I’ll start off by saying, if you saw the recent Fast and the Furious movies and thought they were enjoyable romps of rollicking action adventure, you can stop reading now. If you thought Birdman had too much talking, or you thought Captain America Winter Soldier hit the right note for a superhero movie, what I’m about to say is not for you.
I hadn’t thought too much about the reboot of the Fantastic Four (F4) franchise until recently. The trailer showed promise, and yet it was largely marketed as another superhero movie; something that doesn’t excite me as much as it used to, unfortunately. I never even read the comics, anyway; I was a DC kid. Yesterday I watched a review of F4 with over 700,000 views and more than 10,000 likes. The reviewer panned the movie for almost the entirety of it’s nine minutes and fifty-seven seconds, lamenting things like the lack of epic fight-scenes, the absence of witty, entertaining banter, and an extended origin story. Taking much too long to set the characters up, and not getting to the flying and fighting quickly enough. A dark tone, a somber mood.
Too much talking.
I thought- I have to see this film as soon as possible. After some time I managed to find a watchable streaming version of it, and settled back, hoping my suspicions were correct.
Let me just interlude briefly here.
Some years ago, 2006 to be precise, I was on a road trip across Australia. While on a 3 day hike in the middle of the country I was keenly aware that Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns had opened at the cinemas. It was a long time before i finally got to watch it, on the big screen, bringing my travel companions with me. When it was over i turned to the others, excited, invigorated. Every face was loose. Bored. No one, besides me, had enjoyed the film. And i thought it had been impeccable; a love story to the character via an exploration OF character, with just enough drama and super hero exploits to satisfy the 12-year-old in me. I still rate the shuttle/aircraft rescue scene as one of the most exciting scenes in memory; the variety of pace, the lovely interjections of tranquility amidst the drama. The weightlessness sequence with Lois Lane as she reaches for the pen hanging in the air, or Superman taking a moment to watch the rocket escape safely into space. But I digress.
F4 is everything a superhero movie COULD be, although it is not at all what most people expect such a film SHOULD be. It is largely character driven. Choices, based on well-established and believable desires, propel them, and the story, forward. Their interactions have consequences that affect the plot, and each other. Conversations are scaled back, minimalistic; characters do not exchange wise-cracking quips or formulaic dialogue. While still somewhat archetypal characters, they are developed with enough finesse and thought as to give them dimension and believability.
I could spend a lot of time talking about what the movie does right; or at least, what I think it does right. But this short essay is not so much about that. It’s about questions raised by this kind of occurrence; about how a film that I believe is a bold, fantastic new direction for a film genre bloated with action, effects and spectacle, can do so very badly critically, publicly and financially. It makes me think about what popularity and success actually mean. And it makes me sad. Sad that such bold reimagining of a genre can fail so badly, sad that director Josh Trank may not get to direct the sequel and sad that there may not even BE a similar sequel to this franchise under 20th Century Fox studios.
Which also makes me wonder why the studio that hired Trank at all. If the rumours and reports are true, studio execs fought Trank on the final cut and had him reshoot and cut scenes to fit their own vision- probably, something a bit more Marvel. However, Trank’s previous film, Chronicle, was a lo-fi character-driven take on the ‘people get superpowers, here’s what comes next’ type of film. Nothing to indicate any pretensions of a Josh Whedon approach. They knew what they were getting, and probably paid good money for it. Trank stated in a fateful tweet that he had finished the film a year ago, and was forced to change it drastically. We may never get to see that version of the film. And that, I believe, is a pity.
We engage with media such as films, television, books, comics, art, and communication in all it’s guises, to be entertained, to escape, to admire, or to indulge in a touch of vicarious wish-fulfillment. Or, we seek to be involved; to feel, to relate, and to understand. Depending on what you want to get out of your procrastination time, you may either love, hate or perhaps feel indifferent to a film like F4. However, if you haven’t seen the film due to bad reviews, a distaste for the modern superhero-franchise method of movie making, or, just a lack of interest in comic books, I urge you to consider watching this film. It’s available for pre-order now through the iTunes store for a discounted price. Reserve yourself a copy, and maybe one day this film will receive the recognition and acknowledgment it deserves.