This review has moved to http://starwarsreadingorder.com/reviews.php?id=6
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
There are probably as many people who believe effects heavy adventure films are the unfortunate necessity of the modern film business as believe they are its pinnacle (or at least most entertaining option, which may be the same thing) but if the last decade has proven anything it is that a determined filmmaker with the right material and the right inspiration can appease both groups (or come as close as possible). Josh Trank’s FANTASTIC FOUR is not that film, but that fact should not be used as the object lesson it may be doomed to become in how not to make one of these movies or why there should be fewer of them. Quite the opposite, in fact. For all the studio hands visibly apparent in the frequently incomprehensible FANTASTIC FOUR it is still an auteur’s film right down to the symmetry in experiences between co-writer/director Trank and young Reed Richards (Teller), both of whom are destined to achieve unexpected early success – Trank with is first film, Reed with a prototype interdimensional teleporter – which open the door to both immensely larger opportunities and immensely larger (and unseen) dangers.
Quickly snapped up by the mysterious Baxter Foundation, Reed and a host of talented young geniuses put their minds together to solve the greatest problem of all time – reaching and exploring new worlds – and garner all the awards and accolades which go with such a feat. Staying true to his oft-repeated mantra of a grounded, realistic depiction of the well-known origin of Marvel’s first super-team, Trank starts local with the difficult upbringing of Reed and best friend Ben Grimm (Bell) while laying down the nuts and bolts aesthetic designed by Chris Seagers (and eventually re-designed by Molly Hughes in the films much discussed re-shoots). Nuts and bolts in the most literal sense of the world because while Trank (with co-writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater) creates often subtle but solid relationship strands between core characters – from Victor Von Doom’s (Kebbell) simmering jealousy of both Reed’s intellect and rapport with equally brainy Susan Storm (Mara) to often lone adult Professor Storm (Cathey) and his attempt to reach his estranged son Johnny (Jordan) – it spends more time on actual nuts and bolts, showcasing endless scenes of characters welding things or staring at computer monitors rather than conversing with one another. The result is a pretty and occasionally interesting relationship drama with an interminable pace made all the more noticeably turgid as the first act building up to the activation of Reed’s device takes up fully half of the films brief 100 minute run time with little to show for all the time spent beyond squashing the rest of the film into shape which cannot possibly make sense. Still it is within these sequences more so than any other portion of the film where Trank’s hand shows through most firmly, suggesting inherent problems completely separate from any studio mandated reshoots and which gives something of the lie to the notion that an auteur given free rein to bring what they see in their heads to life without interference or compromise (surely the dirtiest word in the arts) must produce better work than lowest common denominator focused studio creations.
And there is some material in FANTASTIC FOUR which backs up that idea when Reed and his team decide to use Reed’s device themselves, and get transformed into various painfully monstrous creations for their trouble and youthful exuberance. Despite some of the clumsy storytelling needed to reach that point – from bringing a largely absent Ben Grimm back into the proceedings for no discernible reason than he has to become The Thing, to the classic alien planet exploration technique of poking glowy-things and being surprised when they explode – the Four’s discovery of how they’ve changed is played up with a mixture of horror and occasional pathos which works amazingly well, briefly suggesting the hints of interest in the first half are about to bloom into a fully developed epic of type which truly has not been attempted before. Alas, it’s not to be. Like anything having to do with art auteur theory is wrong as often as it’s right; unfiltered, ill-considered works devoid of feedback or editing can fall apart just as surely as the most work shopped piece of lowest common denominator ‘entertainment’ and FANTASTIC FOUR does that with surprising speed. Yes the next twenty minutes or so run through with amazing speed and little consequence as character and relationships and frequently logic takes a back seat to getting individuals where they need to be for the quickly approaching third act. But as problematic as that is, it’s neither better nor worse than the slow and empty work of Trank’s first half (they both spend quite a lot of time watching young people stand around inside of a warehouse, which is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when imagining a FANTASTIC FOUR film). The reality is, good art and bad come from the same place (and usually from the same positive intentions) and there is no real way to determine which you are going to get from one moment to the next; it’s a roll of the dice and the odds are against us but that’s okay because like a gambling addict we love the action as much as the winning.
Though he won’t admit it, it’s a feeling which Reed likely understands as he abandons his friends and goes on the run, trying to figure out how to undo what his machine did while the military gleefully snaps up the remaining super people it has access to with plans to use them to solve all of their thorniest problems … beginning with the capture of Reed himself. It’s slow and turbulent (a side effect in part of the film’s determined fight against humor – after the half point there are no intentional jokes, and few before then) but ripe with promise for infighting among the Four and their handlers making the formation of the team less of a foregone conclusion. And it is tossed out the window almost as soon as it is brought up as the film, perhaps realizing how slowly it has been moving, picks up speed faster and faster, racing towards it literally knows not where. The rapidly … let’s be generous and say evolving … plot expands so quickly arbitrariness becomes the name of the game, embodied primarily by Cathey’s Professor Storm who exists primarily to tell any character what they need to hear in order to get where they need to be for the big finish even if it means contradicting what he said. In a film full of rock men and invisible women the greatest super power of all must be Professor Storm’s ability to convince people he is the voice of moral authority even though by the start of the third act it must be clear to even the most lax of observers that everything he says is wrong.
[Take for instance his assertion that the twenty-year-old geniuses who built the teleporter and are presumably the only people who know how to fix it if it breaks are just the people to test it out the first time. One imagines Werner Von Braun’s reaction if told while working on the Saturn V that, once he got it to stop exploding, he would be the one piloting it.]
But like a boulder careening downhill, there’s no time to think too much of such things; the extended first act means there’s a lot to do in the second half causing the film to essentially jump straight to the finale as Doctor Doom suddenly reappears and begins busting heads with his brain in the film’s last gasp of effecting and original superhero storytelling before it devolves into a panoply of computer effects and stunt sequences as Doom prepares to wipe out the planet for … some reason. Actually, that’s not fair – he has a completely understandable reason, it’s just stupid [having in his view put the planet Earth on an unalterable course to become uninhabited, having access to teleporter technology makes it inevitable the human race will do the same to the featureless mud ball he has claimed as home, so he will do to them first]. Not that there is much time to sit around and ponder such things as the speed of action continues to pick up in the quickly arrived finale, sweeping the newly minted Fantastic Four into a glowing vortex in order to face Doom on his home turf in a replacement climax which is so tonally discordant from what has come before it is possible to pinpoint to the second the point where the reshoots were spliced into the original story. With what little in the way of character work thrown out the window FANTASTIC FOUR quickly falls back into the old action film standby of hurling a chunk of visual effects at the screen in an effort to create some sort of reaction. Normally complaints about CG heavy action sequences looking like a video game are the work of a lazy mind reaching for a phrase which is familiar and roughly describes the sensation the writer is going for while in no one describing what is actually on screen and mostly has to do with a persistent prejudice against CGI. That said, not since probably ESCAPE FROM LA has a cast of actors been so obviously standing on a sound stage in front of a giant green screen than the FF when they arrive on Planet Zero. It’s not hideous, just extremely mediocre like so much else in the film.
Which probably sounds like a damning condemnation of FANTASTIC FOUR and a warning to stop assailing us with bad versions of the characters of which we have now suffered through four terrible iterations. Certainly many are taking it that way, but that’s the worst way out in a medium where, failed reboots notwithstanding, there is always room for another look. While the odd bad result can sometimes lead to questioning the entire enterprise – particularly in a genre where (for various reasons) the odds of success are even lower than the mean – if the occasional terrible film is the price we pay for the occasional great one then not only was the attempt worth it, but it’s worth trying again.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Miles Teller as Reed Richards
Kate Mara as Susan Storm
Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm
Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm
Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom
Reg E. Cathey as Professor Franklin Storm
Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Allen
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
There is a lot of potential drama in the idea of Lucifer’s reaction to his role in Christian mythos, what he thinks about what he’s done and what it is he actually wants (within the bounds of proscribed actions). Milton knew it way back when; Neil Gaiman did too when he took the notion to post-modern levels wondering whether the devil might not even want the role he had been given and would one day grow tired of it. It was the later idea that prompted Mike Carey’s examination of the character adrift in the City of Angels, trying to find a reason to exist after shrugging off the reason that was created for him.
It’s an interesting if ethereal basis for a complex character study and one that would seem to be right at home in today’s so-called golden age of television where long form character work less tied down by classic notions of good guys/bad guys is becoming the norm. On basic/premium cable at any rate.
On network television where the requirements for status quo plot arrangements, identifiable good guys and bad guys, clear moral victories and frequently lock-step procedural elements are part and parcel of the deal (at least if maintaining viewers is any sort of goal), it’s much more difficult fit. And by difficult I mean so ill-conceived its difficult to believe a pilot was actually made much less a series was green lit from it.
The network television version (set to debut as a mid-season series in 2016 on the CW) takes the notion of Lucifer (Miranda’s Tom Ellis) quitting his job to open a bar and decides that’s a bit too quiet and unmotivated for a modern audience and so introduces the completely logical decision to give the Devil a hobby … fighting crime. And as ridiculous as that sentence is to write, it’s even worse to observe.
A lot of it stem’s from Lucifer’s egregious misconception and mis-casting. Attempting to ease the transition of the Devil into the role of the good guy, the series re-imagines him as less the Prince of Darkness and more an immortal jerk who brings people’s innermost desires to the surface where they have great difficulty not acting on them – often to his amusement but usually to little other effect (as Lucifer ruining people’s lives for fun would make it much more difficult for him to play the hero). It removes the character’s innate sinisterness, but it also removes his gravitas as well, leaving him with only one emotional outlet for the entire pilot: smug dickishness.
Or that could just be the only way Ellis (best none prior for a few seasons of a sitcom on the BBC) can deliver his lines. While he does delivers his frequent witticisms well (Lucifer not only has to carry off the crime fighting, he’s also the comic relief) and genuinely relishes introducing himself as Lucifer Morningstar as well as bluntly and truthfully explaining what and how he is doing what he is doing whenever asked under the (correct) assumption that no one will either believe him or be able to stop him, Ellis will never make anyone believe he is an immortal angel who spent eons coming up with new, original ways to torture people. It’s either not in his skill set or not being asked of him or (more likely) both.
That alone should be enough to sink any show but Lucifer is filled with a stack of additional elements that feel like a creator groping for ways to define his characters (or because they sounded good during a pitch) and failing miserably. While investigating the shooting death of a singer who he once did a favor for, Lucifer soon finds himself working with an impossibly young detective (Lauren German) who in a former life was a teenage actress most well known for a teenage sex comedy in which she walked around naked (though at least it addresses the series’ female lead being many times more attractive than others in her field). She also happens to be immune to Lucifer’s charms, particularly his method of compelling people to speak their desires, revealing in him the deep-seated psychological issues which caused him to leave Hell in the first place and for which he decides to start seeing a shrink. It’s as if the series’ ambitions amounted to little more than being a dark version of Castle, just without any wit, charm or intelligence.
Lucifer’s failure on almost every level is largely a repeat of the same issues which doomed the last attempt to translate a classic Vertigo series to television, last years ill-fated Constantine. Both took morally ambiguous characters who bathed in worlds of grey and tried to squeeze them into a milieu which is only comfortable with good guys who wear white hats and bad guys who wear black. It’s an ill-fit on almost every level and it shows.
But at least there’s Preacher to look forward to.
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
According to Birth.Movies.Death (formerly Badass Digest) Marvel Studios has narrowed its once large list of potential teenage Spider-Men to just two – THE IMPOSSIBLE’s Tom Holland and THE GOLDEN COMPASS’ Charlie Rowe – indicating that the studio is both very close to make a final decision and that former frontrunner Asa Buttefrield (of HUGO and ENDER’S GAME fame) seems to no longer be in the running. This despite recent reports that Butterfield was in final negotiations to star in 2017’s untitled Spider-Man requel (a cross between a reboot and a sequel which Marvel has already handled once before with 2008’s INCREDIBLE HULK which picked up the several elements of the planned sequel to the Ang Lee/Eric Bana film but never mentioned the previous version).
The constantly moving target highlights both the interest in what the Marvel version of the character will be (still the most-well known individual brand name in Marvel’s arsenal as highlighted by the studios desire to make some sort of deal with Sony to get their hands back on the character) and the need to make a decision quickly. While there are a number of films on Marvel’s schedule which are due to go before the lens soon – DOCTOR STRANGE is due to start shooting as soon as CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR wraps, with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY likely to start shooting before STRANGE is even finished and THOR: RAGNAROK soon afterwards – the number of them which can support a promised Spider-Man cameo is small.
This has naturally led many to assume that the character will pop up somewhere in the sequel due to appear next May. But with CIVIL WAR nearing the halfway point of principal photography there is little time left for the character to make any sort of major impact on the film unless a decision is made soon.
A lack of a decision doesn’t mean Spider-Man can’t appear in the film – a stunt-man could perform the character with dialogue dubbed later, or a separate short cameo could be filmed later as with Jeremy Renner’s insertion into THOR. But those choices don’t suggest the size supporting role the character is expected to hold in the story.
Time will tell.
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
With lensing on Marvel’s next major effort, DOCTOR STRANGE, expected to start in the late summer/early fall – basically the second CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR wraps – major cast announcements are coming fast and heavy on the film. And while I had always pegged him as the best possible choice for Black Panther, Deadline is reporting today that 12 YEARS A SLAVE actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is in final negotiations to play Baron Mordo opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange in the film.
Though Marvel has made no comment Deadline says it is nearly a done deal. The report also indicates that the Scott Derrickson helmed film will be taking some liberties with classic Strange mythology. Just as the Ancient One will now be played by Tilda Swinton rather than an aged Chinese man, Ejiofor’s Mordo will not be the straight up antagonist he has been in classic Doctor Strange tradition but will rather be a combination of multiple characters with a slightly different background while the primary villain is still likely to be Dormammu. The report suggests a character somewhat like Mickey Rourke’s Anton Vanko from IRON MAN 2 who was an amalgamation of the original Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash.
It may be that the series is setting up Mordo to eventually become the primary antagonist after initially presenting him as an ally or at least neutral party. In comic’s continuity Mordo, who first appeared alongside Strange as his original nemesis in Strange Tales #110. He was quickly cast aside in favor of Dormammu, becoming something of a servant to the greater villain, but it may be that Marvel is taking a reverse approach in the film series. It was revealed in Strange’s origin in Strange Tales #115 that he and Mordo had been pupils of the Ancient One together and while in the original story he is antagonistic to Strange from the get-go and quickly turned to evil, later versions of shown the two working together as students for some time before his betrayal when it became clear that Strange would be picked to become the next Sorcerer Supreme. Marvel’s known for playing a long game in its film choices, time will tell.
Which is all well and good, but what we really want to know is when is Marvel going to let George R. R. Martin write the DOCTOR STRANGE comic he’s always wanted to do?
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
No he’s not getting his own Netflix series, at least not yet, but Marvel revealed today that they were going to try – yet again – to make a live action Frank Castle work when they add him to the line-up of DAREDEVIL season 2, expected at some point in 2016.
While two big screen iterations of the character have been tried during the current comics film craze – 2004’s THE PUNISHER starring Thomas Jane and 2009’s PUNISHER: WAR ZONE starring Ray Stevenson – neither was particularly successful and Marvel honcho Kevin Feige has spoken often about his desire to try and do the character right since getting the film rights back from Lionsgate. With the current Marvel film schedule filled to bursting there seemed little room for the character in a starring role on the big screen, so he has been sent to Marvel television where he will fill out the roster for DAREDEVIL’s increasingly full second season which is rumored to include the introductions of Elektra and Bullseye as as well.
The popular character is also the most likely to cross out of television and into other films as well – particularly a future Spider-Man film – as well as being a strong contender for a Netflix series of his own. Previous Punisher actor Jane has mentioned often his desire at another bite at the Frank Castle apple, including appearing in a fan-filim as the character produced by Avi Shankar, as has FURY ROAD star Tom Hardy.
But instead former WALKING DEAD actor Jon Bernthal will be taking the character on according to the announcement, tweeting his excitement shortly after the announcement.
After starring in the first two seasons of WALKING DEAD Bernthal has had a healthy career as a character actor, co-starring in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and last year’s FURY, and will be seen soon in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. For many months he was strongly connected to the upcoming SUICIDE SQUAD film, helmed by his FURY director David Ayer, but ultimately passed on it.
DAREDEVIL, season 2, starring Charlie Cox is set for release in the first half of 2016.
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
Coming hot off the heels of a successful mini-season and appearing in every Marvel film coming out in 2015 (which makes her one of the most re-appearing characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe pantheon) Haley Atwell has been one of the busiest actors in the MCU and that doesn’t look to end any time soon.
While speaking at Comicpalooza in Houston over the weekend Atwell gave some insight into what is being planned in the recently greenlit AGENT CARTER season 2 which will include not just a new location but more episodes as well, with Marvel and ABC Studios planning to produce 10 episodes for this year’s mini-season, presumably to once again air in-between the Fall and Spring seasons of AGENTS OF SHIELD.
The new series will take up roughly a year after the end of the previous but will see Atwell’s Carter transplanted from New York to Los Angeles in what she called a glamorous, dark world.
“What was very exciting is, in a second season she’s grieved over Steve and she’s now about to embark on a new adventure in her life. So she’s in a much better place, so in terms of where she is it’s going to be a lot lighter for her, there’s going to be more humor to her and more warmth. She’s not struggling so much with her identity,” Atwell told the Houston crowd.
While Atwell’s current plate seems full, recent news out of the Atlanta set of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR suggests it will be her last not in period. Over the past several weeks several of the cast members were seen in black suits attending funeral service at a local cemetery. According to photos taken by extras working the location the scene is the funeral for Atwell’s Carter (who was quite aged and living in a retirement community during her appearance in CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER).
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
It has been much rumored that, similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, DC would use a recurring character in many of its early DC Cinematic Universe films in order to tie the early films together similar to the work Marvel did with its Phase I films. Many had theorized that character would be Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, but with multiple reports it seems instead Ben Affleck’s Batman will be filling that role, or potentially sharing it with Eisenberg.
Ever since it was revealed that the Joker would indeed be a major part of the SUICIDE SQUAD film (along with the first live action portrayal of major Joker/Batman supporting character Harley Quinn) it had been noted that it would be the first time Joker had appeared in a film sans Batman and whether that would in fact be true.
It appears that it’s not true after all as location filming in Toronto last week and early this week showcased Jared Leto’s first action sequence/appearance as the character, focusing on an extended car chase with the character (driving a purple Lamborghini) hunting down a motorcycle riding Harley Quinn played by Margot Robbie. When filming on the sequence picked up this week it was joined by the new version of the Batmobile (which will first appear in next March’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE) following the Joker-mobile down the wet Canadian streets.
The appearance seems to prove recent rumors as well that the robed and hooded figure seen filming with the crew some weeks ago was in fact Ben Affleck (or at least a stuntman in the Batman outfit).
Meanwhile ARROW’s Willa Holland revealed over the weekend some more of the differences between Marvel and DC, primarily in how their TV and studio groups work together. While Disney has worked hard to make its live action television and film productions some form of homogeneous whole the DC productions have been primarily on their own – creating among other things the current Flash disparity with two different actors portraying the character on film and television.
It is an issue that Warner Bros. seems intent on not repeating with non-major characters being removed from television hands if they are going to play a part in the movies. At least that is the word from ARROW’s Willa Holland who revealed this weekend that the show originally had major plans for the Harley Quinn on their series (the character was teased during an early Suicide Squad episode in the second season) but those plans were scotched by the studio after the announcement of the big screen SUICIDE SQUAD cast where Quinn will be the female lead.
“We had big plans for Harley, but, I guess something came down from DC execs that told us to shut it down . . . we’ll never see it. We would love to do Harley in ‘Arrow’ but it will never happen,” Holland told Flickering Myth.
Sometime later, ARROW’s version of Deadshot was also written out, presumably so as not to sow confusion with the character portrayed by Will Smith in the feature film.
If true it also suggests major recurring Flash Rogues like Captain Cold are likely not in the running for appearing in that characters feature film, but with much in development anything is possible.
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
With roughly seven weeks to go until the final Marvel Phase II film – the long gestating ANT-MAN – finally sees the light of day the Marvel PR machine has spread into high gear, not just through a marked increase in television advertising but also through both frontline examinations like this month’s cover story in EMPIRE magazine but also with the early release of retailer and merchandising information.
According to the EMPIRE story, the biggest difference between the proposed Wright version (which had been in the works since 2006 and postponed several times over the years) and what will appear on screen is more character drama and less jokes.
“I think the most defining difference between the two scripts was that Edgar’s didn’t take itself as seriously. It was fun and silly and brilliant irreverent – a romp from beginning to end, in classic English fashion. Whereas where we’ve gotten to is so much more American. There’s tons of levity, but just as much emotion,” Evangeline Lily, who plays Hope Van Dyne, said in the article.
“Marvel have let me explore the dark side of Hank Pym, this tortured, guilt-ridden guy,” director Peyton Reed added.
The added focus on character drama and conflict seems to have been primarily studio driven and the primary element which ultimately led to Wright – who envisioned a much more light, funny affair – to abandoning the project shortly before filming was due to commence last year. That version of the script (which was ultimately rewritten by ANCHORMAN’s Adam McKay and ANT-MAN star Paul Rudd, who will share writing credit with Wright and Joe Cornish) was called the best script Marvel ever had by AVENGERS director Joss Whedon who apparently went through his own rough spot with the studio during post-production on AGE OF ULTRON which at least partly led to his decision to exit the AVENGERS franchise.
Meanwhile with retailer ads for some of the films various merchandise hitting the airwaves some information about the films plot has begun to come out, primarily through various LEGO and toy adds which show Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym in an Ant-Man costume of his own suggesting it will take both the original and new Ant-Man to stop Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket.
by Joshua Starnes, CMRO Editor
Though Marvel is currently hard at work simultaneously preparing the release of ANT-MAN and filming the launch for Phase III – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (or as the fans call it, AVENGERS 2.5) – the ambitious nature of its Phase III plan (spanning through 2020) means multiple projects are currently in various states of the pre-production pipeline. One of the mostly hotly anticipated is 2017’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2.
While filming for the hotly anticipated sequel isn’t likely to start for another year or so (CIVIL WAR has to wrap and then the studio, which still only produces one film at a time, must get through production on DOCTOR STRANGE which will likely lens in the late summer/early fall) writer-director James Gunn is hard at work on his plans for the future, telling crowds a Periscope Q and A that he had turned in his first draft of the screenplay and was currently looking to cast a couple of new characters for the film who he expects to remain part of the story through upcoming rewrites.
According to Gunn the script and future sequel will – similar to the AVENGERS – introduce a couple of new members of the team and he wants one of them to be a woman so that Zoe Saldana’s Gamora isn’t holding down the fort all by her lonesome anymore.
Little else is known about plans for the film beyond Gunn’s early statements that it will reveal the truth of Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt’s) parentage and will likely center around Thanos’ plans for the Infinity Stones again as the last cosmic Marvel film due for release before 2018’s AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, PT. 1.
Though GUARDIANS 2 is not due until May 2, 2017, theatergoers may not have to wait that long to see the further adventures of Peter Quill. While doing press for the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD, Pratt revealed that he was currently contracted for five films for the MCU (including the original GUARDIANS) with two of them expected to be GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 and 3 as well as appearances in two other MCU films with at least one of them likely be AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.