray transfer, but the quality of the transfer makes the inherent problems of the film all the more obvious.
While the quality of the film itself, as well as the image, are questionable, the DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track is an absolute beast in all of the best ways. Surround channels are constantly kept busy by the background ambients as well as the film's half-way decent score by composers Marco Beltrami and Phillip Glass. Dialogue is crystal clear and never an issue to hear. Since the film is relatively short on action, the audio track's best and most immersive moments come when anyone visits the planet. In these moments, the surrounds really come alive and the imaging is a lot of fun. Levels are spot on as there isn't ever any issue with volume shifts so you shouldn't need to monitor that. The big fury of activity during the film's climax is welcome and wild as it really showcases how well a 7.1 track can be used to fill an action sequence, I just wish there were more of them throughout the film to enjoy. All around this is a pretty great audio track.
Powering Up: Superpowers of the Fantastic Four: (HD 19:36) This is a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill behind the scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews. Doesn't exactly blow your hair back but is still worth a look.
The Quantum Gates: (HD 10:50) This is kind of a cool little extra that takes a look at the teleportation device concocted for the film. Not a bad switch up for this reboot, I honestly wish it could have been used to better effect because for all intents and purposes it works.
The Score: (HD 5:03) So this is my favorite extra feature on this entire disc. Philip Glass and Marco Beltrami are two of the last composers I would ever expect to hear collaborate, and yet, here they are. I would joyfully watch an entire film about these two working together because it's just that weird of an idea.
Concept Art: (HD) This covers the Quantum Gates and Planet Zero and is actually a pretty cool look at the visual development of these plot points. I wish they'd done the same extra feature for the actual characters because that would have been something truly interesting.
What to make of 'Fantastic Four' on Blu-ray? This isn't a movie that I can or ever actually would recommend to anyone seeking something to watch to be entertained by. 'Fantastic Four' is like watching a train derail for an hour and forty minutes, and should be viewed with an amazed and eager eye that is ready to absorb the cinematic carnage erupt on screen. I'm not a fan of this film in any way and yet I am glad that I now own it. It is such a bizarre film that I am endlessly fascinated by it, only for all the wrong reasons. If you're someone who loves to dissect bad movies, this 'Fantastic Four' should be considered food for thought. The image quality is as good as can be expected considering the film's production, but the audio track is spot on. Extras are interesting but skimpy. I'm calling this one as being worth a rental only if you're very curious. Not to be considered for a blind buy.