I try to enjoy movies for what they are. If you want nuanced internal dialogue, you’re not likely to find it at the multiplex in August. In the mood for explosions, one-liners, light nudity and ghastly vengeance? There’s a matinee at 12:30.
I’ll also confess to a certain morbid curiosity about movies that are universally despised. If something is just ‘bad’—Mortdecai, Chappie, that sort of thing—I’ll probably either pass (Mortdecai) or get it off Netflix (mmmaybe Chappie). But every now and then Hollywood spits out something that whips critics and audiences alike into a 2 minute hate. In such cases I often check out a matinee.
Partly it’s morbid curiosity, partly it’s contrarianism, and sometimes I end up liking the movie. I thought Hudson Hawk was hilarious, and it remains one of my favorite movies of the nineties. Similarly, to this day I have no idea why John Carter didn’t do well. Still, more often than not I find that the universally panned movie is, in fact, pretty bad.
I actually didn’t think it was that bad. Not good, certainly, but I’ve definitely seen things I enjoyed less. Off the top of my head, I disliked Elektra, Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex and all the other Fantastic Four movies more than this one.
The really tragic thing is that if you look closely at the wreckage of Fant4stic, you can see the bones of a good movie in there. For instance, right after they get back from the trip to the alternate dimension that (spoiler) gives them their powers, there’s a scene where Reed is trapped under a girder. (The dimension thingy blew up.) Reed is straining to get to his buddy Ben, who appears to be trapped under a bunch of rocks. He looks down and you can see that his legs have stretched in a manner that can only be described as ‘grotesque and horrifying.’ I loved it. The six-year-old sitting next to me, maybe not so much.
Therein, I think, lies the root cause of this particular trainwreck.
Reportedly, Trank’s original vision for the movie was very Cronenberg-esque. I believe it. Certainly grotesque, stretchy Reed was thematically akin to Brundlefly, and the guys who got their heads blown up by Doom in what we will charitably call the third act were about as dead as the guys who got their heads blown up in Scanners. That part was kind of neat. Meditative Cronenberg is great in his own way, but I sometimes miss body horror Cronenberg. I think it would be great if someone picked up his slack.
I suspect that the studio heads agreed in principle, at least initially. Maybe as the release date grew closer they screened some test footage and saw that the body horror was, in fact, kind of horrifying. Then they considered the budget spreadsheet in light of all the metaphorical six-year-old-kids in the next seat. I’m guessing that was the point at which things started to derail.
Also reportedly, Fant4stic as originally conceived was claustrophobic, set in a fluorescent lab with few-to-no outside shots. This in contrast to the Avengers or even Dark Knight Rises, where everything is outdoors and bright-ish. That also didn’t happen, but I’m guessing that some of the second act derring-do where Reed and Ben were dodging special forces in the jungle was one of the reshoots.
Anyway, for whatever reason, Fant4stic might most charitably be described as ‘disappointing.’ Despite how it may seem, I’m really not piling on the hate train. My heart sincerely goes out to everyone involved. HBO’s Project Greenlight gave me a much better appreciation for what goes into making even a small movie. Putting together something like Fant4stic has to be as complicated as D-Day. Making up a story is hard enough when you’re working alone—I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be trying to do it by committee. To me, the surprising thing is not that you occasionally get a stinker; I’m amazed that any good movies ever get made at all.
Vaya con dios guys. Better luck next time.