In light of the disastrous team up of director Josh Trank and film studio 20th Century Fox, I wanted to rewatch the two films from ten years previously, also produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Tim Story (a man who has since directed little more than the comedy Ride Along) and were generally panned critically.
The 2007 sequel killed the franchise as a financial flop, despite it being the best of the two. But with such newcomers as Transformers arriving and major comic franchises such as Spider-Man and X-Men in full swing, Fantastic Four was regarded poorly.
But despite all that, I remember finding the first two films at least entertaining and far, far better than Fox’s recent disaster. So here are the three reviews for a new Remake Rumble review!
Fantastic Four (2005)
Back in 2005 when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 were the biggest things in the comic book scene, Fantastic Four was seen as a bit of a misfire. Nowadays it is regarded with absolute disdain.
Four scientists are exposed to a energy phenomenon while on board a space station and are gifted incredible powers: one can fly and turn into fire, another can stretch his body impossibly, one can turn invisible and another had his body turned into rock. While they attempt to understand what has happened to them, a billionaire who had funded their project, Victor Von Doom, was also transformed in the accident…
Fantastic Four is a product of the time; it is campy, colourful and full of ridiculous detours that really have no place to further its own narrative.
It starts fast and strong though. No time for introductions lets get into space and get these superpowers already. It is barely what we would call an “origin story” by today’s standards; things just occur and we have to roll with it. But what is it in a rush to achieve exactly? Some bold, stark character development as these people are turned into freaks… not quite.
The second act is a bit of a mess, comprising of little more than Sue Storm scolding her brother and Ben Grimm failing to pick up spoons over and over again. Rampant product placement as we get one of the team’s many internal squabbles taking place outside of a stadium, and everything is played for laughs. How exactly is an invisible person going to have more luck getting the team through a crowd and police blockade than a normal person?
The third act feels a little segmented and somehow cumbersome. Victor has been very slowly evolving into the menace of Doctor Doom, but grievously too slow in my opinion. If the film wasn’t so keen on showing Johnny Storm (played by lovable Chris Evans, pre-Captain America) snowboarding, stunt biking riding and numerous other needless distractions earlier we might have cared about what happens when Doom arrives. As it reaches its climax, the film feels rushed and quite careless.
But, that all said, I did find myself laughing occasionally. The film does have some good levity and humour, Chris Evans is having a riot as The Human Torch and the film embraces how ridiculous the whole premise is such as with their superhero names gifted to them through Johnny’s obnoxious turn in front of the media’s cameras. The cliches are rampant, Michael Chiklis’ The Thing being loved by a blind woman, the lover’s squabble between Reed Richards and Sue Storm, but it is all serviceable, if predictable and misfiring.
Overall it is as silly and random as I remember it, but with a team such as this I cannot imagine it being made much better. It isn’t a good movie and it is overshadowed completely by its more savvy peers, but it knows what it is.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
The full cast returns for this sequel to the 2005 film, and although it became a critical flop upon release, this film actually has a lot more integrity than its predecessor.
When Reed and Sue are about to get married, a mysterious being arrives from space and terrorises the world. While the team try to uncover its motives Victor Von Doom also wants to capture the creature, yet the entity might only be the herald for something much worse.
Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon all return for what is a pretty competent interpretation of the Fantastic Four.
Once you get over the first quarter of the film being Reed and Sue’s wedding, ooft. That is a lot of time considering the film is only ninety minutes long, do we really need a mindless bachelor party scene so we can have Alba’s Sue Storm looking at her husband-to-be with disgust, only to drop the matter immediately?
Certainly the film starts off poorly, but when the titular Silver Surfer arrives and literally crashes the party, the film’s pacing tightens up and it has a singular focus to drive towards. Something such a clustered story of multiple characters with multiple powers and personalities really needs. Von Doom is even better here, released from the shackles of being “a rich guy” and fully invested in being a monster to be reckoned with.
The Silver Surfer too is very well portrayed, director Tim Story doing a Darth Vader and having Laurence Fishburne voice the character but creature actor specialist Doug Jones (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) playing the part on set. The effort pays off for this alien creature and the visual effects are still great. The chase between Johnny Storm and the Surfer is still awesome to watch.
There is a problem with a deux ex machina by means of Evan’s Johnny Storm temporarily losing his powers after making contact with the Silver Surfer, then proceeds to swap powers with his teammates whenever he touches them. This isn’t explained and makes for most of the film’s comedy in the second act but also provides the team’s solution… somehow… before eventually correcting itself, somehow. I can forgive it though, since it gives Chris Evans more to do; I feel as though they knew from the first film that he was the exceptional actor out of the four.
It feels as though it learned some lessons from its predecessor, although issues still exist (the first twenty minutes) there are some really decent action moments and the team has good chemistry (beyond The Thing being unable to pick up spoons!)
Fantastic Four (2015)
Fantastic Four’s 2015 reboot proves to be less than fantastic and more a victim of directorial and studio disputes, rendering it a completely mute, grey and uninspiring experience.
Reed Richards grew up from being a child science prodigy in his parents’ basement creating a working teleportation device. Hired by Professor Franklin Storm he completes the device and Reed, his best friend Ben, the professor’s son and daughter Johnny and Sue are sent through to another world. But when they do they gain superhuman powers, one’s limbs can stretch, another is now a beast made of rock, another can turn invisible and the final one can fly and turn into fire. While attempting to fix what’s happened to them, their other colleague, Victor, believed to be lost in the other dimension, returns…
This film has a good bit of talent behind it: director Josh Trank made waves with his debut film Chronicle, a gritty superhero found-footage film that graced my top ten of 2012; young actors including Miles Teller (Whiplash) and Michael B Jordan. Unfortunately what we get is not so much a mess, but a film without identity or story, or plot, or even decent editing or direction.
This film has some of the worst editing and continuity blunders I’ve seen in a long time, including example moments such as: Jordan’s Johnny Storm having a broken arm one scene, before he is suddenly welding metal one scene cut later, no broken arm in sight. Or our capital villain, Victor Von Doom, miraculously gaining a green cape from absolutely nowhere.
The list of errors and problems goes on, and this isn’t me nitpicking. The film has no structure; it is an origin story without character arcs, or conclusions. Again take the “Human Torch” Johnny Storm as an example: he is considered a rebel, not a team player, “he doesn’t take orders well”; this trait is established but never followed through, there is no conclusion for him as a character! And replicate that for every, single, character.
So for what happens, as a story, you don’t care a single iota for these characters, there is nothing to care for. The climax is rushed, the film is short at 100 minutes, there simply isn’t anything to hold on to.
The film is getting panned left, right and centre (apart from the seven-year olds) and deservedly so, I don’t suggest you pay money to see this.
But part of me is sad for Fantastic Four in light of the hatred being thrown at it. In my mind, Trank is a good enough director from Chronicle alone. He was even shortlisted to direct a new Star Wars movie because of it! But just recently… coincidentally… he has been pulled from that project. He has even been quoted to have had a better version of Fantastic Four a year ago… suggesting that 20th Century Fox pulled the rug from under him at the last moment and took matters into their own hands. Either that, or Trank simply wanted to mimic his first film and Fox, somehow, didn’t realise this when they took him on board.
It isn’t a good film, it is a disaster, there’s no chemistry and no sense of fun or intelligence, but there is a concept buried beyond recognition under so much rubble like Jamie Bell’s character; Trank had an idea. The only scene that strikes me as unique or even inspired, is the team’s transformation into their superhero personas. Trank was quoted to have used David Cronenberg films as reference, and these scenes are clearly such. These aren’t heroes being born; these are innocent people being turned into freaks, and though (one assumes) Fox twisted the film somehow into the bland, uneventful filler that now remains, that concept is unique and would directly counter the earlier campy Fantastic Four movies. A team of brilliant scientists reduced to monsters and how they can or cannot cope…
But, the film doesn’t do that, it doesn’t do anything, and will be forever remembered like the Amazing Spider-Man films, if not even worse than that. I feel terrible for Trank, if for creative differences he lost this and a Star Wars film, but for you filmgoer: you will want to skip this one.
Additional Marshmallows: And no Stan Lee cameo??
In final verdict, The Rise of the Silver Surfer is the best of the three existing films, although credit where credit is due, Trank’s reboot has more convincing characters. Despite them being too young (something Trank likely championed) I did see them as scientists, were as in Tim Story’s films I mostly saw glamorous actors and actresses “playing” scientists. This is due to Trank actually trying to build up an origin for Reed and Ben, unlike the 2005 film’s total lack of backstory for anybody.
The visuals on Ben Grimm’s The Thing also looked better in 2015 than ten years before… but that isn’t wildly surprising.
But, in terms of film making… Tim Story’s films are actually well constructed, albeit campy and light-hearted. They actually have character development, regardless of how cliche it is, and three act structures. Plus they know what they are; they are designed to be lighthearted and fun.
And Doctor Doom actually looks threatening in the earlier films (especially in Rise of Silver Surfer‘s climax)
None of the films are spectacular though, and all hit a remarkably balanced response of “meh” across the board, the second film being an exception merely because it rose a little higher at times. It is clear that The Fantastic Four team is so diverse that making a decent film out of them is like spinning multiple plates and will take a writer/director more akin to Bryan Singer or Joss Whedon to make it light but intelligent.
Or a better studio. Cough, cough.