Light spoilers throughout the piece – nothing major, but I tell you because if you’re going to be angry at me, it shouldn’t be for that.
Yesterday, I did something both necessary and regrettable – I went to see the new “Fantastic Four” without my daughter. In preparation for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” earlier this year, she made it a point to sit down and watch all the other Marvel movies (so she could be caught up), and even if “Fantastic Four” is not an MCU Marvel movie, she was excited to go see it. However, an overnight at her camp prevented this from happening.
She was there with me in spirit however, and I spent much of the film contemplating how she would have seen it all. I don’t think she would have been impressed, and while that makes me sad (obviously I want her to enjoy her movie-going experiences), it would have made me proud – she has seen good movies (comic book or otherwise) and to be able to recognize “Fantastic Four” as not good is important.
You know who she would have liked in the movie? Johnny Storm.
Much has, of course, been made of the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm (this “much has been made” is generally moronic comments about how dare they cast an African American in the role and how can he be Sue Storm’s brother if Kate Mara is white), but I simply can’t see why or how this matters to anyone. You go out and get the best actor for the role, the person who is going to deliver the best performance, connect best with the audience, make the biggest impact in the part. Jordan is given nowhere near enough to do, but he is the highlight of the film. He conveys Johnny’s brash cockiness with ease, a guy who never breaks a sweat except for when he thinks he’s lost a car race.
Michael B. Jordan is a guy who seems destined for bigger and better things, who has slowly and methodically built his career over a number of years. He doesn’t always end up in the best movies or with the best roles, but he seems to continually be pushing forward and with any luck, if he continues to want to do comic book movies he’ll end up with movies of the same quality as the last guy to play Johnny Storm on the big screen.
What lets Jordan down here is the same thing that lets down Mara and Miles Teller and Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell and the rest – a bad script telling a boring story in the most mundane of ways. The fault here seems to lie with writer/director Josh Trank and writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater.
“Fantastic Four” is an origin story and I’m going to vehemently disagree with people who say that there are now enough comic book movies out there that they should skip origin stories. If the story works, tell it, regardless of whether it’s an origin story. It is just like with the actors, if they’re the right person let them have the role, regardless of their skin color (I’m gonna say it again making it super clear– the way Johnny looks in the comics should in no way impact the way he looks in the movies, there is absolutely no need for the movie to stick to such a ludicrous thing).
I absolutely want to know how the group starts. I think that’s a story worth telling, but only if its good, and here it isn’t.
Somehow, “Fantastic Four” skips all the interesting bits about the team getting and learning to use their powers. They drunkenly travel to another planet and come back with powers. We then skip a year into the future and they’re working on using those powers. That year we miss is probably the most important part of the film and I think this is what people really mean when they say we should skip origin stories – we don’t need a long drawn out bit on how they get to the other planet because, let’s face it, that’s just going to be ridiculous, it’s the human thing that matters. We want to see Johnny working out how to fly, Reed learning about stretching, Sue playing with all the various aspects of what she can do, and that crushing moment when Ben realizes he’s the only one who has lost his body forever.
The stuff that comes before, an hour or so on them working out the details of dimensional travel, and the stuff that comes after, learning to work together in order to defeat a foe, that’s the boring stuff. Those are the bits we can skip in an origin story.
It is actually as if “Fantastic Four” knows that the third act is skippable, and here we get back to my daughter. Leaving the theater she would have looked at me and explained how it was just too loud during the big fight. Then she would have asked how in god’s name Victor gets to the point he does and why he’s angry at Earth and if he could do what he does with his powers why did he wait so long to do it, etc. The questions would have gone on and on, the entire car ride home would have been filled with them. And here’s the thing, I would have had no answer, because “Fantastic Four” doesn’t have an answer.
The first two acts of the movie aren’t very good, but the third act is from a different movie entirely. It is a third act that is entirely unearned and wholly unremarkable. It is loud an dull and offers a bad guy with whom we have no connection whatsoever. We see the four main characters experience their powers for a second before skipping ahead for a year, but with Doom, we don’t even get that.
What upsets me most about the movie is that all the naysayers, all the people who stood up and complained at the way it was cast and the age of the actors and everything else are going to feel some sort of vindication and simply not understand that they’re still in the wrong. “Fantastic Four” is not good, but it not being good has nothing whatsoever to do with all that ridiculousness. It’s not good because the story is not good, the characters are not developed, and the end seems to be tacked on simply because they wanted to have a climactic battle.
Boy, I would like to see them bring back this cast for a sequel. I am pretty convinced it’s a good group and that if it was the right story these four folks could be fantastic. That’s the movie I want to take my daughter to see.
photo credit: 20th Century FOX