Film Absolutely fucking horrendous, genuinely one of the worst films ever made, misconceived in almost every way, feeling on all levels as though it was thrown together and made worse by the impression, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, that there isn't a better film hidden underneath somewhere.
Now I appreciate that I'd set myself up to hate it and to an extent a lot of that had to do with lowering my expectations, a process which has actually helped me enjoy other films in the past, notably the Resident Evil and Underworld series which tend to be universally slated by critics but I enjoy on almost every level and not secretly.
I had hoped that I'd come away from Fan Four Stick with a certain admiration for a noble failure in the realm of Catwoman, seeing someone remove a concept from its origins and then turn out something which has its good points or least justifies not being the thing it's supposed to be an adaption of. It's not.
Despite that, let's try to find some positives.
Well, for a start I didn't have to pay to see it.
Having tried to find a showing at the Odeon with the least potential audience toxicity, so 10:15 on a Monday morning, I pretty quickly noticed an odd noise coming from somewhere in the auditorium. Sitting on the front row I could hear it pretty clearly as the pre-show advertising slides appeared and then during the quiet bits between adverts. I stepped out to tell an usher and the two of us sat back on the front row listening out for it. I think he was half convinced there was something as he left before the trailers but nothing changed.
So I spent the whole film also trying to work out what the noise was until a particularly silent bit during an amazingly quiet narrative for something in the comic book genre and realised it was the sound of the air conditioning unit and so on top of everything else I had that whooshing along in the background.
After the film finished I met a manager in the foyer, told him about the distraction and was issued with a full refund without any quibbles and it's important to note without actually having asked for one (it's cheaper on a Monday anyway). I was simply letting them know so that it didn't effect other patrons enjoyment of the film should they have wandered in by mistake.
Otherwise the film was well projected across a massive screen with proper luminance and excellent sound quality. There we about seven of us in the audience with the two families sat towards the back and silent throughout. Ironically this was the perfect environment to watch a movie.
In relation to the actual film and this is where the spoilers really beginning;
Opening with the class project material isn't horrible and essentially the opening of Big Hero 6 filmed in the style of Super 8. As a way of establishing Reed Richards as a kind of scientist outside the mainstream this would have worked in a more orthodox adaptation of the comic though it is derivative of other super hero films, notably the first X-Men and Superman before it.
The actors all work well with the material that they're given or at least the selected footage of their performances shows that for at least part of the project, the initial photography, they had some notion of how the material should be played.
The rest of it is a failure.
Professional critics and the rest of us all have our theories as to why that is, and since you can go glance through the hundred odd reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (currently metascore 8%) or people ranting into their iPhones on YouTube if you want to, I don't know if there's much point in me trying to reiterate their many points.
Things didn't start well when I approached the box office and asked for a ticket to see "Jurassic... no I mean Fantastic Four. God, I wish I was going to see Jurassic World again. I don't even know what I'm..." "So you'd like a ticket for Fantastic Four?" "Sorry, yes." "The 10:15 showing." "Yes, sorry." It was almost as though my mouth was making a last ditch effort to spare my brain from what was to come.
Then, glancing through the Odeon's in house magazine I noticed a massive factual error in the synopsis for the film...
"this latest adventure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe". If only.
In any case, just to limit myself, here are five things which stood out to me:
(1) Sexism. Trank takes time to properly introduce Reed, Ben, Johnny and Victor to varying degrees with their own scenes which to some extent demonstrate how they tick. Sue on the other hand is simply introduced to Reed and has absolutely no narrative agency, the scene which is supposed to highlight who she is entirely played through Reed's POV as he reacts to her.
She's also the only female main character.
Granted there's only a small main cast, but given how much if the piece has been re-engineered by Trank et al, there would still have been a lot of space to give Sue a friend or (and I hesitate to say this believe me) female friends to some of the other guys. But since no one has a life outside the requirements of what plot there is or indeed seems to leave a lab much, here, based on the IMDb are the character names of the those played by female cast members:
Science Fair Judge #2
Street Race Girl
Reed's Scientist #1 (Area 57)
Sue's Doctor (Area 57)
Johnny's Doctor (Area 57)
Computer Military Tech (Area 57)
Emergency Announcer (Area 57)
Baxter Board Member (uncredited)
Ben Scientist #2 (uncredited)
NYC Passerby / Scientist (uncredited)
Science Fair Judge (uncredited)
Hospital Patient (uncredited)
Lab Tech (uncredited)
Baxter Institute Professor (uncredited)
NYC Passerby (uncredited)
Incidentally, the IMDb lists about a hundred and thirty cast members of which only twenty-three are female.
The only character here with a substantial speaking role is Sue and that's just barely. She's also the only female character who's granted a full name (though admittedly few of the male characters actually do either for some reason). It's Rachel Grimm and Evelyn Richards in the comics by the way. Looking at this list, I'm reminded of what Russell T Davies said about writing scripts and how he always gives characters names because it means that when the actor puts the role on their CV it looks more substantial than it actually is. "Reed's Scientist #1 (Area 57)" is nonsense. A lot of the uncrediteds on this list look like must have appeared in the excised Trank footage (a lot of which is in the trailer - the shot of Ben with the baseball bat certainly isn't).
Also, setting aside the fact that we're not really watching a Fantastic Four film, note how the actual experimental flight which leads to the characters getting the powers is taken by the four blokes none of whom think to phone Sue and invite her. Reed calls his best friend instead, a character who is only being invited along because he has to become the Thing. Effectively it's Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Sorry, 3. Whatever. The set designers could have produced a machine with five capsules or six but instead Sue gains her powers through absorbed the after burn of the capsule returning to Earth. Even the Tim Story film had Sue take part in her own origin story.
(2) "It's Clobbering Time!" I parted company with the Transformers films when Bumblebee's original shell, the Beetle, was disrespected and nudged aside in favour of some non-descript sports car, this being the moment when I realised the production put commerce and product placement above respecting the original source material. In Fantastic Four, Ben's catchphrase is first used when his older brother bullies him which makes its eventual callback later in the film nonsensical in character terms. Trank puts the reference in for fan service, just as Bay does with the Beetle in Transformers but also in such a way that it disrespects it.
(3) Who's the protagonist? A more orthodox approach would have made all four of the characters joint protagonists, but in Trank's rendering its notionally Reed Richards. It's his prologue and we see the Baxter Building through his eyes and his goal is to visit the other universe. Except after the set up, he's gone for much of the film and although a sort of secondary goal is set up about him trying to find a way back through the dimensional portal to cure himself and his friends it's not really developed and there's no real pay off to the beginning other than being handed a giant research facility as a step up from the garage.
One of Joss Whedon's slight of hands in the Avengers screenplay is making Nick Fury the protagonist. He has a clear goal, creating the Avengers, and that goal's satisfied at the end. Weirdly, the F4 script almost does the same thing by accident with Tim Blake Nelson's nefarious Dr. Allen (a reimagining of the Mole Man apparently though this was changed in post) exploiting the new powers of the characters and he certainly has the most agency in the final half during the reshoots. A Fantastic Four film is horribly misconceived if something like this is the case.
(4) Now what? One of the fundamental problems is once the story enters the lab, the notion of world building ends. There's some glances towards what this version of the world is like during the section when The Thing is sent into conflict, but overall we're not given much information at all about the place where these characters exist. When Doom threatens the planet at the end, for all the minor set-up near the start about him being a misanthrope, mainly we ask why? It's because he's Doom, but apart from that? Rather like Ben going on the mission, it's motivated by the need to recreate a character from the comics rather than anything particularly developed in the film itself. Eventually, what this ends up with is a superhero team with no one to fight, an origin story with nowhere to go.
Much of this has to do with hedge betting, just in case the world turns out to be the same as X-Men (presumably post Days of Future Past) (and apparently a Deadpool mask appears at the back of one the scenes) but my feeling is that they knew they were onto a non-starter during production. This doesn't feel like a film which is expecting a sequel or anything else - instead it's as though the studio really has cut its losses and decided to film an ending so they have something to release because to dump the project altogether would be even more expensive. No one could look at the last quarter of the film and be proud of what they've accomplished, which would explain to some extent too why the cast apparently weren't shown it before going out to publicise it. It feels unreleasably unfinished like a film school project knocked together at the last minute to hit a deadline, which since the release date for it was agreed months in advance it actually was. At a certain point everyone involved must have (I guess) entered a period of filling a contractual obligation and that rarely ends with something coherent appearing on screen. Ambersons.
(5) The reshoot footage is hilariously poor in places. Apart from the obvious changes in Kate Mara's wig there's also the moments when the actors are entirely unengaged by the material or worse actively don't even seem to know what to do with it. Notice Miles (Reed) Teller as he explains what Doom is doing, all character drained from his voice. The shots of Kate (Sue) Mara on the Planet Zero (a place which until that point she hadn't already visited herself so you'd think would have some reaction to that) her face scrunched, her hands gesturing less convincingly than Josie Lawrence improvising after a Panto suggestion during the Film & Theatre Styles on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Who really shot these scenes and what support did they get and how long before we get a version of the Street Fighter article for this debacle?
Overall, as I suspected, the moment the project was sunk was as soon as Trank or whoever decided to throw the source material out of the window and do something new because that's the moment this stopped being a Fantastic Four film. Yes, it's supposed to be a version of the Ultimates FF but it doesn't even manage that. Partly their hand was forced by the Tim Story films which were just close enough that anything produced now would be compared to them (and one of the amusing results of this is watching people re-evaluate Rise of the Silver Surfer) but that doesn't excuse the poor execution of even the so-called better earlier half of the film when we're forced to endure the endless montages and exposition about the creation of what's essentially and ersatz TARDIS when we should be finding out who these characters are and enjoying their company ...
... which is probably when I should stop writing or I'll be here for another hour. I've spent longer writing this than it took to watch the film. That's another thing, A hundred minutes is in no way long enough to tell the origin story of four chara ...
... enough. Enough now.