Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dark & Gritty & Wrong

It's no secret that I love comic books. (I still bristle at the term "graphic novel" - it just seems a little high-horse to me, as if "comic book" is a filthy term. But I digress.) There is a strain of comics that are most definitely not for children (Sandman, Preacher, Last Man, etc.), just as there is a segment of animation that is not intended for children (Boondocks, Family Guy, and oh, God - Grave of the Fireflies, for example). And that's as it should be. (By the way, Grave of the Fireflies is fantastic and amazing. I will also never watch it again if I can help it.)

But there seems to be a trend to homogenize comic book movies to make them all "realistic," meaning "dark and gritty." For some properties, such as Batman, this can work. For others, this insistence of making storylines grim does a disservice to the material.

So let's talk about Fantastic Four

There is so much wrong with this movie that it's shocking that the film is only 100 minutes long. The arguments and tales of bad behavior on the set are taking on legendary status and it is entirely possible that director Josh Trank (who seems to have gotten the gig on the basis of his film Chronicle, which also dealt with teens acquiring superpowers) may have torpedoed his career. The actors will (probably) recover, but this stinker will come up in interviews for years to come, unless the topic is put off-limits by a careful publicist.

Trank's not totally to blame, although he can't escape responsibility here, either. The film is a hot mess - to the point that Our Heroes don't get their powers until halfway through the film, and then we quickly jump to "one year later." Time jumps like that are always a bad sign. The story is disjointed, the characters act irrationally, Reed Richards is no longer a super-genius, Dr. Doom is a lovesick outcast, Ben Grimm is just sort of there, Sue Storm is stripped of all agency (she doesn't even get to go to the "other dimension," instead being relegated to running the controls. She gets her powers - which include supremely bad wigs from the studio-mandated re-shoots and the ability to project impenetrable human hamster balls - as a sort of drive-by) and Johnny Storm - well, he's the Human Torch. Fox doesn't like the movie much and Marvel allowed likenesses of the actors to be used in Punisher #14 and blew them up.

Yep, that's Teller, Bell, and Mara.
In short, this film feels like Fox rushed production in order to keep the rights from reverting to Marvel Studios and handed the film - which needed to succeed in order to reboot the franchise - to an inexperienced director and then didn't provide necessary support, oversight, and marketing.

Oh, wait. That's all true.

And the largest flaw? There's no joy here. The Fantastic Four are Marvel's original team and they were created by Lee and Kirby when characters didn't need to be realistic. They were often silly and downright ridiculous - cheaply printed on low-quality paper, they certainly had no pretensions of being literary. They paved the way for other, deeper stories; this cannot be denied - but the comic books of that time were aimed at a different audience and had different goals from the darker tales now being penned for older audiences. (I've surely rolled my eyes at the portrayal of both "Invisible Girl"[#4 in this link] and "Marvel Girl" in those early runs - wow!) I mean, look at that cover at the top of the post. This is not an angsty, brooding team.

Honestly, this Fantastic Four is one to skip. Don't see it - not now, not on demand, not as a rental. Not as free. You've got better things to do with your time.

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