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A Fantastic Piece of Shit, Part I

When we think of bad movies, infamous names such as Howard the Duck, Catwoman and Battlefield Earth come to mind. We remember the loathsome lows that made us want to hurl our collective buckets of popcorn at the screen, like John Tuturro coming face to face with robot testicles in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or Bruce Willis's non-stop, furious mugging in Hudson Hawk, or simply sitting through any Adam Sandler movie after 2000; or we remember the moments that made an-otherwise terrible movie transcend into cult-status, like James Woods making a pen bomb and threatening to blow a police station to hell in The Specialist, or Tommy Wiseau's can't look away performance as Johnny, a man coming to grips with his partner's lies and infidelity with The Room, etc. The list of cinematic dreck goes on and on, and, in a way, they shape us as moviegoers and as hardcore film geeks. In a way, we treasure the bad almost as much we do the good, built up as as a testament to just how bad the art form can get when we bitch and gripe about...well, bad movies.

Today, I'm celebrating a special kind of awful. A movie that makes me pine for how badly Joel Schumacher, Gavin Hood and Tim Story screwed the pooch on beloved comic-book icons, and a review I'm going to have to split into two parts because there's so much wrong with it. I am, of course, referring to Fox's reboot of Marvel's first family, Fantastic Four. Before I start, I need to tell you that this review will be a break from form, because I will be spoiling major parts to the film so if you haven't watched it yet, then don't read this review, or if you have no intention on seeing the film, but want to hear the staggering incompetence of what took place in the final product, then gladly read on!

So we start in 2007, where child prodigy Reed Richards tells his grade school class that he wants to be the first person to build a device which can crack inter-dimensional travel into parallel worlds and universes, and gets laughed at by his classmates and his teacher, who scolds him for going above and beyond what his assignment was. Only one kid in the class doesn't find his vision strange at all: Ben Grimm, who's family owns a junkyard, and is tormented by his older brother. In fact, said brother has a bit of a saying when he turns physical towards his litter bro: "It's clobber' time!" No, really - The Thing's trademark catchphrase stems from his abusive sibling. I don't know what's more insulting: the fact that the filmmakers tried to turn Ben Grimm - one of Marvel Comics' biggest badasses - into this tormented kid in an attempt at pseudo psychology, or the fact they never followed up on his brother's abusive nature had an effect on his life as he grows older.

Flash forward ten years later and both Richards (Miles Teller) and Grimm (Jamie Bell) are showing off their teleporter device at the high school science fair, which catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthy), along with his adoptive daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and why they're trolling around a science fair is anyone's guess. The elder storm is so impressed with Reed's work that he's being given a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation, an institution dedicated investing in scientific prodigies. You'll notice that Reed was the one given a full ride, whereas his best pal isn't seen until the end of the first act, which is really baffling to me: I get that Ben isn't on the same intellectual level as Richards, but the film mentioned that they pair worked on this game-changing project together for a decade! That alone should have granted him the same entry into the organization as Reed. And frankly, the characterization of Grimm is just odd: in the comics, he was a kid who grew up in a tough neighborhood and learned how to fend for himself. Furthermore, despite him being the stereotypical high-school jock, he used his full ride scholarship to study engineering in college, graduated with advanced degrees in his field and became a test pilot in the military! He's depicted as "the muscle" of the group, but he was more than just a tough guy; an aspect of his character director and co-writer Josh Trank does away with completely. The lack of understanding of "The Thing", along with a few other characters, is just one of the many problems with the film, but I'll come back to that later.

We move onto the other sibling, Dr. Storm's biological child, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, fresh from his breakout performance in Fruitvale Station), who, like his comic book counterpart, is very cocky and brash, but is also a very skilled engineer. Daddy Storm has had it with his son's reckless nature and after being injured in a racing accident, he issues his son a challenge: work with him on the inter-dimensional project in order to get his car back. That's really his motivation - he wants to go back to being a reckless street car driver and will use his skills in order to achieve that goal. The characterization is so thin that calling him a 'cardboard cutout' seems generous. Also, if Johnny is such a talented mechanic, here's a thought: show, don't tell! Eventually when he sides with dad and begins to help build the device, the film does show his talents, but it would have been nice to see doing his thing beforehand.

And last up is Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a former protege of Dr. Storm's. In the comics, Victor is a brilliant and ruthless scientist who's perfectionist nature turns him into a supervillian with a iron mask and the ability to make force fields, energy projection and dabbles in the mystic arts. This version of Doom is basically an anti-social hipster douchebag who doesn't 'trust the Man', and only returns because he has a one-sided romantic interest in Dr. Storm's daughter. Oh, I forgot to mention Sue Storm, but to sum up her character: She's been working on the project for years with her adoptive father, and her big thing is that she reads patterns in people, and listens to music while she works. If that sounds threadbare, that's because that's how Trank probably intended it to be: the studio made the director take Mara as Sue Storm, and treated her like crap because he never wanted her in the role from the start. Oh yes, I'll be getting to the production troubles thought the review, because the direction was just the tip of the iceberg on the disputes between Trank and the studio.

Our three heroes and future villain team up in a montage of  working together, figuring out the science of inter-dimensional travel and building the teleporter. This would have been a really interesting segway, if the actors had any sort of rapport together and they simply don't, which is a huge failing for a superhero film who have to worth together as a unit. This feeling of monotony takes up most of the first act of the film: boring scenes of actors doing science work; boring exchanges of dialogue of actors talking about science work, and talented actors trying their best to elevate sloppy characterizations but only getting bogged down by uninspired writing. Also, the tone of the film is grim and lifeless; with muted colors of blues and shadows hanging all over the film. It's as if Trank watched Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy and tried to emulate his style, without the realization that the tone of the Fantastic Four comic simply doesn't match with the brooding, dark storyline he was trying to aim for, and the film isn't much fun or interesting to watch. Say what you will about the '05 and '07 versions of the Fantastic 4, but at least with those movies, there was a certain bond you could see with the characters - the personalities of a Ben Grimm interacting and colliding with a Johnny Storm was playful and it worked in the film's favor because there was a good rapport between Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans, respectively.

After months of research, calculations, designing and building, the machine makes a test run by sending a CGI chimpanzee stolen from Planet of the Apes-reboot series to the Negative Zone, the parallel world that might hold the key to learning more about Earth. The test is considered a success, and the foundation's benefactor & supervisor, Dr. Harvey Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) tells the quartet that NASA will be taking over from here in exploring the Negative Zone. It sounds like a reasonable, logical decision; I mean, brilliant as Reed, Sue, Johnny and Victor are, they have no experience with exploration on another planet, essentially, whereas astronauts have had years of training for an event of this magnitude. Again, it sounds like a very smart decision, turning over their work to professionals, right?

To Victor and the gang - they're getting screwed over by the Man! The government pigs are coming to exploit and rape this barren wasteland for their own selfish desires and they're going to be a footnote in history as assholes get set to become the Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong of their generation! Apparently, Victor, Johnny and Reed have never heard of Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys, the teens from West Virginia that are considered pioneers in developing the same spacecraft that Victor is allegedly claiming no one gives a fuck about or has even heard of. The pretentiousness of Doom, and how Kebbell plays him is both off the charts and extremely obnoxious. After the boys get shitfaced, they hatch a plan to go for a little joyride in the billion-dollar teleportation and cruise to another dimension before trained explorers do. That'll stick it to those hacks - we're taking what's ours, fuckers!

Yes, you really are reading that correctly: Reed, Johnny and Victor convince Ben Grimm (remember him?) to go on an unauthorized spin into a new, uninhabitable planet where they could very well get themselves killed, damage the expensive transporter they spent months and years working on and potentially wind up stuck there, if they're not careful...all because they want to stick it to 'the Man'. It's a good thing three of the four characters are considered the protagonists in this movie, isn't it? And to add insult to injury, the boys leave Sue behind, despite the fact she's made this moment her life's work, unlike their tourist hitchhiker, Ben. Well done, you twats.

What will happen to our group of douchebags heroes in the Negative Zone? How do they get their powers? When we seen a fucking action scene in this dreary slog? Why didn't Fox and Josh Trank just agree to part ways before shit hit the fan? And was this whole reboot project rotten from the start? Tune in next time to find out the answers!


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