Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

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Wolverine Origins. Elektra. Catwoman. Rise of the Silver Surfer. If you really think Josh Trank’s new Fantastic Four is on the same rung of the ladder as these appalling excuses for entertainment, then you should prepare yourself for some serious head-shaking if you decide to read on.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

fantastic four 2015Hi, my name is Owen Hughes and I am a comic book reader. Something that pre Marvel’s film renaissance was something to share with only a select few like-minded friends, not to admit to in public. Well, Batman was fine to confess to. Spider-Man too in some circles. But mention goofy names like Fantastic Four and you were on your own.

Admittedly, I’m not now (nor have I ever particularly been) an avid reader of Marvel comics specifically. I’m more of a DC kind of guy. If that doesn’t make much sense to you, then consider the age-old quote about Marvel heroes being aspirational, whereas DC’s roster are inspirational; whilst not quite as consistently black and white as that, I felt myself drawn more often than not towards DC’s God-like characters (and Batman. Everybody loves Batman.)

What comicbook issue or story I would pick up in next month’s pull list only ever came down to two determining factors: a) which characters I liked and had invested time in already; and b) what writer was working on a project. Cue my interest developing in Fantastic Four when, after some limited experience with their place in the Ultimates Universe via other titles, a friend foisted upon me the first trade paper back of the run by the immensely talented writer Jonathan Hickman. It was… difficult. Not completely impenetrable, but certainly confusing and disorientating to begin with, but at the same time impressively ambitious. It wove mind-bendingly intricate plots and character arcs that I couldn’t even begin to conceive of how they would end, let alone how the next page or panel would continue.

When Josh Trank started to talk about being influenced by the work of David Cronenberg, I wasn’t sure how to react. A part of me was still reeling from the lamentable 2005 film and its sequel. Yet another part of me remained optimistic. A Cronenberg-esque Fantastic Four movie? Yep, that could work. Taking his inspiration from the Brian M Bendis / Mark Millar (yes that Kick-Ass guy) interpretation of the characters in their Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, it should have been perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to make the characters and story primarily for young children just because the group’s name is embarrassing to say out loud as an adult. I’ve seen Hickman successfully do more adult and darker stories in the comics. Twice, no less, if you include the few issues of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates that I’d read. If any young aspirational director out there could do it justice, then naturally the guy behind one of 2012’s surprise hits, Chronicle, could be that guy?

Unfortunately, from the moment the project was announced, it hasn’t been without its lion share of controversy. With Trank allegedly trashing the set, upsetting his crew and causing headaches for the higher-ups at Fox, however true or false the rumours were, it permitted a swell of negativity about the movie in the public perception even before its trailer had made it to the screen. Throw in the ridiculous furore over casting an African American, Michael B Jordan, as the traditionally Caucasian hot-head character Johnny Storm, as if this was somehow an integral part of the character’s make up, and it just fanned the flames (get it? Because Johnny Storm says “flame on” when he sets himself on fire! It’s a joke! I’m trying to add humour to a super-serious film review… oh, never mind.)

Whilst many fans rejoiced at the progressiveness of casting the best actor for the role regardless of skin colour, a small section of narrow minded idiots couldn’t deal with it. “What if they decided to cast James Bond as a woman?” “What if they made Batman a disabled child?” “What if they cast a midget as Jack Reacher?” Yeah. Exactly. What if? If the end product is good enough, then who honestly has reason to care?

I suppose that’s what this review should eventually boil down to. Was this a good enough interpretation of not just the Human Torch, but of all the characters in general? From Johnny Storm’s adopted sister Susan, played by Kate Mara, to best buddies Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) played by British actor Jamie Bell, and (the ever-growing in popularity) Miles Teller as the limb stretching Mister Fantastic, Reed Richards, they just don’t gel as a unit at any point. Trank often breaks the group up into smaller teams to demonstrate how they are weaker apart. Tragedy befalls the group every time they don’t work as a cohesive line-up, especially when they ditch a key component of their group to navigate some inter-dimensional travel in what is for all intents and purposes an origins story to a sequel that may never happen based on initial critical reception.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t clearly explained within the film itself. For a movie that appears to pride itself on developing its characters, it appears to have bitten off more than it could chew. Rather than let characters organically drift in and out of the story as and when necessary, it seems as though Trank presumably accidentally casts them adrift for large portions of the runtime. For example, when Ben has done his bit with Reed, off he goes for a good 20 minutes. Not that Reed himself is immune to the chop as he all but disappears for what must be about 8-10 minutes of the film too. Hoping to see the fallout from Victor Von Doom’s shenanigans? Think again. At least the other characters get name checked during their absence. Poor old Doom isn’t even alluded to during his time out. I can only assume that the point is to drive home the “better together” message at the heart of the story. Alas, like large chunks of proceedings, it just wasn’t portrayed well.

Admittedly that may be slightly harsh as it’s hard enough sometimes to properly develop a couple of characters in a 100 minute movie, let alone six or more. Nevertheless, it’s still a problem. There was also little to no balance between characters’ emotions as they one second appeared to hold a certain opinion before careering off suddenly into a completely different lane like an out of control Toyota.

Frequently scenes had me scratching my head. Not because of its complex Warren Ellis inspired levels of scientific detail, but because of either how badly edited and/or written they were, which is only the more infuriating as in some areas there seems to be a lot of care of attention to detail. If you are at all wound up by little niggly pedantic problems often labelled as “goofs” on IMDb profiles, then this won’t be the movie for you as they were all too common an occurrence to be ignored.

However, like most moments throughout, there’s both good and bad to be found in every scene. The specific moment when the characters first gain their abilities is one of the more entertaining sections, generating as much tension as the film could muster. The effects looked stunning and played their part in increasing the excitement. In contrast, the set of circumstances leading these characters to this point are so incredibly contrived and lazy that it makes my defence of it so much more difficult. Even the events immediately afterwards show very little of the fallout and are nowhere near as cataclysmic as they should be. Reg E. Cathey is arguably the most well cast member of the entire bunch, but the hints at backstory between him and Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom are underplayed and superficial. Tim Blake Nelson plays the government representative like a pantomime villain, but even the friction there with his interactions with the quartet is not utilised enough.

All in all, it’s great that Trank has at least attempted to avoid the all too common pitfalls of the genre. It would be an exaggeration to describe the opening third as exciting, but I count it as a positive that matters were very rarely resolved with a short period of clobbering. The seams start to come away through a plodding and stiflingly slow middle section which seems to be heading nowhere. That is until Trank can resist no longer and relents with a grand (albeit generic) action-packed finale. In keeping with the rest of the film, even this climactic showdown struggles to have a bit of fun with itself. If anything, I had the distinct impression that Trank was almost apologetic in the necessity of including such a mass-appeasing scene, rendering it rushed and unsatisfying in its conclusion.

What makes Fantastic Four hard to hate, and why I can’t get on the “this movie is terrible” train that is steaming past me at 100mph, is that despite what I’ve said, I honestly didn’t sit there bored. Instead, I was mostly in a constant state of waiting for the expected to eventually happen. Then, when it did happen, it disappointingly didn’t elicit any emotion in me one way or the other. The movie was over, and so too is presumably the franchise until the inevitable soft-reboot.

It’s a big budget superhero movie that will go down in the annals of history as a project that never fulfilled its potential with a director who never quite found his rhythm. It so nearly broke the mould for its type, but obliged to pander to its typical audience, it never strayed too far from what was familiar and ended up underachieving.

Failed Critics Podcast: Ant-Man

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Welcome one and all to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are this week joined by special guests Andrew Brooker and Matt Lambourne to review big-budget pint-sized Marvel superhero movie Ant-Man! There’s both a spoiler-free discussion on the film and a return of our ‘spoiler alert’ right after the end credits where we go into more specific details.

Also featured on this week’s podcast: Owen discusses the 1970’s Werner Herzog movie Stroszek; Brooker finally manages to get his hands on The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds; Matt is back to say a few things to say about Terminator Genisys; and Steve puts him through the Danny Dyer film The Other Half ….with very good reason!

There’s even time for the group to mull over the Attack On Titan trailer, talk about our latest celeb Twitter follower after the very first Failed Critics meet up and we “react” to the as yet unreleased Spectre trailer.

Join us again next week for the return of our TV Special in honour of the biggest new release this week. No, not Southpaw. No, not Inside Out either. No, not even Maggie.

“Oh no. Oh Hell no! Surely you don’t mean… it’s not….. it can’t be… no way….??”

Yes way. It’s the eagerly anticipated release of Sharknado 3!

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Failed Critics Podcast: Small, Bald, Jaundiced Critics

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Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast where the team are at their most despicable.

No, we haven’t brought back Brooker and Paul!! I’m talking about the prequel to Illumination‘s Despicable Me franchise, all about those little yellow goofy sidekicks. Joining Steve Norman and Owen Hughes to review Minions is our animation expert Callum Petch. The team also take a look at action thrillers Everly (starring Salma Hayek) and Eli Roth’s Knock Knock (starring Keanu Reeves).

There’s even some news for the group to discuss this week as Tom Holland is named as the new (yes, NEW) high school age Spider-Man (they’re really making another Spider-Man film!) (Really!)

We also have a special guest débutante to the Failed Critics podcast in Nick Lay, author of our articles on We Are Many, Dish & Dishonesty and Kung Fury! In a pre-recorded review, he joins Owen all the way from Canada to discuss the micro budget British thriller Through The Lens. Meanwhile, Steve reveals the startling news that prior to this week, he’d somewhat unbelievably never seen The Terminator before, whilst Callum takes over the b-movie duties from Owen to review 80’s cult classic Hard Ticket To Hawaii.

Join Steve, Owen and Callum again next week as we review Terminator: Genisys and Magic Mike XXL.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Unfriending the Monsters

Failed Critics Podcast: Unfriending the Monsters

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Welcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast! Our special guests this week are Mike Shawcross and Andrew Brooker (that we know of, there could also have been a spooky spectre lurking on our Skype call) who join our regular hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes.

We review two new releases, the cyber-slasher Unfriended and the “infuriating” Monsters: Dark Continent alongside our usual quiz, news and ‘what we’ve been watching’ sections. The latter of which sees Steve finally complete the Harry Potter franchise, dropping the mic at the suggestion of a proposed remake; Mike reminds us all how good Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is; in full old man moaning mode, Owen apologises for disliking Bryan Coyne’s Infernal; and Brooker gets disappointed with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters.

Much like the past few weeks, our news section is dominated by Marvel and particularly Age of Ultron, which has run away with the recent US box office records and smashed them to bits. However, DC manage to squeeze in on the action with the emergence of the first images from their new project, Suicide Squad.

Join us again next week for a top secret triple bill and new release review of Spooks: The Greater Good.

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Avengers Minisodes: Episode 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy

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In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Welcome to the very last episode in our Avengers Minisode series! Here we take a look back on the second best film of 2014, as voted for by you in our Failed Critics Awards. I am of course referring to the spectacular space-adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

First conceived as a movie to enter the franchise back in 2009, when writer Nicole Perlman pretty much hand picked it herself, it wasn’t until 2012 that the ball really started rolling on production when director James Gunn was attached to the project. Released two years later, the film was a huge success for Marvel Studios, nearly quadrupling its budget by grossing approximately $774,000,000 worldwide – most of those ticket sales courtesy of our special guest for the retrospective review, Mike Shawcross, who saw the movie 23 times at the cinema!

Featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro, it had an enormous ensemble cast that rivaled even that of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble some two years earlier. All of whom were fantastic in their individual ways as the MCU ventured into the realms of space-opera, with the Starlord and his “group of wrong-uns” attempting to stop the psychopathic Ronan the Accuser from getting his hands on a powerful orb containing an infinity stone and thus destroying the Nova Empire.

As through the rest of our Avengers Minisodes, this episode will feature clips and trailers, as well as retro review taken from an archived podcast released last year when we were joined by Carole Petts. As mentioned earlier, the brand new retrospective review sees occasional writer and podcast guest Mike Shawcross share his educated opinion on the film.

We’ll be back next week with a review of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, released here in the UK tomorrow!

You can look back at all of the episodes released as a part of our series here.

Warning: these minisodes may contain spoilers

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Avengers Minisodes: Episode 9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FAILEDCRITICS.COM


In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

In the penultimate podcast of our Avengers Minisode series, we take a look back at 2014’s espionage thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After a brief cameo from Chris Evans as Steve Rogers during Thor: The Dark World, here he returns to the role in full as catastrophe strikes when he uncovers a secret Hydra plot to take down SHIELD as his past comes back to haunt him.

Just as Iron Man did in his first sequel, Cap teams up with Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and new recruit Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), in a showdown against the mysterious Winter Soldier that sent ripples through the MCU. It was such a smash hit for directors Joe and Anthony Russo that as well as returning to direct the first film in Marvel’s Phase 3 next year, Captain America: Civil War, as well as taking on the responsibility for the next two Avengers films (Infinity War parts 1 & 2) after Age of Ultron. Something that we’re incredibly excited and pleased about!

As ever, this episode will feature clips and trailers from the film, as well as our original retro review from an older archived podcast featuring Carole Petts – apologies for the slightly poor audio quality. Don’t worry, though! It’s much better during our new retrospective review with Andrew Brooker, a self-confessed huge fan of Winter Soldier, as per his entry in our Decade In Film series.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

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(Hail Hydra)

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 8 – Thor: The Dark World

Avengers Minisodes: Episode 8 – Thor: The Dark World

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON FAILEDCRITICS.COM


In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.

Our eighth Avengers Minisode takes a look back on director Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World. With a slightly larger budget than Brannagh’s first Thor film, this sequel attempts to expand on the epic fantasy adventure element by introducing the malevolent threat of the dark elves. An ancient species led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who harbour a grudge – and it’s up to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his earthly chums (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and her intern) to stop them.

After everything that happened to disrupt the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe during Avengers Assemble, perhaps the one thing that viewers wanted to know above all else was what would now happen to everyone’s favourite villain, Loki? Escorted out of Midgard under lock and key by his brother at the end of that film, as you might expect he plays a key role in the plot here and Tom Hiddleston never fails to disappoint.

However, the film is not without its critics, including a few of our own as you can hear during our retro review with Owen, Steve and James taken from our podcast back when the film came out in October 2013. And our brand new retrospective review in this episode with Carole Petts is unsurprisingly no different.

You can keep up with all of the episodes released so far and those to come here.

Warning: these Avengers Minisodes may contain spoilers

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