Fantastic Four? More Like Fantastic Copycat
So Fantastic Four is out, and it sounds like it’s not quite so fantastic as the name would suggest. That’s not entirely surprising, given that for whatever reason, those four don’t click for people the same way the X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Jim Gordon, Flash, Captain America, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or Robert Downey Jr. do. What is surprising is that quite a few reviews that I’ve seen say that the film is decent for the first half of the movie, but it’s when the second half kicks into gear that shit goes sideways. None of the reviews have specifically said when this is story-wise, but it’s apparently when the film becomes a “superhero movie,” which I’m guessing includes that bit in the promos where people are running in terror as a city rises up into the air.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s literally what happens in the last hour or so of this year’s other big (sorry, “Ant-Man”) superhero movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In fact, when I first saw that bit in the Fantastic Four trailer, my immediate thought was “this looks like “Age of Ultron” with a cheaper set of actors and Miles Teller.” The fact that I had that running through my mind, instead of excitement about the movie, says a lot. That the moment is referred to as a “superhero movie” moment and not a “Marvel movie” moment says a lot about what exactly constitutes a superhero movie these days.
Before FF made its way to the big screen, one of the things mentioned about the film was that it’d be a bit of a body horror movie. Think David Cronenberg’s The Fly and how Jeff Goldblum slowly morphed from his suave, stammering, handsome self to that twisted monstrosity you want to pump with lead and exorcise from your brain with extreme prejudice. That’s not a bad angle to go for, and the trailers even seemed to hint at this being the case. An unconscious Johnny constantly on fire, Miles Teller’s body disturbingly stretched out, the Thing emerging from a rock cocoon like the Xenomorph bursting from the chest of the Engineer at the end of Prometheus; that’s fucking awesome. It’s different, it’s edgy, and it would’ve been a lot more interesting to play up the darker aspects of being hit with radiation and given superpowers, something that isn’t brought up a lot.
The last thing I can think of that tries for that angle is when Skye discovers her Inhuman powers in the second half of “Agents of SHIELD” this past season, and that’s it. When considering that this version of the FF are all young, good looking adults (and Miles Teller), a body horror angle makes perfect sense. Especially when you consider that one of them actually does look like a monster and can’t blend in with the rest of them and their archenemy is a guy who wears a mask to covered his disfigured face. That apparently was the plan, but Fox decided to do reshoots and make the film more action packed. A decision that I’m betting Fox is kicking themselves for, if reviews and think pieces are any indication.
I assume that Fox’s reasoning was that if action at the end worked for the X-Men films, it’ll work here, but I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s them wanting to be like Marvel Studios films, something that isn’t just a Fox problem. Right now, Marvel is in the very tender position of being the top dog. They were building up to it from 2008 to 2012 with the Iron Man films, Thor, Cap, and that Hulk thing, while DC managed to get by on Batman and quickly headshot their failures before anyone has much time to think about them. Well, most of them, *coughGreenLanterncough*. Despite my railing on the MCU and their odd gender and racial politics in the past, their movies are making a crazy amount of money and refusing to be much of a failure either financially or reception wise.
With them being top dog, DC and Fox are eager to copy them, or at least, what they think works. Hence “Man of Steel” ending with a devastating battle in a major city, hence “Green Lantern” trying to use Amanda Waller as a gateway to other movies, hell, hence what looks like the main plot of “Batman v. Superman.” What I’d argue those films, and apparently Fantastic, are doing wrong is that they’re copying the wrong parts of what makes the MCU films successful: their distinct identities.
See, each of the various MCU franchises are their own separate entity while still feeling cohesively merged together during the big group movies. “Iron Man” is an action-comedy affair, “Thor” goes for “Lord of the Rings” mixed with “Flash Gordon” levels of epic fantasy, “Captain America” is nestled comfortably in between the “Indiana Jones” World War II cheeseball action and spy thriller genres, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is “Star Wars” if it was partially written by Philip J. Fry. They may go through the same beats or have the same archetypes, but they feel fresh (or relatively so) because Marvel isn’t just inserting these characters into literally the same situation with a slightly different villain. This is why I can’t entirely get behind the X-Men films; aside from “First Class” and ”The Wolverine,” which were respectively a period piece and action-detective yarn, they’re all still plugging along the same basic path and still stuck in the year 2000.
When people say they just want DC and Fox to do “the Marvel thing,” they aren’t saying make a bunch of solo films then a team up movie where they all get together and punch dudes for two hours. Well okay, they are, but they’re also saying for the films to carve out their own niches in the cinematic worlds. Do an X-Men movie like a Jane Goodall nature documentary, make Wonder Woman like Clash of the Titans, get all body horror with the Fantastic Four, have the Trinity get together and let Diana and Clark joke around and make fun of Bruce behind his back. These characters have secret identities, so give the films identities of their own.