Let’s face it; we live in an age of sequels, spin-offs, re-boots and re-makes. Look at the summer’s releases: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Minions, Jurassic World. One could claim that originality is all but dead. However, for all the cynics and nay-sayers, sometimes a cherished franchise deserves another chance. Josh Trank’s upcoming reboot, Fantastic Four (2015), falls under this category. Previous adaptations of Marvel’s original super-team (directed by Tim Story) were loathed by critics, but why was that? What went wrong? Let’s piece together the missteps that led to the original’s frosty reception. If Trank wants to fare any better, he best steer clear of these potential pitfalls.
It’s easy to spot bad casting decisions, what’s difficult is picking-out the reasons behind them. In this instance, a few things that stand out. Specifically, Ioan Grufford and Michael Chiklis as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm. Before the teams’ formation, these two are arguably the closest. In the comics, they were college roommates and best friends. It’s not necessary to follow origin stories exactly, but their relationship is crucial for later plot-developments. Richard’s is commonly seen as blaming himself for the mission’s failure. The embodiment of this is his best-friend Ben Grimm, forced to live-out his days as the rock-encrusted ‘Thing’.
In Story’s version, there’s a ten-year age difference between the two actors, with Richards as the younger. It’s a small difference, but one that significantly alters the group dynamic. Given his age and experience, Grimm should really understand the risks of investigating a radioactive storm. So how can he blame the consequences on his younger, naïve colleague? Instead of betrayed trust between friends, in this version – Grimm’s condition seems almost self-inflicted. It reduces much of the audience’s sympathy for what should be the group’s most empathetic character. Luckily, in Trank’s version – Richards and Grimm are much closer in age (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, 28 and 29 respectively). Hopefully, this should prevent similar mistakes when it hits theatres on August 7th.
In recent years, it has become commonplace to criticise an over-reliance on computer animation. However, in some cases it is justified. Indeed, any Fantastic Four adaptation lives or dies on one factor – ‘The Thing’. Ben Grimm’s alter-ego has been depicted in many different ways. However, the framework remains constant. After returning from space, Grimm has increased in size and strength, having developed a hardened orange-brown exoskeleton. This is largely viewed as the most extreme mutation, and significantly impairs his ability to live a ‘normal’ life.
To justify this, he should appear misshapen, hideous, terrifying – none of which were achieved in the 2005 film. The actor’s outfit was unconvincing as anything other than what it was – a rubber suit. Not only this, but his height remained unaltered. Naturally, super-hero movies require the suspension of disbelief. But even so – it’s difficult to believe that ‘The Thing’ has super-strength when he’s under 6 feet tall. Overall, Grimm’s appearance wasn’t terrifying so much as ‘goofy’. In doing so, it destroyed the believable perception of a man rejected from mainstream society.
Admittedly, most superhero films are tongue-in-cheek. A gravelly tone doesn’t fit when your main character runs around in underpants. That being said, there’s a limit to the amount of self-deprecating humour one film can take. Beyond a certain point, high-end Hollywood blockbusters are made to resemble B-movie gag reels. For proof, look no further than Fantastic Four (2005). Before Avengers Assemble (2012), there was a good deal of experimentation over how ‘funny’ super-hero movies should be. If Watchmen (2009) is the epitome of serious, then Fantastic Four (2005) is the exact opposite.
Unlike Whedon, Story sacrificed wit for cheap humour. One scene shows Richards using his abilities to grab a toilet-roll from another room, without leaving the lavatory. In another, Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) appears in bra and underwear after her invisibility powers backfire. Not only are these scenarios obvious, but the punch-lines require very little brain-power. It’s not witty, it’s not clever, and what’s more – it creates an infantile tone. This jars with the more serious themes, ruining any profound messages that would have otherwise been conveyed.
It’s always difficult to tell an origins story, but when showing the beginnings of a team, things are even more complicated. Each character needs significant screen-time; otherwise they become background noise. Avengers Assemble (2012) achieved this by introducing its heroes in separate films. Upon release, Captain America, Iron man, Thor and the Hulk were already familiar faces. Each had appeared in their own full-length feature. This allowed hours for the explanation of back-story, motivations and personality. We all knew that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark wouldn’t get along, because previous films had formed fully fleshed-out characters.
By contrast, Fantastic Four (2005) has a run-time of just under two hours. Within this, Story juggles four characters, a villain, a love-story, and the construction of a super-team – leaving very little space for each. The thing that suffers the most are the character backgrounds. Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) enters on a motorbike, simultaneously kissing the girl next to him. Following this, we are expected to accept him as an all-round badass. The shot does set-up certain expectations, but it can’t replace hours of interaction with other characters. The absence creates a vague perception of who Johnny Storm really is, and the same is true for the rest of the team.
Will Trank make the same mistakes in his upcoming reboot? Only time will tell. Make sure you’re there when it hits theatres on August 6th!
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