Saturday, July 09, 2005

More Like Unfantastic Snore

Fantastic Four director Tim Story (Barbershop, Taxi) explains in Entertainment Weekly that Fantastic Four is “the Marvel comic that’s closest to being a comedy.” However much it might like to be, Fantastic Four isn’t so much a comedy as it is hilariously shitty. As Story goes on to explain, “It’s not easy to figure out how you walk that fine line.” Indeed, it's clear from watching the movie that Story has no feel for that line at all. That would be the fine line between gags playing as a “funny joke” versus “something dumb and senseless.”

Take for instance, when headstrong daredevil Johnny Storm walks out of his hospital quarantine to go extreme snowboarding. You can even ignore how stupid that sounds already, because the best is yet to come. This is where you get that scene from the preview where the sexy nurse takes his temperature and it’s 270. (She: “You’re hot.” He: “Thank you, so are you.”) He ignores it, not noticing, and invites her to go skiing with him. So taken is she with his sexiness that she agrees, not reporting the temperature to anyone, never mind that she actually saw the abnormal temperature. Okay, she’s taken with him, but shouldn’t she care about his temperature? Even for a comedy world, this is a really terrible nurse.

Later, they’re snowboarding/skiing and Johnny Storm starts bursting into flame. “You’re on fire,” the nurse tells him. “Thank you,” he replies, again. She falls and loses sight of him as he bursts completely into flame, burns off his clothes, falls off a cliff and into a snowdrift. She finds him naked in a pool of boiling water in the middle of the snow, which, even if you didn’t see him completely on fire, has to be pretty weird. He turns it into a joke, saying “Care to join me?” and fair enough, given his ridiculous character. But the last thing we see is her dropping her ski poles, ready to accept his invitation. Yes, it’s meant to be funny, but it shouldn’t elicit the WTF reaction it does.

Certain things are doomed from the source material, like the character names. It’s hard to believe anyone can say the name Victor Von Doom with a straight face—let alone that a company with that name could become a top corporation. Stephanie points out that when your real name is Von Doom, there’s hardly a need to change it when you become a supervillain. “Doctor Doom” is a lateral move at best; at worst, as the folks on Best Week Ever might say: Downgrade.

“Sue Storm” and “Johnny Storm” are almost as laughable, but you’re distracted from their names by the fact that she’s a big shot scientist and he’s a daredevil/shuttle pilot, both at the tender age of 18. What is this obsession with casting children as working professionals in fields that take a decade of education and training? Is it just to make real twentysomethings feel bad for their own lack of accomplishments? Could they at least cast people old enough to look like they have a college diploma? On the other hand, Hollywood’s idea of someone old enough for a college diploma is 19-year-old Lindsay Lohan, so there you go.

Jessica Alba is badly miscast, but not because she’s supposed to be blonde and blue-eyed, (although the eyes are a little weird). It’s because she and the thirtysomething Reed Richards are supposed to be not just a couple but, in fact, exes. Exes? They broke up two years ago, so when did they start dating, when she was in middle school? She scolds Reed at one point for spoiling their relationship by overthinking everything when she wanted to take the “next step” and get an apartment together. I can picture their conversation:

She: Reed, why won’t you move in with me?
He: Because you’re twelve.
She: You’re afraid to take the next step.
He: I’m afraid to be arrested. We shouldn’t even be dating.
She: Reed, you think too much.
He: I am a pedophile.

Also, they went to MIT together, so either she is Doogie Howser or he is on his second career. It’s too bad they don’t have any flashbacks to their relationship, or they could have cast the little girl who played young Jessica Alba in Sin City.

In one especially cheesy scene, Sue Storm flips through Reed’s scrapbook, conveniently labeled “Memories.” It’s just like Reed to buy the sappiest album the store had. She flips past a newspaper clipping meant to show him winning a science fair as a child, or something, but I didn’t really pay attention because I couldn’t take my eyes off the prominent Second Headline. You know the old Second Headline joke, where when a newspaper flashes on screen in a movie to convey exposition, and instead of reading the main headline you read the headline of one of the other filler stories on the page in an ironic “shocked” voice? If you like doing that, and I know I’m not the only one (I’m looking in your direction, Tom), then this is made for you: “Hate Crime Rate Increases.” Much more eye-catching than a science fair, wouldn’t you say? By the way, had the phrase “hate crime” even been coined when Reed was a kid? Oh well, maybe this is the future; after all, Von Doom has his own space station that can be run by only five people, two of whom have never been in it before and one of whom is a complete idiot.

The Thing’s perfect wife leaves him without so much as a conversation when she sees the freak he’s become. So she is shallow, and he is sad. Luckily he hooks up with a blind woman who seems pretty excited about having sex with a giant rock. And he is happy.

Except for the anticlimactic face-off with Doctor Doom, the Fantastic Four’s main act of heroism is saving the public from a huge accident that the Thing accidentally causes. So if I endanger a bunch of people and then save them, I can be a hero too? They save some firemen from falling off the bridge. The police are about to arrest them but all the New Yorkers on the bridge start clapping (kind of like in Spider-Man), and the firemen start clapping too, and the police are like, well, the firemen are clapping. I don’t know why we have juries. We should just have firemen, and if they clap, you’re free to go.

The news media coins the term Fantastic Four, a device so lame Mystery Men spoofed it already, and the rest of their names Johnny Storm pulls out of thin air. For the rest of the second act, Reed tries to build a machine to reverse their mutations, as seen in a Wile-E.-Coyote-esque diagram of a machine labeled “reverse mutation.” He tells everybody to stay in his big laboratory/apartment. Will Johnny Storm leave the building? Will he stay? The tension is killing me. Meanwhile Von Doom takes his sweet time discovering his powers and holds off on deciding to be a supervillain until the nail-biting business about building the machine and leaving the apartment is finished.

The best part of the movie is where Jessica Alba takes her clothes off to be invisible and then accidentally becomes visible when she’s down to her underwear, in front of a huge crowd of people. The scene around it makes no sense, but she is in her underwear.

Also, the dialogue is terrible. Every scene feels like a labored first draft. The direction is flat and thoroughly unexciting. As for the acting, when you have three similar-looking bland white guys in a movie, and Chris Evans in a completely one-note role is your least bland bland white guy, well, let’s just say you’ve got a lot of bland white guys.

The one note Chris Evans plays is at least one note more than the others have to work with. Ioan Gruffaud as Reed is so bland it’s practically his superpower, like he also has the ability to turn invisible. Bland White Guy 3, Julian McMahon as Von Doom, is made to re-enact Willam Dafoe’s Green Goblin arc from Spider-Man, from killing his turncoat stockholders to picking out a mask from his office. Alba is so stranded by her miscast age that there’s no hope for her—but again, underwear. The whole movie should have been scenes of Invisible Girl taking off her clothes and accidentally becoming visible.

Michael Chiklis is actually pretty good, and almost makes you feel for the Thing in spite of all the nonsense he’s put through. It probably helps that he’s the only one for whom his powers create an actual dramatic dilemma, even it if it’s handled unconvincingly.

So Fantastic Four is not so good. It’s about as bad as you’d expect from the trailers, except a bit worse. It's laughable, but not even the unintentionally laughable way that makes action movies like The Transporter funny, where the ridiculousness is part of the fun. FF is unintentionally laughable in a way where you understand that the movie is fundamentally not working. People all over the theater, young and old alike, chortled derisively at the "Memories" book and other similar moments. And is it a bad sign when people actually boo the "The End" screen?

It’s too lame to actually hate, if that makes any sense, and we did have fun mocking it afterwards.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this obvious studio plant on IMDb, so comically over the top that, as Stephanie points out, it reads like the writer was bitter about being forced to write it.

All my life, I have seen good superhero movies. I have seen bad superhero movies. I have seen mediocre. But, never in my 25 years of life, could I possibly imagine what this is. This is the superhero movie. By the time the titles flashed, I was entranced in two hours worth of pure, unadulterated SUPERHERO! Heartfelt pathos, splendid SFX, excellent script. I am so glad I got to see an advanced screening of this. This is magic. This is more than just a superhero movie. This did for superhero movies what "Lord Of The Rings" did for fantasy. The snowboarding, the bridge, the parking garage, and finally, an all-out battle in the heart of a city. This movie contains special effects only DREAMED of. This felt like a dream. This will be the superhero movie for generations upon generations. And who thought that the director of "Barbershop" and "Taxi" could deliver such a treat to the eyes and soul? I know where I'll be July 8th. Ready to be transported into this lovely superhero world, once more.


matt said...

Ah, nice work Kenny. The movie sounds even terribler than I thought it would be. I like how you were so pleased with seeing Jessica Alba in her underwear and finding a single redeemable thing about the movie that you didn't mention the fact that, as few "invisible person" movies as there are, suddenly becoming visible naked/in underwear is an actual movie cliche.

Was the "reverse mutation" machine fuelled by stolen underpants?

Zack said...

According to the Internet, there was a hate crime law in 1969, so it checks out.

The Fantastic Four was always a stupid comic, except for the ever-lovin', blue eyed Thing.

Did Dr Doom actually have superpowers in the movie? In the comics, he's just really smart (and evil) (and rich).

I think I'm done watching Marvel movies until they finally make one about Iron Man, the most alcoholic, dishonest, backstabbing ubercapitalist playboy who ever fought crime.

Anonymous said...

The trailer for Transporter 2 is out.

matt said...

Isn't Dr. Doom the monarch of some made-up Eastern European country, too? Does that come into play in the movie at all?

Tommaso Sciortino said...

My favorite variation on the newspaper joke was from an MST3K where a cropped letterbox movie's headline made Tom Servo announce:

"S Enters Korean Wa!"

Kenny said...

Dr. Doom has the power to be made of metal (or a bio-metallic alloy if you prefer) and to affect electricity, which means shooting bolts of energy through investors who no longer support your company.

There are several references to the made-up country that Von Doom is from, but he's not the monarch of it, he's just the head of a big company.

The reverse mutation machine is not fueled by underpants but electricity. It works by creating a reverse version of the storm tha mutated them, obviously.

Meli said...

It's like a dream... a treat for the eyes and the soul

I'm just going to ponder that for a while. It reminds me of what people were saying about SWEpIII not that long ago, another unintentionally funny movie.