Intro1 of 12With Fantastic Four’s reviews squarely in the Negative Zone (get it?), and an approval rating hovering at around 10% on Rotten Tomatoes, it may seem hard to imagine that there’s much in the film worth dissecting.
But even a failure is worth examining, if only to find out what went wrong, and more importantly, what actually worthwhile parts are hiding in the film. So, while our review of Fantastic Four is hardly any more positive than the film’s other notices, we’re stilling diving in to find out what lies at the heart of the movie.
From the film’s lack of connectivity to Marvel lore, to its search for a true theme, and its surprisingly winning cast, here are ten things worth noticing in Fantastic Four.
Easter Eggs2 of 12It’s hard to talk about modern superhero movies without talking about the references and Easter eggs that are peppered throughout. But in that regard, Fantastic Four doesn’t leave much for viewers to work with.
The closest thing that could be considered an Easter egg is a shot of Victor Von Doom’s file, listing his place of birth as Latveria – but that’s more of a confirmation than anything else. There’s not even a Stan Lee cameo to be found.
But that makes you wonder, what didn’t make it in? There are several instances, which we’ll get to later in the list, of references to Marvel lore that were seemingly changed or dropped in production. Is there a version of the film that ties more deeply into the FF’s long history, or did Josh Trank’s efforts to craft a totally original tale preclude those connections?
Tangential Connections3 of 12Speaking of connections, there aren’t many that really tie Fantastic Four together as a film. From the happenstance meeting that brings Reed to the Baxter institute, to Ben and Sue’s lack of shared screen time (they don’t even appear together until the film’s final battle) Fantastic Four is all about getting from one place to the next simply because that’s where the film has to go – not because it’s what logic dictates.
It’s hard to call these missed connections plot holes, as there’s not much of a plot. Moreso, they feel like squandered opportunities to bring the characters together as a unit, a transition that has to be crammed into the final moments of the film.
Josh Trank has made a big deal of the changes 20th Century Fox made to his vision of the film. Could the connective tissue that ties the film’s disparate elements together be the biggest casualty of the studio's hands in the film?
Exploration4 of 12In comic books, the Fantastic Four have always been about exploration. Finding new ways to achieve mankind’s greatest dreams, traveling to distant worlds, and pushing the boundaries of super-science are the FF’s stock in trade.
Fortunately, Fantastic Four does manage to bring this element to the forefront. From Reed’s humble beginnings in his school science fair, to his unwillingness to allow someone else to use his technology before he can, the adventurous spirit is strong with the characters in Fantastic Four.
If it improved on nothing else, Fantastic Four did a more compelling job of explaining why Reed would risk the lives of his friends for a shot at scientific glory than many attempts at their origin.
Character Changes5 of 12No, we’re not talking about Johnny’s ethnicity, or Sue’s adoption. We’re talking about the more subtle changes that littered the film – even from the early days of production.
First of all, there’s the matter of Tim Blake Nelson’s Harvey Allen, a government stooge who attempts to exploit the Fantastic Four. When Nelson was cast, his character was announced as Harvey Elder, A.K.A. the Mole Man, the FF’s oldest foe, leading many to believe he’d be set up as a future antagonist.
But puzzlingly, his character’s name was changed to Harvey Allen, severing that connection to the FF’s history. In an interesting twist, the same scene that establishes that his character is not in fact Harvey Elder also separates the alternate dimension the team visits from the Negative Zone, calling it instead “Planet Zero.”
At the same time, Victor Domashev was changed back to Victor Von Doom, and his professed origin – as an angry, destructive hacker, was left behind. However, some of the trappings of that origin remained behind, from his computerized personal laboratory, to Harvey Allen’s accusation that he destroyed the Baxter Institute’s servers.
There’s enough of a remnant there to support the idea that this was once a much bigger plot point, which, along with Doom actor Toby Kebbell’s assertion that fan backlash lead to reshoots to change his name back to the more familiar comic book version, leave us scratching our heads as to why the film’s creators shied away from other connections to FF lore.
Special Effects6 of 12There’s been a lot of talk about Fantastic Four’s special effects, and while calling them a disaster, or a failure, is far too harsh, the film’s visuals do suffer from inconsistencies that are, at best, questionable in the age of CG-driven, tentpole films.
For example, Ben Grimm’s rocky form looks far better in motion and in action than in the static promo images that did it little justice. While he’s hardly ripped off the page, he has weight and power that many wholly CG creations lack.
Meanwhile, a CG chimp in an earlier scene pales in comparison to the chimps of Planet of the Apes.
The inconsistencies don’t stop there, with Reed’s stretching limbs alternatively looking absolutely convincing, or alienatingly cartoonish depending on the scene. And that’s saying nothing of Planet Zero. Not only was the alternate dimension’s palette changed to green – presumably to match the lights of Doctor Doom’s color scheme – but the environment feels static and lifeless, particularly in the film’s final battle scene, in which the greenscreen environment is painfully obvious.
It’s likely that that final sequence – the film’s biggest attempt at acting like a superhero movie – saw some hasty reshoots to achieve that tone, a status that left it feeling hollow and tacked on.
Planet Zero7 of 12Producer and co-writer Simon Kinberg implied heavily in the lead up to the film that the alternate dimension that grants the FF their abilities was a version of the Negative Zone, or N-Zone as its called in the Ultimate Universe, from which Fantastic Four takes many cues. But in the final cut of the film, it’s instead called “Planet Zero,” a name it’s only given once in a scene that also changes the previously named Harvey Elder to Harvey Allen.
So why the change? Was “Negative Zone” deemed too difficult to explain, or was it simply a measure to temper fan expectations about what the dimension should be? Or, could the answer be that, as Reed believes early in the film, Planet Zero represents an actual planet rather than a different dimension?
Interestingly, Planet Zero shares less in common with the Negative Zone than it does with another Marvel mainstay – Ego, the Living Planet. It’s observed early on that Planet Zero seems to have a consciousness, and Doom certainly speaks about it in a way that makes it sound more like a character than a place.
Horror8 of 12Director Josh Trank said that his Fantastic Four would veer more towards hard sci-fi, and “body horror,” in the style of director David Cronenberg. And while that made many fans of the traditionally bright and uplifting Fantastic Four cringe, it’s ironically the moments with some element of horror that are the films most coherent.
The fact that scenes like the aftermath of the accident that grants the team their powers, or Doom’s rampage through the base that holds the FF are some of the film’s most compelling points to those being the moments when Trank’s vision truly comes through.
Considering that the scenes that do their best to emulate the superhero formula are the ones that feel the most out of place, this suggests a very different vision of the film from the eyes of the director and from the studio.
Family9 of 12There’s nothing more important to the Fantastic Four than family. It’s the occasionally dysfunctional family dynamic that set the team apart from other comic books to begin with, and it’s that dynamic that’s most missing from Fantastic Four, despite the film’s efforts to establish it as a core theme.
All four of the film’s principal characters – Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny – have familial issues. Whether it’s Reed’s disconnect from his parents, Ben’s implied abusive home life, Sue’s adoption, or Johnny’s strained relationship with his father, it seems like these elements are in place to drive the characters to adopt each other as the family they never had.
But those threads are dropped quickly, leading the film’s final moments – the only part when the FF’s traditional dynamic starts to show – to feel unearned and out of place.
Cutting Room Floor10 of 12There are a lot of big moments that were seen in trailer prior to the film’s release that never made it into the final cut. It seems as though each member of the team had moments, both before and after their powers, that were shown time and again in advertising but which didn’t survive the editing process.
From Ben’s descent from a moving plane, to Johnny fixing his car, to Sue force pushing a ring of shipping containers, to Reed desperately stretching towards the camera, there were iconic shots that were conspicuously missing from the film.
And even though it’s common practice for film trailers to use some footage that is later dropped from the film, almost none of the first trailer made it into the movie – a curious predicament.
And while some moments, like Ben playing baseball, seem like small potatoes, the cast themselves noticed missing pieces as well, such as a scene where Sue and Ben actually meet and bond prior to the final fight.
All of this adds up to one conclusion, and that’s that director Josh Trank did, as he asserts, have a far different vision of the film from 20th Century Fox – one we may never get to see.
Finding the Fantastic11 of 12Still, for everything that Fantastic Four gets wrong – even excepting the ways it differs from its source material – there are those things that it gets absolutely right.
While there are some drastic leaps in logic, Fantastic Four never loses sight of its super science, a critical element for any depiction of the team. And as for the team themselves, the actors are well cast, even if everyone but Reed (particularly Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm) feels underused.
On top of that, Doom, while not a faithful representation of the comic book version of the character, feels supremely threatening and creepy when he does finally make it to the screen.
Fantastic Four possesses the bones of a good movie – from an aptly collected cast, to a promising, hard sci-fi baseline that sets it apart from other superhero films – it just works against itself too often to capitalize on any one true vision for the film.
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