Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2015

Fantastic Four

It's gotta be the hair

The defining legacy of the truly awful 'Fantastic Four' will be a bad blond wig

Fantastic Four
20th Century Fox
Director: Josh Trank
Screenplay: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg and Josh Trank, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Reg E. Cathey, Toby Kebbell and Tim Blake Nelson
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 40 minutes
August 7, 2015
(out of four)

We need to talk about Kate Mara's reshoot wig.

There's a grand narrative in there. Just looking at it can tell you so much about the behind-the-scenes soap opera that Fantastic Four, by all accounts, became. We don't even need the leaked details - one look at that thing and you can see this movie for the sloppy disastrous mess that it was and is. One could easily make the case that the wig represents the most efficient piece of storytelling the film has to offer.

Kate Mara's reshoot wig comes and goes as it pleases - sometimes appearing interspersed in the same scene with Kate Mara's actual hair, with which it shares few physical similarities; other times dominating the frame or an entire scene. It is such a conspicuous presence that it immediately becomes the most fascinating and complex character in the film, overwhelming anything and anyone else in its path.

We can't help but wonder where this wig has been, what previous lives it has led, what tales it has to tell. Were its cheap synthetic fibers once perched atop the head of a German dance-hall seductress? Was it the ostentatious centerpiece of a disguise used by a sexy international spy? Back in its wilder days, was it ever re-styled into a glam-rock mullet? Whatever its history, we look upon this wig with awe as it stares at us like a miniaturized Cousin Itt draped around (and over) an unsuspecting actress's head.

Poor Kate Mara. She did nothing to deserve this. All she did was earn a major role in a major movie that, quite beyond her control, went to hell. The wig - which, let me emphasize, looks almost nothing like her hair in non-wig scenes, neither color, length, nor style - draws attention to itself not only by looking so blatantly fake, but by being so aggressively fake that it makes everything around it look cheaper as a result. The wig betrays the entire movie. It genuinely seems as though, when reshoots began, the costume department just grabbed the first wig they could find that was vaguely - and only vaguely - similar to the hair Mara had sported during the original shoot. There was apparently so little oversight, so little attention to detail, that no one had the time and/or inclination to look at the existing footage and make something that came close to matching it.

But it's all fitting for Fantastic Four, which has the vague shape of a movie without ever actually becoming one. Its shots routinely contradict one another; its music contradicts those shots; its various moods contradict everything; its performances contradict those moods; its editing contradicts those performances; and all of the above conspire to contradict the conflicted intentions of however many cooks were in this particular kitchen.

How much blame falls on credited director Josh Trank and how much falls on the writers, editors, producers or studio is not for me to say. I couldn't even venture to guess. But the finished product - I hesitate to say "finished" - is such a disheveled, incomplete mess that it's difficult even for our imaginations to piece together a better version from what we've been given. I'm reminded of Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man (made by the same studio, by the way), which was also a slapped-together mess of confused intent - but that movie has Kubrick-like coherence compared to Fantastic Four.

Presumably there were characters written for this movie, but all it leaves us with is fragments. Intros that lead nowhere. Details that dead-end. Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is introduced as a rebellious gearhead dragged kicking and screaming into working for his scientist father alongside his scientist sister, Sue (Mara). And that's virtually all we find out about him, since the rest of the film treats him almost as a non-entity - a rather shameful waste of one of the best up-and-coming actors around.

We do get a more substantial arc focused on Reed Richards (Miles Teller), the boy genius who discovers interdimensional travel and gets recruited to a government research facility by Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey), but for all the time we spend with him there's strangely little that actually gets explored. His friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and his rivalry with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) are among the film's most important elements, but neither is ever given much chance to blossom.

Fantastic Four contains just enough familiar-looking scenes to convince an inattentive viewer there's a story happening, but it only ever accomplishes the bare minimum. One scene will clearly set up a particular conflict, and the next will gloss over it, or pretend it never happened. The incident that transforms Reed, Johnny, Sue, Ben and Victor into the weapons they become is fine; it's just that the filmmakers appear to have no idea what to do with the implications that come with it. And in the absence of ideas, it doesn't have any story to tell, either. The characters are transformed as we know they will be, then there's a time jump, then the villain is introduced, and just as quickly as he's introduced the still-unnamed Fantastic Four fight him, and there's your movie.

There are good movies that have resulted in spite of, or even because of, behind-the-scenes discord, but rarely is artistic disconnect as palpable as it is here. Fantastic Four feels like it was edited by people who never read the script and never spoke to a director - like they found a bunch of footage lying around and just threw something together. It is the very definition of a rough cut.

Like all terrible movies, this one feels like an enormous waste - of a talented group of actors who are now unfortunately associated with it, of a promising director whose reputation (fairly or unfairly, I have no idea) is now in the toilet, and of characters who have now been subjected to three truly awful big-screen attempts in a single decade. If nothing else, maybe this tells us that Fox should get out of the superhero-movie business.

Or at least find a decent wig salesman.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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