Fantastic Four: Four Things They Did Right

(Photo: Fox)

Josh Trank and Fox's new Fantastic Four is kind of a disaster.

Not the movie itself, necessarily -- but the PR on this film has been abysmal from day one and the box office is in a tailspin after Trank revealed that the studio hijacked his movie and, he claims, broke it.

The movie itself was...eh. Our critic Brandon Davis gave it a 5.7 out of 10, and that seems about right, frankly. There are a great many fans who are saying it's their least favorite comic book movie of all time, which is a matter of subjective opinion, but objectively there were quite a few things that worked, especially in the first half of the movie.

What were they, you ask? Read on -- and don't go in the comments and bitch and moan that we dared to say SOMETHING good about this movie. I just ranted and raved for 2,500 words about how much Doom and the third act blew last night, so I don't want to hear it.

A Cronenberg vibe

The character transformations in this film were harrowing. Owing more to the (ultimately fatal) transformation of the Excalibur's crew in Adventures of Superman #466 (a Fantastic Four pastiche), I heard one audience member describe seeing Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom's discovery of their powers as "body horror," and that's probably fair.

Trank and executive producer Simon Kinberg have both been open about how David Cronenberg's 1986 horror/sci-fi classic The Fly informed Fantastic Four, and that was absolutely evident here.

For those who have seen the film, take a look at this scene from The Fly for reference...

...and also, this scene from Scanners, which came into play when Doom started to actually use his powers...

...although frankly it was right around then that the movie became completely unsalvageable, so perhaps using that example in this list isn't a great idea.

Ah, well. People's minds are made up about the film already anyway.

Point is: you can argue whether this particular tone was a good idea or not for Fantastic Four (I vote probably not), but it's hard to argue that they didn't convey it effectively in the context of the movie.

The Thing

There was a lot to love about Jamie Bell's take on The Thing.

The CGI was dodgy throughout this movie, but for the most part, The Thing was great.

He also benefited from the aforementioned Cronenberg-inspired sci-fi horror vibe, in that while Johnny's transformation was shocking and Reed's kind of icky, it was Ben's where it went full-on body horror.

And while it was done at the expense of Reed's character, the boozed-up accident followed by Reed's retreat gave Ben a better reason for being shattered by the experience than just "I'm ugly," which sounds shallow even if by "ugly" you mean "giant, orange rock monster," it's actually kind of valid.

There's just one question I have about Ben in this movie...

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

The use of powers

From Ben Grimm tearing apart tanks to Reed Richards slingshotting himself around, one of the things that both the screenwriters and the effects people got right was cool, creative uses of the team's powers onscreen.

This is actually kind of a big deal for the Fantastic Four, since frankly their power sets can often be quite boring in the hands of the wrong writer.

This plays into the whole The Fly body horror angle, too; really, Reed has never been as interesting onscreen as he was here. The effortlessness with which he did some of his fighting, too, was impressive and they somehow managed to use the "throwing a punch from 10 feet away" power without it looking (too) comical.

The potential for Sue's powers to be overwhelming is on clear display when she single-handedly (if briefly) stops the flow of Doom's power from the black hole.

Really, the only person who didn't get really cool, creative uses for his powers is Johnny...and let's face it: almost nothing in the movie looked cooler than Human Torch, so he kind of gets a little bit of a pass.

The weak link, as with almost anything else in this film, was Doom. His ill-defined powers were used in such a way as to make him seem almost godlike. it should have been scary, except that it was done in such a silly way with such a total disregard for consequences that it felt as goofy as anything out of Kingsman.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Science!

Tim Story's 2005 film utterly failed to capture the spirit of exploration that differentiated the team from other superheroes, focusing instead on the idea of the "celebrity superhero," an area where the FF has often gone as well, so it's hard to fault him.

After all, the Booster Gold angle was old news in the comics by then, but hadn't really been done in mainstream superhero movies, and given how mainstream and commercial that movie wanted to be, commenting on celebrity culture was easier to make jokes about than the more abstract ideas of science and exploration.

I'd argue that the biggest mistake Trank's FF made in focusing on the science and exploration elements is that it put everyone on more or less even footing. While trailers for the film centered on Reed's phenomenal gifts, Sue was able to one-up him when he went into hiding and Victor was seen correcting his equations in the film itself. The "smartest man in the world" here was really just coming into his own -- which could be an interesting story in the comics, but onscreen it just makes it seem like his big brain is at least in part a result of his powers...which isn't supposed to be the case.

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Trank had said that he wanted to "put science back into the science fiction" of the Fantastic Four, and it seems from the lack of costumes, a planned-and-abandoned tease of Mole Man and the amount of time spent on the origin that he had hoped to make a movie that played more with the Challengers of the Unknown-style first few issues of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's FF run.

It didn't work out in the end, but certainly there's an interesting movie to be made there if done right, and it's one of the few ways that you could justify a more dour and downbeat tone for the FF.