A Review of “Fantastic Four”

I’ll confess that I didn’t know what to think when I saw the trailer for Fantastic Fantastic Four. Photo used under Creative Commons.Four a few months ago. My initial reaction was one that I’ve had more than once previously…something to the effect of, “Didn’t we just do that?” At the same time, it seemed to hold some promise…a darker take on the story of Marvel’s First Family could help to balance out the campy side of more recent attempts to place these heroes on film. Of course, darker can be a problem, because it seems that the trendy way to make super-heroes relevant again…as in Man of Steel…is to make them…darker. Nothing like some gloom, shadows, angst and avoidance of primary colors to achieve relevance, or so it would seem.

And so, I played the flirtatious game of cautious hope that I’ve played with many super-hero films. I became excited when I saw images of the Thing for the first time, I read the interviews explaining the very non-canonical choice to cast the Human Torch as African-American (which worked quite well, I think). The lengthier the trailers as we neared release, however, the more concerned that I became. Mr. Fantastic looked to be about sixteen (a suspicion that turned out to be not far from accurate), and the overall pacing of the trailer left me concerned. There was much, it seemed, that could go very wrong with this.

I was pleasantly surprised recently after having similar suspicions about another movie. I was hoping that this would be the case again. Alas…

Josh Trank can do better, and, because he contributed to the writing as well as directing this film, I think that the blame rests there. I liked Chronicle, but Chronicle was a YA story. And, while I will fully admit that I don’t particularly like YA, I do respect it as a genre. It’s just that the Fantastic Four has no business being YA. Reed Richards is a respected and published scientific authority…that is, an adult. His character, at least post-acquisition of his powers, just doesn’t work as a teenager, no matter how you write it.

What I think Trank missed entirely in the film conceptually is the family aspect that makes the Fantastic Four so different from every other super-hero story arc. While there is a (forced and completely unrealistic) attempt to develop Reed and Ben’s childhood history together, the relationship between Reed and Sue never develops, and is reduced a brief scene of laughter as the two work together in the lab. Connections between Johnny and Reed are passing and rushed, and none exists between Ben and anyone other than Reed. Robbing the story of these relationships reduces it to a one-dimensional trope of people given extraordinary powers. The compelling through-line to the Fantastic Four is the worldview that their family relationships brings, the manner in which it leads them to interact with the crises that they face. Before they are heroes, they are husband and wife, brother and sister, best friends. Fighting to keep their family intact is often the more triumphant battle than those with Dr. Doom of any of their other rogues’ gallery.

Should the writer manage to keep these family relationships intact, then a lot can be done, but he didn’t, and so everything else fell apart. Instead of traveling to space and experiencing the accident that gives the group their powers, they travel to another dimension. This can be accepted as artistic license, and likely could have worked, except that Doom accompanies the group instead of Sue, and they all go…drunk. Their transformations in no way parallel Sue’s, leaving a strong female character as an afterthought. If there is a more egregious mistreatment of the story than weakening a strong female character, it is making the villain flat, unconvincing, rushed, and generally without substance. I guess I don’t have to say anything further about Dr. Doom. His character would be funny were this movie intended as a farce.

The story is rushed, lost in its mis-guided attempts to re-invent an origin story, leaving no room for the group to develop as heroes. This is especially true given the very non-canonical twist of the group being drafted into military service so as to have their powers weaponized. This couldn’t be more out of character for the team as they are written in the literature, but those original characters obviously aren’t of concern here. We’re working with a group of unknown kids with the same names and powers as the team well-known to comics readers, but not the team itself.

Apparently, that’s okay, though, as long as we make it dark and moody.

The climactic fight between the “heroes” and “Doom” is rushed and poorly scripted, the visual effects lackluster and bordering on cliche. The rare moment of brightness in the film is that some of the actors, specifically Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, give solid performances, managing to wring some life out of a script that felt as though it were thrown together in a weekend.

The logo of the “4” never appears on the costumes of the characters, and that is appropriate, because whatever this is…a group of unlikely geeks and misfits banding together through fate in good YA fashion…it is not the Fantastic Four. It seems that every Marvel film coming from Fox is destined to be a tragedy lately. The Fantastic Four is no exception. If you haven’t seen this, don’t bother. Go read some of the comics instead.

Image attribution: Day Donaldson under Creative Commons.

Blogging Nostalgia

Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m prone to nostalgia lately. More, in fact, than I would care to admit over the past couple of years. It’s not just music, mind you, although I’ve pined my share over that. It’s not just old Saturday morning cartoons, or even old breakfast cereals, though I’ve certainly found myself drawn to those quite often of late. No, the chronology of my longings isn’t nearly so narrowly defined. In fact, other things, things from barely a decade ago, have piqued my reflective longings recently.

And yes, I do realize just how much I’ve dated myself in that last statement.

Is there a point to this? Yes. The point is this post from a blog that I began following years ago when I was writing prose more than code (and beginning the novel that I swear I’m going to finish at some point). As the comments poured in over the subsequent weeks, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only reader with whom Mr. Bransford’s thoughts had resonated. I’ve enjoyed reading those thoughts. I always have enjoyed reading others’ thoughts. That’s what was always so powerful about the blog.

I began writing a blog as an experiment back in 2005, and, although I rarely read that first post, when I do, it makes me pause to think about what’s changed about the writing and the writer over that decade. The purpose of this space changed as my focus and interests became more defined (“faith, art, and culture” came more than two years after I began blogging), an epiphany that happened in large part because of my writing here. I found my voice as a blogger…so different from that first post…along with that focus. Simply, I came to call myself a blogger, to take this seriously. Certainly, I’ve waxed and waned a bit in my frequency of posting over the years, but I’ve never left. I’ve waxed and waned in my reading of others’ blogs, as well, no longer finding the time to peruse my feeds every day, but more likely once weekly.

I initially found these blogs through a bit of a curated experience, of course. I began, as many bloggers did, with Blogger (I was writing there before it’s acquisition by Google), and, like many bloggers, I outgrew it. Like many bloggers, I used blogrolls to discover and be discovered. I was always looking for a new blog to add to my reading list, because the things that you discovered, the things that you learned, by reading the thoughts of people from all over the globe, was so amazingly enriching, so profoundly important.

I met friends through blogs. People passionate about blogging, and passionate about writing. People passionate about faith and theology, about the arts and so many of my other interests. Some faded away over the years, and I’ve lost touch. Others I’ve met in person and continue to communicate with to this day.

I commented on posts. I subscribed to comments. My posts received comments. We interacted, those other bloggers and I. We discussed, almost always civilly, and, in doing so, we learned things and grew.

This wasn’t just about entertainment. It never was for me. It’s more important than that. More profound.

So, nostalgia. Nostalgia because I miss what it was. I’m not saying that blogging is no longer existent, or no longer important, or that it’s only on the fringes and important to only a few writers who refuse to accept change. There are those who say that, and I couldn’t disagree more. Blogging isn’t the only option, now, and it isn’t the only way to discover other people and discover their thoughts. I don’t comment nearly as much as I used to, nor do my posts receive as many comments, even though the number of you reading these posts has only grown. That’s okay…it’s the evolution of the medium. I sort of miss it, though, because the discussion is what made this so special, so different from the streams of consciousness that are social networks, for better or worse.

What feels most void is that I miss the discovery of other’s blogs. I miss going looking for new blogs. I miss not having the discovery process dominated by the algorithms of Facebook or Twitter. To be honest, I miss having the time to do this discovering.

Many of the blogs that populated my feed years ago are no longer active. They exist, but with most recent posts of two or three years past. Some no longer exist at all…they’ve been taken down, domain names now belonging to others. I’ve no intention of doing that for some time to come, although I’m not nearly naive enough to believe that this medium will never be replaced by another and that this will never cease to exist at some point, replaced in the evolution of technology. There are, however, a lot of very active blogs out there, and I don’t fall into the “it’s over and I’ll always miss it” sort of nostalgia of many of the commenters on Bransford’s post. There are fewer personal blogs, perhaps, as more have become focused on what we do for our livings as professional and personal are tragically forced to meld beyond healthy boundaries. But there are still blogs, good blogs, waiting for readers with the time to engage in the writers’ thoughts.

Not just their in-the-moment impulses. Their thoughts. The stuff that makes us grow, that expands who we are as people, that helps us to know each other better…and hopefully even, in an ideal circumstance, hurt each other less.

That’s why this is so important, and why I’m nostalgic for what it was, even while being fascinated by what it becomes.