Monday, August 17, 2015

Superhero Movie Team-Up: Ant-Man & Fantastic Four

As I did last year and some other years before that, I decided to catch up on a couple of movies by doing a double feature.  There's always some planning that goes into that to coordinate which movie to see at which time in which theater.  Last year I watched "Godzilla" and "X-Men Days of Future Past."  This year it was two more superhero movies:  "Ant-Man" and "Fantastic Four."

As luck would have it, I did this chronologically, mostly because "Ant-Man" was showing the earlier of the two at 10:10.  You may have guessed that a movie that's been out for nearly a month isn't a huge draw at 10:10 on a Thursday morning.  There was literally no one else in the theater.  At first I thought, "Awesome!"  Because it meant when my foot fell asleep I could walk around and later I could put up the cupholders and lounge on a couple of chairs.

The downside is that at the scene when Corey Stoll goes to Michael Douglas's house, the screen suddenly went black.  At first I sat there and thought, "Is this part of the movie?"  Then I realized there wasn't any sound.  I guess the theater people didn't see me and so thought there was no one in the theater and why play a movie no one's watching?  Except I was watching!  So I went out and told the "concierge" and she got the movie started again.  They had to fast forward it back to about the part where I left off, at which point it's probably good they're using digital stuff not real film, right?

I wasn't really mad because I get why they did it, though maybe they should have turned on the lights to actually look in the theater for anyone--and so I could easily find my way out of there.  But on the plus side I got a free pass, so it's like the movie was free.

That's actually a lot more than I have to say about the movie itself.  I mean you've already seen it, right?  To sum up the movie it's another Marvel movie.  This is a good and bad thing.  It's like Pixar (another Disney division) where sure their movies are good (those I've seen) and as sort of a consequence of being good consistently there's not much to say because you've already said it before.  "Ant-Man" is another slick, easily-forgettable Marvel confection like Thor 2 or the Iron Man sequels that's not a bad addition, but isn't really great either.  I'd buy the DVD, but it's not the first one I'd put on to watch.

The only bad thing to say about it is the Michael Pena character seemed to drop in from a Michael Bay movie.  I mean the broad, borderline racist stereotype character.  A "La Cucaracha" horn?  Really?  I'm sure that was Adam McKay's writing, not Edgar Wright's.  I mean the former wrote "Anchorman" while the latter writes slightly more subtle British humor.  And if you've seen movies like "End of Watch" you know Pena's better than that crap material.  Try a little harder next time, guys.  I was glad to see at the end Edgar Wright got writing/story credits and an executive producer credit, so at least they didn't totally shaft him after all the work he put into it.

Anyway, like I said it was good, a Marvel superhero movie with a little "Ocean's Eleven." (2.5/5)

Here's a completely useless fact I thought of.  Since Michael Douglas was in this movie, it got me thinking that pretty much all the main cast in 2000's "Wonder Boys" has been in a superhero movie.  It starred Michael Douglas (Ant-Man), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man), Frances McDormand (Darkman) and Katie Holmes (Batman Begins).  It's also probably the only chance you'll ever have to see Iron Man sleep with Spider-Man and Hank Pym with Batman's girlfriend and Darkman's girlfriend.  Go impress people at a cocktail party or something with that useless trivia.

After lunch I went to see the much-maligned "Fantastic Four."  It was not fantastic.  (Hacky headline!)  A couple of months ago I talked about how a movie can be doomed by something fundamental early on in its creation.  A lot of people would point to hiring (and not firing) director Josh Trank.  You know who's actually to blame:  Marvel!

Not the Marvel studio arm; Marvel the comic book group.  Before going to see the movie I read the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four (which was neither ultimate nor fantastic--hacky zinger!) on which the movie was based.  That's the version that tried to come up with a more realistic way for the Fantastic Four to get their powers.  It was different, but it was no less asinine than Stan Lee's "cosmic rays" origin.

In the comic book, Reed Richards is recruited as a teenager by Franklin Storm to help build a matter teleporter dealie at this school for super-gifted kids.  Like the mutant school in X-Men if it were actually a school for geniuses and not a front to hide mutants.  There Reed meets Franklin's daughter Sue and son Johnny and he starts to work with Victor van Damme (aka von Doom).  They set up the teleporter prototype in Mexico and Reed's buddy Ben Grimm just so happens to be walking by when they're about to do the test.  (I shit you not.  That's the lame way they get Ben there.  What a coinckydinck, right?)  The teleporter explodes and the soon-to-be Fantastic Four and Doom are scattered around the world and brought back by the Army only to find they have superpowers now.  I think I mentioned on the 7th that the powers are like the four elements:  Fire (Human Torch--duh), Earth (Thing), Air (Sue Storm), Water (Mr. Fantastic).  I'm not sure what happens to Doom because that's covered in Volume 2, which was not on sale thus I didn't buy it, though now I want to.

This is largely the origin story the movie uses.  Does any of that really make any fucking sense?  I don't think so.  The problem then is basing your whole story on that is going to lead to a story that's overly convoluted.  That's the word I thought of after seeing this movie:  convoluted.  It's entirely too much of a process to get them their superpowers.  Can you think of any of the big Marvel franchises where getting powers is so complicated?  I mean Tony Stark is captured and makes a suit, Thor is a god, Captain America gets injected with steroids, Scott Lang gets a shrinking suit from Hank Pym.  The Hulk has failed twice because especially in the first case they got way too convoluted on the origin, but that was pre-"Cinematic universe" so it doesn't really count.  Anyway, those are all pretty damned easy to explain.  You don't need to be versed in quantum mechanics to get what's going on.  Some studio exec should have asked the writers, "Um, guys, what the fuck are you talking about?  Parallel universes and teleporters?  Huh?"

One of the things you notice when watching "The Twilight Zone" marathons on Syfy is that the writers didn't come up with any convoluted ways for things to happen.  Why's this guy walking into the desert in 1876 and suddenly transported to 1959?  Who gives a shit!?  We don't have time for lengthy explanations!  So if you want a writing lesson out of all this:  simplify, man.  That's something I usually do in my gender swap books.  How does this guy turn into a woman?  Magic or a lab accident or...who really gives a fuck?!  You're not reading it for explanations, just like you're not watching superhero movies for sciencey stuff.  Honestly, as goofy as "cosmic rays" sounds, it's better to just go with that and move on than spend an hour on bullshit no one understands or cares about.  Plus then there was actually a reason for Ben Grimm to be around.

Anyway, despite all that, I don't think this was nearly as bad as many people claimed.  I think it's one of those cases like 2003's "Daredevil" where it became a cause celebre to hate on the movie.  I'm not saying it's a great movie either, but it's not anywhere as terrible as "Batman & Robin" or "The Spirit."  It's not even as bad as Ang Lee's "Hulk."  If you can pretend to understand why teleporting to another dimension gives people superpowers, then it's a reasonably OK story.

The first hour is fine, as they do all that sciencey bullshit I mentioned above.  They could have sold the Reed-Sue love thing better.  And as the Geek Twins pointed out, there was really no point to the black Johnny Storm.  There was no real time where you thought him and Sue were siblings.  And what relevance was there to her being adopted from Kosovo?  For as much as that contributed to the plot she could have been from Walla Walla or Anchorage or Whogivesafuck.  While they were starting off showing Ben and Reed becoming friends in fifth grade, why didn't they have a scene showing Dr. Storm adopting Sue or something?  It could have been like when Idris Elba rescues the Asian girl in "Pacific Rim" after a monster attack; Dr. Storm could have been over there and found little Sue with no parents and decided to take her home with him to America.  Maybe that's in Trank's "fantastic" version that didn't air.  It makes sense actually if she were originally from Latveria, like Doom.  So in the beginning you have war-ravaged Latveria and Dr. Storm saves little Sue while Victor von Doom remains there for some time.  That adds to Doom's interest in Sue later on after they meet.

The last half-hour or so is where people say it really got off the rails.  I think the fight with Doom was OK, though it could have been bigger.  But then if they'd fought Doom in New York and smashed it up I suppose people would have bitched like with "Man of Steel" right?  Even Doom's crappy look made sense--from a certain point of view.

But again, part of the problem here goes back to the source material.  As I said, Doom doesn't even show up in Ultimate Fantastic Four until Volume 2, which is at least 7 issues in.  What happens in the first volume?  After they get their powers, they fight a weird monster and then rescue Sue from Moleman and his mold people underground.  (I shit you not.  That is what happens.  And yes they are people made of mold--or some plant material.)  Now ask yourself, does that sound like a better ending to you?  It sounds completely asinine to me.  Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis have written some great comic books, but this really wasn't one of them.

You know, when you think about it, this movie did pretty much use the Marvel Movie Formula.  Pretty much Every Marvel Origin Movie:  Hero(es) is a screw-up, gets powers, decides to fight evil, faces dark mirror image of himself, cookie scenes.  It's just between the convoluted science crap, a lack of decent jokes, and Kate Mara's bad hairpieces, the formula didn't add up to success this time.

I guess being a superhero story underdog myself, I have a soft spot for superhero movies that tried and didn't entirely pan out like "Daredevil" or "Darkman."  This is another to add to the list. (2/5)

Fox might go ahead with a sequel despite low sales (or is using this as a negotiating ploy with Marvel) and I think that could work.  Obviously you have to get a new director, but now that the convoluted origin story is done, they're a little more free with what they can do.  I'd suggest finding better source material, though.

Both of these movies were plagued by production problems, Ant-Man losing its director and Fantastic Four's director pretty much going nuts if the rumors are true.  That's a perfect lead-in to Wednesday's blog post:  Art is Hard.

6 comments:

  1. I liked Ant Man way better than Fantastic Four.

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  2. Too bad about the Fantastic Four. I like the previous movies, so hopefully a come back is possible.

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  3. I thought Ant Man was entertaining. Not great, but not bad either. I decided to catch Fantastic Four on BlueRay via Redbox instead.

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  4. I can't believe I still haven't seen Ant-Man which is strange because every movie review I read compares FF to Ant-Man. The two seem like totally differen movies but maybe its because they're the last two superhero movies out. You make some great points. I've only read the first couple of issues of the Ultimate series. So I'm not sure how close it is to the movie either but Man is it a waste. At least you got a free ticket but that's ridiculous that they didn't even check if someone was in the theater. Sounds lazy

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  5. I already wrote about Ant-Man (and I had no intentios on watching FF), but it was great to hear you talking about Wonder Boys. That's like one of my all time favorite films. Man, I must see it again!

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