Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. Our final assignment of the 2015 summer season, selected by you, dear readers, was Fantastic Four.
Just how hard is it to get Marvel’s first family done right on the big screen? After all, at its center, The Fantastic Four has a charismatic villain in Dr. Doom, who undoubtedly was a major influence on George Lucas’ Darth Vader. As far as Marvel villains go, Doom is on par with The Red Skull—whom Captain America: First Avenger (2011) also wasted. The original “Four” books, by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, are models of vibrant pulp myth. That is not the direction taken by Josh Trank (who understandably has disowned this). Instead, he takes the dark, soulless route of the contemporary graphic novel route. That this approach is woefully wrongheaded for the foursome should be obvious to anyone, except Neanderthals in empty suits.
Trank claims studio interference ruined the film, which no one doubts, but despite his protestations, he co-wrote this mess and it’s clear that the simplistic concept of the Four and Doom eluded him at the drawing board stage. He spends a full hour in exposition land, and with all that wasted time we still don’t give a hoot or holler about a single character. The lot are merely sketched rudimentarily, and there is no sense of tragedy or empathy during the scientific accident. Ant-Man‘s hodgepodge approach and lack of originality was somewhat redeemed by a goofy lead performance. Fantastic Four lacks even that.
Additionally, there is the yawn-inducing evil-military-complex-syndrome subplot. Even that is not milked for entertainment. The subpar FX include an invisible bubble, which was better executed in The Wizard Of Oz all the way back in 1939. The dialogue is incomprehensibly atrocious: “Fantastic.” “Say that again.” “Fantastic.” Cue title “THE FANTASTIC FOUR.” The only thing missing was: “eureka, that’s it!,” followed by a drum roll.
The Four (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell) are no longer adults, but candidates for Clearasil treatment. Even worse is Dr. Doom (Tony Kebbell), who is transformed into a villain with all the personality of a cheap plastic 1980s toy wrapped in aluminum foil.
In the guise of comic fidelity and fanatical literalism, Marvel fanboys threw a racist hissy fit when an African American (Jordan) was cast in the role of Johnny Storm (to be fair, the Star Wars fanboys also blasted the Internet when they spotted a storm trooper with—gasp—brown skin). Now that the movie has been released, those same fanboys have taken to social media forums and claiming that the movie is a victim of political correctness. The entire film failed because a black actor was cast in a white man’s part. They quite conveniently forget that the previous entries (with Caucasians occupying all the roles) were epic failures as well. This movie should convince them that the casting is no concern at all. Rather, the disappointment lies in a fun, golden-aged, primary colored comic being transformed into a dull gray lump. The Fantastic Four movie is an entirely worthless endeavor, as is writing at any length about it.
Aja: With sunken eyes, it is with the utmost and deepest condolences that I, Mrs. Eaker, solemnly wave the surrender flag on the Eaker vs. Eaker Summer Blockbuster review series. For all those involved with the conceptualization, production, editing, voting, reviewing, or promoting of the loathsome Fantastic Four so-called movie, you have our deepest sympathies and a maternal nod of understanding—you tried, we know. Like any widow worth her weight, I have but no more tears to shed, nor Kleenex to share, zero teeth to gnash or feeble wails within—no—this time, 366 fans, you have crossed the line. And just when I thought, they like me…they really like me…I see the error of my ways. For why else would you vote to send Alfred and I to…to that thing moonlighting as a feature? I suppose my cheerful optimism as a psychologist has finally floundered after all these years. For the sake of authenticity and transparency, I will disclose that despite working eyeball-to-eyeball with felons, violent perpetrators, government agencies and worse, never before Saturday did I feel like giving up… until now.
The opening of Fantastic Four is a somewhat plausible yet not fleshed-out plot line regarding two boyhood friends/unlikely allies: the nerdy brain and the neglected brawn. We see them as boys discussing a scrap metal power source, allegedly the missing component to the ability to teleport objects, with hopes of becoming the pioneers behind human teleportation. We move forward from boyhood to adolescence, when the duo stands before a science fair exhibit at school. Without any twist on the leathery stereotypes, the brainy boy and his moronic mute muscled companion grew into the adolescent archetypes again, only with better fitting clothes and acne lotion.
Perhaps the gravest of inflictions in this film was the quantum failure of an otherwise good actress, Kate Mara, of “American Horror Story” glory. Having come to know Ms. Mara’s range, this role, a stark departure from her psychotic, scene-stealing thunder, leaves me with nothing but sympathy for her disappearance into Fantastic Four‘s celluloid banality. Using so-understated-nothing-is-stated acting in service of a limp script, Mara’s performance is lost. Despite her quick wit and ability to deliver one-liners and provoke empathy, she was denied any room to display her acting chops in this film.
Fantastic Four was not just lost on Mara. The other screen-savvy actors were left with dry toast a scripts and half-hearted action scenes. This film, like so many of the superhero genre, did nothing but cater to stereotypical genderfication and sexism. Susan Storm appeared to be an afterthought, a mere consolation prize, rather than an integral part of the super-quad. When the flatlining protagonist makes his choice for living in the dark side, Susan is quietly shuffled into the mix as a possible fourth superhero. While the film did appear to say, “Nuh-uh! We aren’t racist—see!” by casting her adoptive father as black, with a brother that could be his father’s son or could be a fellow adoptee, no parts of Mara’s character is developed. Instead, any intelligent filmgoer could ask, “why is she so quiet? What happened to her? Where’s her mother? If she is so dialed into quantum physics, why is she the last kid picked for teleportation kickball in the schoolyard?”
The Doctor Doom plot line was comical, and for all of the wrong reasons. This could have been a Mystery Science Theater 3000 flick, with all of the utter fails regarding Doom’s menace. Instead of effectively portraying a good-guy-gone-bad, the audience is left to feel a bit sorry for Doom for being left behind by his buddies, and the only thing that tugged on the heartstrings or empathy radar was his dermatological condition. That’s sucks, your skin fused with your space suit, bummer, man. Beyond that, even Saturday morning cartoon villains from the early 80’s stock were better developed, scarier, and had more depth than Doom. My husband balked, “What the f—, this is the worst Darth Vader ever.”
“Babe, he’s not supposed to be Darth,” I said. “And once again, I’m the only woman in the entire theater.”
“Oh. Right, I knew that.” Alfred sucked his teeth. “Can we go now?”
Rest assured, 366heads, we did not leave the theater at first mention of Doom’s un-doom-like appearance. We did stay for the duration, mostly, although we were by closing upright and clinging to the darkened stair rail, ready to fling ourselves out of the theater for fresh air.
I think one of the reasons why I still have a quizzical expression plastered across my face is that not even the score could save this movie. As a music scholar, I am most keenly aware of musicology in film, and how scores are used to evoke emotions. Still, Fantastic Four was not redeemed by one of my treasured composers, Philip Glass. The otherworldly, patriotic, inspiring thematic battle cries Glass is most frequently known for could not redeem this movie. I was embarrassed for him. It’s okay, buddy, there’s always the remake of Gone With the Wind. I shuddered to think of Glass trying to quickly impart knowledge upon his understudy, the up-and-coming cinema composer Marco Beltrami. I just wanted to pat Glass on the back to reaffirm “Einstein on the Beach” is not worthy of this film foible, but good-on-ya, Phil, for doing the best with what you had to work with onscreen.
Aside from Mara, the film had no other remarkable cast members, as nothing happened. Besides Glass’s usual bedazzling compositions, nothing was noteworthy. Despite the film’s marketing oversaturation in the months before release, this rocket not only failed to launch, but exploded on the pad. To all those involved, our deepest condolences. May you find your next project to be tolerable, and may you, Ms. Mara, learn to stay the hell away from superhero movies (it was even rough for Gwyneth, and we all know what happened to her, with the scurry to follow up on a dud film and the lime incident).
The last time Eaker vs. Eaker reviewed a so-called summer blockbuster, a few fanatical fans of the comic world went so far not only to disrespect my review, but also took to name calling, degrading me with the most offensive word possible for a woman. It was conjectured not only that the word be an accurate reflection of my moral fiber, but also that I had no idea how to watch a movie and opine correctly. As an individual with multiple advanced degrees that I earned, it should be made crystal clear that I actually do have verifiable education in the fine arts and in cinema. If that “gentleman” has any further proclivity for bashing me with the C-word, feel free to grow some ovaries and address me directly, as I am confident in my competence; and lest we forget, the entire Internet has access to displays of public ridicule. Given the tone, misspelling, and screen name of that 366 user, I can only surmise that if you choose to attack me again, I will be forced to call your mother, and you will be grounded. I know you feel all grown up and entitled to your junior high vocabulary as free speech endorsement, yet heed this warning lest innocent parents be made aware of your activities. Anything is traceable.
Fortunately for my eyes and psyche, the summer blockbuster series draws to a close. Thank you, 366Fans, for a wonderful opportunity to spar with my spouse; I am actually looking forward to the next Eaker vs. Eaker endeavor for and with you all.