The Fantastic Four reboot shows glimmers of promise, but goes off the rails in spectacular fashion.
I'm not a big fan of superhero films, and the Fantastic Four in particular never held much appeal. A guy whose superpower is... stretching? An expressionless rock monster? A bad guy named Doctor Doom? Really?
So it was therefore surprising that I actually kind of almost liked the Fantastic Four reboot. That may seem like damning with faint praise, but for a movie that has gotten slammed by critics (scoring a whopping 8% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing), it's actually pretty impressive.
Fantastic Four can't seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it:
- A serious sci-fi story about a team of whiz-kids trying to crack inter-dimensional travel?
- A gritty horror story about people coming to grips with "superpowers" that are actually pretty terrifying?
- A buddy tale about a family unit driven apart by tragedy and then coming together again?
- A lightweight comic book tale where improbably-named characters like Viktor von Doom and Jonny Storm exchange cheesy banter?
- A popcorn spectacle where a bunch of superheroes save the world without ever being in any real peril?
Fantastic Four tries to be all of these things at the same time, and the result is a tonal mess.
And yet I didn't hate it, because the first three points were actually refreshing and interesting. It wasn't your typical superhero movie, and I liked that part of it.
The other thing I liked was the film's take on Sue Storm, aka the Invisible Woman.
First and foremost, the movie gives us a character whose superpowers are almost an afterthought. Her biggest "power" is - get this - her brain. What a concept! She's intelligent, witty and likable.
She also has an interesting backstory, as the adopted child prodigy of an influential scientist. Her relationship with brother Johnny is loving but complicated, as they both deal with their dad's expectations. Much ado was made about the casting of Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan as bi-racial siblings, but it works pretty seamlessly in the film and was a nice nod to modern, diverse families.
Sue gets a decent amount of screen time. She also has modest depth in her reaction to her superpowers, which she sees as more of a curse than a blessing, and her reluctance to be used by the government. "I won't be a tool," she declares.
And although it's common knowledge that Sue Storm eventually becomes Reed Richards' wife in comic book lore, she is never shoved into the "love interest" box. She's allowed to stand on her own merits, and her relationship with Reed is more of an understated friendship.
The Boys Club Strikes Again
I did have one major quibble with way the film treated Sue, though.
After the team completes their inter-dimensional travel prototype and has their first successful field trial with a chimp, the powers that be decide to call in NASA to start preparing to send astronauts. The boys get drunk and decide that it isn't fair for some astronauts to get all the glory. So they decide, stupidly and rashly, to take the first trip themselves that night.
But Reed Richards won't leave without one important person. He picks up the phone to call...
The other critical member of the team who helped to, you know, build the thing? His friend and crush, Sue? Johnny's sister?
Nope. He calls Ben Grimm, his grade-school chum.
I could have actually forgiven the guys if they had consciously excluded Sue. "She'll tell our dad" or "She'll talk us out of it" or any number of reasons why they might think, understandably, that straight-laced Sue wouldn't be down with these insane hijinks.
But to just exclude her without even a second thought? WTF, guys?
She ends up rescuing them, but for her troubles gets irradiated with the cosmic rays that afflicted everyone else. Nice going, guys.
Four's a Crowd
Exclusionary decisions aside, the biggest problem with Fantastic Four is right there in the title. It's impossible to create four (five, if you count Doctor Doom) well-developed characters in a single movie. The first half does its best to establish everyone in interesting ways, but they all end up coming off as a bit shallow.
And then the second half suffers from a complete tonal shift into a straight-up action film that is just plain awful. All that effort at character development boils down to a half-baked finale plagued by cheesy lines and muddled action sequences.
Sue Storm deserved better.
- Princess Power:
- Bechdel Test: Fail
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