Warning: The beating of a dead horse ensues
It can’t be that bad, can it? That’s what I kept asking myself as I sat in the dark theater two days after the film had been released and after reading the reviews. I’m here to tell you, whatever you read is true. Comical exposition? Check. Missing characterization? Check. A jaw-droppingly miscalculated final act? Check. You get the point. This film is a dud.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy is not the aforementioned bad aspects, but rather the potential for at least an interesting sci-fi flick. Maybe even a Cronenberg style horror.
Yes, for the first two-thirds of the film, there’s signs of life of a unique take on the woefully formulaic superhero genre. That it gets off to such a solid start and slowly decays into an abysmal climax will no doubt be the stories of journalist investigations. Expect a documentary in the next ten years.
But as this website goes, my mantra is positive reviews. And damn it all, I’m going to write a positive review of this turd. And the way I’d like to do that is to focus on the film this could have been, and to make a plea for the studios not to use this failure as justification to give up on giving director’s free reign to make an auteuristic artifact. Because for the all the shit being hurled again Josh Trank’s alleged on set behavior, there’s something to be praised in his ambition and vision. And really, it’s the parts of the film that reflects his vision that are the best. It’s only after the studio reshot the final third (for whatever reason, I’m not going to pass judgement considering they might have been forced to by Trank’s antics) that the film really became a shitfest.
The material is ripe with the makings of a great science-fiction yarn. The original origin in the comics was that Reed Richards and co. travel in a rocket plane to outer space but were blown up after a shield failure and due to exposure to cosmic radiation (it’s always radiation) gained their well known super powers. The film tweaks this origin so that the team travels to another dimension (although Sue is inexplicably left out of the flight) and are exposed to a cheaply rendered CGI goo.
What happens once the gang get their powers is where Trank puts his own spin on the material. There’s horror in seeing Johnny Storm laying on a hospital bed all in flames. There’s a close up of his face in flames where you can see the agony that he’s in. The same can be said of Ben Grimm (a criminally underused character) who has been transformed into a pile of rocks. The audience can only empathize as he screams for Reed to help him. It’s really good stuff that could be so much more. I get the feeling that this is where Trank’s hands were tied. It’s after these moments that the reshot material takes place, and I can only wish that instead of becoming a generic action flick, the film had broken the mould and really sank its teeth into the horror of these sudden powers.
Imagine a superhero film that didn’t involve the same old action beats. Imagine a character piece. Well, there actually was such a film called Super that eschewed the bullshit formulas and actually dared to be a character study. Such a film could have been Fantastic Four. It could have been an examination of the psychological effects of suddenly coming into possession of frightening powers. And for a solid ten minutes, it is. But this is a film being made by a studio that must hit the bullet points that is demanded by them. And that is what sinks this film.
But I can’t hurl too much shit at 20th Century Fox. They hired a director fresh off the heels of the indy quasi superhero flick Chronicle and gave him free reign to make his own vision of the film. You can’t say that about the committee run Marvel. And for all its failures, the potential that was there begs for studios to let directors and screenwriters break free from the sameness instilled by the genre. But the opposite is more likely. This failure will lead to less risk taking and more roteness. No wonder people have superhero fatigue.
I stated that I wanted to make this a positive review. I’m not sure I kept my promise. I’m not sure I can write a positive review. But I’m not sure I’ve written a completely negative review either. The first half is so intriguing and different that I would recommend the film to aspiring filmmakers as proof that you can make a unique superhero film. That’s my positive spin. But I can’t ignore the other half, nor the wobbly characterizations. I can forgive the ending knowing the studio butchered it. And we all can hang our heads in shame this experiment was a failure. But my, what a bold experiment it was.