So I saw it. Yeah. Actually, I saw it twice. You know the one I mean. And yes, it's that bad. Even though it's about half (or maybe one third) of a fairly decent movie. Which, insidiously, seems to make it worse.
At first it endears itself to you somewhat... there's a sort of Spielbergian something in watching a few relatively realistic archetypal schoolkids excitedly probing the secrets of the Universe. Eventually dreams are fulfilled, culminating in a rash decision to rush into the unknown which brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the classic team's birth, Reed hastily mounting his expedition in a moment of admirable but ill-advised bravery. Honestly, it almost brought a tear to my eye, because I knew that it was something that no other adaptation has or would likely ever achieve.
When the heroes-- sorry, when the "main characters" get their super powers, that's when the film mutates into something sad and ugly. Instead of finally fulfilling their destiny and soaring to the cosmos, the iconic team is stuffed into a box which may as well be funereal. Just as Ben Grimm, Reed Richards, and the Storm siblings are confined to a dreary subterranean laboratory, so too is a mildly charming sci-fi film shackled to a crudely executed Hollywood spectacle, its tentative spirit tragically squandered, like a baby chick falling from a nest perched delicately on top of a traffic light.
I don't know who to blame for this film's failure. Josh Trank? Fox? Both? Honestly, I almost want to blame them more for what went right than for what went wrong. This isn't the kid who meant well but tried something that was completely out of their grasp. That kid, you pat on the head and tell them not to take it too hard. No... this is the kid who actually showed promise and wound up blowing off the assignment at the last minute. You should've known better, Josh/Fox. I am SO disappointed in you.
And it's not like this was a victimless crime... everyone knew it would suck, but this damn movie wound up sucking so very, VERY much, it actually committed an adaptation's worst sin... it made people doubt whether or not the source material was any good. Time and again I've read reviews in which the idea is set forth that the Fantastic Four just aren't worth the effort. Hell... the comic isn't even being published right now. Want to guess why?
However, just as many critics are ready to testify that there are surely ways to do the job right. There's a story worth telling, here... probably many. But how? Well, heck, I've got two cents to contribute. So here's my vision for the next Fantastic Four movie (provided they ever get to be more than guest stars in some other Marvel movie, which might be all we can hope for after this last debacle).
First, Brad Bird directs. Many people have pointed to The Incredibles as a role model, so let's say we're aiming for that, with a bit of Tomorrowland thrown in. George Clooney, previously considered for the role, assumes the mantle of Mr. Fantastic. Also, we skip the origin. Really. We skip way beyond it.
I'm also going to assume that the Four's finally being absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, they've been a part of it for some time. Remember what they did with Ant-Man? That movie made it clear that there were, in fact, superheroes operating between the disappearance of Chris Evans' Captain America and the rise of Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. The cold war apparently hosted its own little age of adventure. And into this bygone era came the Fantastic Four.
What we see of their origin is glimpsed only through flashbacks and old photos. The film takes place in the present, after the team has lived through its glory days. The Mole Man, Doctor Doom, Galactus (their finest hour), all came and went years ago. Their breaking point came shortly after Reed and Sue married and had kids. Super-heroics just weren't conducive to raising children, so the team more or less retired and went their separate ways. Why haven't we heard of them before in the MCU? Simple. Nobody cares anymore.
Their old adventures have largely been "debunked," dismissed as hoaxes, publicity stunts, movies, illusions created by communist villains, mass hysteria, psychic projections exacerbated by radical psychotropic drug use thrown in the water... whatever cocktail of disinformation could be enforced by the government (alias: SHIELD, alias: HYDRA). Why? Because they weren't ready. Best that people forget how often they were nearly invaded by aliens while more mundane threats are so much easier to cultivate and control. And anyway, it was all just too... well, fantastic to be believable. A giant purple man trying to eat the planet? Yeah, they really had us going there for a while. Not to mention, those flashy blue suits and silly powers seemed increasingly childish as the modern age eroded humanity's innocence.
Since then Reed is living on his own, buried in his super-science lab, peering through his magnifying glasses. His only company is his pet robot. Sue is elsewhere, separated, attempting to be a novelist. Their only real connections beyond the occasional phone call are their children, both grown and leading their own lives. Franklin is in a program designed to prep a new breed of astronaut. His sister Val is in college. Their uncle Johnny, meanwhile, is an ex-celebrity coasting on fumes. He's busy trying to cut through a mass of red tape to gain approval to host a reality show on Monster Island, the Mole Man's old stomping grounds. And Ben Grimm is mostly comfortable living in the suburbs with his wife Alicia.
Their lives aren't so bad, really. But they're sure as heck not fantastic.
Our story truly begins when the government hands Reed an assignment to probe a parallel dimension he'd discovered some years back, the "Negative Zone." It's simply a matter of remote observation, searching for anomalies, nothing he hasn't done before. But this time he finds something. Something headed this way.
Annihilus. An other-dimensional threat that carries the potential to rival Galactus, and it's on its way to a heretofore unknown "weak spot" in the barrier between the Zone and Earth.
However, the government no longer has the imagination that SHIELD did, and the stuffed shirts who've taken over since the fall of the spy trade aren't familiar enough with Reed to give him the benefit of the doubt. Their own scientists can't grasp his findings. In fact, it almost seems as though they were expecting him to find something else. Some think he's gone crazy working alone in his basement all this time, while others think he's just trying to recapture his glory days, especially when he asks permission to mount an expedition into the Zone itself. And if a bad guy really is coming down the pipeline, who cares? There are younger, more powerful heroes around now who can handle it. Someone send a memo to Tony Stark.
But Reed knows that by the time the Avengers can face this thing it'll be too late. Exposure to their reality is empowering Annihilus, by the time he comes through he'll be godlike. The only sure way to have a chance against him is to travel into the Negative Zone and meet him there first. And whoever does it has to have the data and intelligence necessary to counter the bizarre energy fields crashing through an alien land and billowing from this terrible threat like a bat out of Hell.
There's no choice. Reed has to go, and he has to go with the people he knows. He must bring his team back together, forcing them out of their current comfort zones and back into fighting form. Like it or not, it's time for one more great adventure. Naturally, everyone is reluctant... old wounds open. Trust has to be regained.
But that all becomes secondary when the truth comes out regarding the top-secret experiment which created the weak spot. It was the result of a previous mission to send someone through, someone that the government had hoped Reed might find. Franklin Richards is trapped on the other side, and Annihilus has learned to access the young astronaut's previously untapped cosmic potential, the legacy of his super-powered parents. This is the source of the alien's awesome power, and there might not be a way to stop him without sacrificing Sue and Reed's son.
It's not just about saving the world anymore. It's about saving a family.
And there you go. That's my pitch.
Which... admittedly, sounds a lot like my Incredibles pitch.
Man. Do I have lots of ideas, or just lots of different versions of, like... three?