by Bill Stamets

Fantastic Four: something green in fourth dimension empowers twentysomethings with new career options

Posted in Uncategorized by Bill Stamets on August 9, 2015

Fantastic Four
directed by Josh Trank
written by Josh Trank, Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater 
based on characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
acted by Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Reg E. Cathey, Toby Kebbell
distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

 

After accidental exposure to something green in the so-called fourth dimension, four twentysomethings are freakishly empowered with new career options in “Fantastic Four.”

This vintage Marvel Comic gets a screen adaptation that’s less cartoonish and self-conscious than others in Marvel’s busy franchise. No doubt by contract, director Josh Trank insinuates the obligatory sneer at the scientific-corporate-military nexus.

The adolescent-at-any-age demographic for this product may not expect its 31-year-old director to opt for a straightforward tone. Trank deliberately decelerates after the kinetic opening logo that trademarks every Marvel screen property. A truly stunning, if fleeting, special effect will come later when CGI action peaks at an inter-dimensional vortex.

Trank and co-screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater create an origin story for characters originated by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl, Human Torch and the Thing. After vanquishing an evildoer who nearly did in Earth, Trank’s foursome is introduced to a secret government research center on a mountain. It’s nameless and off-the books. Their military escort tells his new employers: “Call it whatever you want.” Naming the facility after their late mentor Franklin Storm is considered.

In the film’s last minute, the four will decide on a name for themselves. Rejected are The Human Torch & the Torchettes, The Big Brain & His Neurons, and The Big Brain & Her Neurons. Two Guys, a Girl & the Thing that Nobody Wanted is a no-go. At last, the alliterative two-word title of the film you just watched appears on screen and the credits roll.

Trank’s 2012 film “Chronicle” adopted a handheld docu-diary format to observe three Seattle high school seniors getting super-powers– plus ethical problems about using them. Jung, Plato and Schopenhauer get name dropped. As in the different versions of “Fantastic Four,” that trio’s freak powers are acquired by chance. What leads the Marvel characters to their transformative exposures differs.

In the original Cold War-era comic book Susan Storm– who morphs into Invisible Girl– urges pilot Ben Grimm– the Thing-to-be– to launch their untested spaceship at once, “unless we want the Commies to beat us!” After getting dosed with cosmic radiation, Ben the Thing philosophizes: “We’ve gotta use that power to help mankind, right?”

The Fantastic characters were not only competing with Sputnik satellite launches by the Soviets in 1957, Marvel was catching up with DC Comics that convened seven of its superheroes into the Justice League of America comic book in 1960.

In the inferior 2005 film directed by Tim Story– titled “Fantastic Four” too– the same characters (different cast) board a corporately owned & operated spaceship for a risky flight into the path of “a high energy cosmic storm.” “Exposure” like that “might have triggered the evolution of early planetary life,” theorized Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd).

The proposed payoff: “fundamentally advanc[ing] our knowledge of the human genome. Cure countless diseases, extend human life, give kids a chance to live longer, stronger, healthier…” The downside due to bad shielding: an outer space dosing of all four, plus one who turned into an antagonist aiming to annihilate Earth.

In the 2015 “re-imagining,” per industry parlance, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, “House of Cards,” “The Wire”) extols an “inter-dimensional” expedition towards “a whole new world which can help save this world… We’ll be able to discover new resources, energy resources which will revitalize our own. This is our chance to learn more about our planet and maybe even save it.”

Lines like that bring to mind “Tomorrowland,” a film directed by Brad Bird and released by Disney in May. Saving our future is the same agenda in this dimension-leaping adventure. Both films show a serious regard for science fairs as springboards for world-changing geniuses. Both plots pair a scientist and a bright girl who notice an inventive boy at a competition in the state of New York. Despite his design for a flying machine flopping, the visitors recruit him as researcher with a future in inter-dimensionality.

The 2015 iteration of “Fantastic Four” introduces fifth-grader Reed (Owen Judge) telling his classmates his goal when he grows up is to be the first human ever teleported. His teacher chides him for failing the assignment: “pick a real career in the real world.” Reed has already built a prototype in his Long Island garage.

Four years later Reed, now played by Miles Teller (“Insurgent,” “Divergent”) attempts to demonstrate his Cymatic Matter Shuttle at the high school science fair. That’s when he encounters Dr. Franklin Storm, dean of the Baxter Institute in Manhattan, and Sue Storm (Kate Mara, “House of Cards,” “Transcendence”). She is Storm’s adopted daughter from Kosovo. And incredibly acute at “pattern recognition.” Marvel marries Reed and Sue in a 1965 comic book. They also exchange vows in the 2007 film “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” directed by Tim Story again.

Joining the quantum gate crew are Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) who used to help him sneak tech from the Grimm family junkyard; and Franklin Storm’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station,” “Chronicle”), an ace mechanic and dauntless street auto racer.

A fifth member of the team is Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a bitter anti-authoritarian techie from Latveria (capital is Doomstadt, according to Marvel Comics lore) who earns the derisive nicknames “Adolph” and “Borat.” A few years ago he exiled himself from the Baxter Institute after burning its data servers, yet his mentor Franklin coaxes him back. After all, he was the first to conceive, if not construct, a teleporter. Last year in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Kebbell played the treasonous lieutenant ape to Caesar, the alpha primate of Muir Woods.

Before sending up astronauts, NASA performed sub-orbital and orbital trial launches with chimps in 1961. A test run in “Fantastic Four” teleports a chimp to some other dimension, aka, “the other dimension.” There is only one other one, it seems. The teleporter craft’s camera brings back video images of an uninhabited planet at undetermined coordinates in the known universe.

Reed, Ben, Sue, Johnny and Victor suit up for an unauthorized trip before the proverbial suits from NASA grab their experimental gizmo. On the nameless other-dimensional orb a living neural energy pulses underfoot. Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny make it back to the Baxter lab– but only after out-running green fissures in the unstable surface. Victor, however, gets stranded there until rescued by a later expedition.

The returning four are fantastically transformed. “They’re not powers,” Sue scolds her stepbrother Johnny, who thinks it’s way cool to fly on fire. “They’re aggressively abnormal physical conditions.” Besides turning invisible, Sue can project force fields. “Neuropathically,” it’s explained. Reed can elongate his limbs like rubbery taffy. (The 2015 film omits a smirking inquiry about elongating his penis in the 2005 dialogue.) And Ben is a rock-clad behemoth dispatched on covert military operations.

“All these abilities come from one place, another dimension that our scientists have taken to calling Planet Zero– a planet infused with the same energy that transformed these survivors and potentially could transform our military capabilities,” states Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Minority Report”). As chairman of the board of the Baxter Institute, he goes over the head of dean Storm. Allen assures the money and military interests: “We’ll have control of more than that world, we’ll have control over ours.”

As in “Avatar” (2009) and “Jupiter Ascending” (2015), the plot of “Fantastic Four” is all about exploiting resources elsewhere. To quote their respective press notes, the earthlings in James Cameron’s “Avatar” aim to plunder “Pandora, where a corporate consortium is mining a rare mineral that is the key to solving Earth’s energy crisis,” while the Wachowskis imagine “a universe in which the Earth is just one small piece of the vast machinery of galactic commerce—a prize, about to be seized and stripped of its most precious resource: humanity.”

All three films supply cautionary fables. Their plots take sides against the exploiters. But “Fantastic Four” at least entertains some dissonance. Victor distrusts the government to operate the quantum gate, cynically cracking: “We could send our political prisoners there. Waterboarding in the 4th dimension could prove very effective.”

Franklin Storm foresees a science-for-science’s-sake bonus– “That place could explain the origin of our species. The evolution of our planet.”– like the impetus for the trillion-dollar corporate spaceship christened “Prometheus” in the 2012 film “Prometheus” directed by Ridley Scott. Scott did not title his work after either of the characters named Prometheus introduced in 1968 by Marvel Comics or by DC Comics in 1986.

When Storm tries selling his inter-dimensional travelers as saviors of our world, Victor pushes back: “Not that it deserves to be saved. I mean think about it. People running the world are the same ones running into the ground so maybe it deserves what it’s got coming to it.”

A naysayer turned uber-nemesis, Victor ultimately identifies the fourth dimension as his new homeland: “It’s not enough to ruin your world. Now you want to ruin mine.” He takes on the Fantastic Four and opens a black hole for dispatching Earth “into the other dimension.”

“Humanity had its chance,” decrees the doomed one. The space-time continuum will not let him get away with it, though. Sequels transcend all quanta in perpetuity, throughout the universe, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised.

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