Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015) reboot movie review

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: Intriguing premise, opens up fascinating concepts, replaces typical superhero styled story with hard science fiction horror, 

The Bad: Mediocre music, stale lead characters, undeveloped concepts, incoherent plot, underwhelming climax, some questionable casting, special effects quality does not fit the budget

3D Readiness: None

Much has been revealed about the fiasco that was FANTASTIC FOUR 2015. I'll leave the details of the isolationist director, close shaves with angry cast members and a studio's overboard executive meddling for your Internet search engines. Let's get down to the movie. Caught in-between the deep and gritty of Warner/DC and then kid friendly comedy of Disney/Marvel, FANT4STIC FOUR (as it is stylised in promotional material) is a curious creature which tried to do both and ended up.......not so successful. It tried to go for the "grounded fantasy" style, all angsty, deep and tragic, while still wanting to maintain the appeal to youngsters with witty jokes and superficial laughs. 
Many have slammed this movie for its lack of action and deviation from the explosive norm that has become superhero films. I feel that audience have just become spoiled by the action heavy formula of modern blockbusters. FANT4STIC FOUR is not a superhero movie in that sense. It would be more in line with the "science gone wrong" genre of movies that were real big in the late 1980s through 90s; David Croneberg's THE FLY was cited as the main inspiration for this movie, SPECIES, the film SPLICE for a more recent example, the most famous being HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS (which, once you cut out the humour, is the kind of science horror story that ANT-MAN was supposed to be before getting squeezed through the mighty marvel movie maker machine). And yet, it's many flaws came in the execution.
What FF lacks first of all is coherence. The story starts off as a kind of "science fiction Harry Potter". It's the story of boy genius Reed Richards and his childhood pal Ben Grimm. Reed creates a teleporter and thanks to a convenient meeting with  doctor Franklin Storm, Reed gets recruited into the "Baxter institute"; essentially a brain trust of genius young adults. Among the geniuses, There's Doctor Storm's adopted daughter Sue and his biological son Johnny who joins Reed in the teleporter experiment. There's the nihilistic jerk rival (Victor), benevolent mentor (dr Storm), the morally ambiguous military head honcho and a lack of Ben. So the teleporter is finished, Ben appears, the bunch of drunken friends boldly go where no man has gone before to explore the Planet of CGI wonders. 

Something goes wrong, tragedy strikes, science Mumbo jumbo and boom, new superpowers. From there the tone whiplashes into a Syfy original with the four friends captured and experimented on. Guilt ridden Reed escapes, and we get another tone shift into a fugitive movie with Reed on the run and his former friends trained by the military to take him down. But wait there's more! A new teleporter is completed which brings back a powerful new foe who wants to destroy the world leading up to a climax right out of Dragonball Evolution. You see where this is heading? From science fiction Harry Potter to Star Trek substitute, then to a poor man's Incredible Hulk with super soldiers, and then to Dragonball evolution. It's 4 movies spliced haphazardly into one. 
FANT4STIC FOUR (FF) had intriguing ideas that I could get behind with enough twists from the original comic to make it fresh. None of those ideas get developed at all! Second big mistake. Sue and Reed being intellectual rivals is something new but it just gets turned into......not even a romance or a friendship for that matter. Johnny not being able to live up to his father's expectations. Yes he acts out, yes he finally gets to step out of daddy's shadow by using his new powers to make a difference to American peace keeping efforts......but that is only implied with some dialogue and never brought up again as if Johnny were a token minority character. 
Then we got Ben who could have turned out most refreshing. Unlike his comic counterpart who is was a baseball champion, US marine, pilot and an all round big tough guy, Ben in this movie is a scrawny loser picked on by his siblings, living in a junk yard and with little future to look forward to if not for his friendship with Reed. What an intriguing character arc it would have been for Ben who goes from wimp to rock covered Captain America. He becomes a war hero in the service of his nation all the while despising the inhuman Thing he had become. 

Do we get to explore that internal dissonance? No. His grudge against Reed for turning him into a monster? Forgotten in 5 minutes. Ben who was shown to never hurt a fly has been made to kill for his country, but no single mental ramification at all. No regret? No crisis of conscience? No character development, pure and simple. The 2005 movie, Heck, even the cartoons managed to give Ben Grimm a more developed character than this movie showing him grappling with the loss of his humanity going from all American hero to ugly Monster with all that entails. Mishandled and miscast, Ben Grimm as the Thing looks great in all his motion capture rock encrusted glory. But every time he speaks and that wimpy TinTin voice comes out, it's almost hilarious. 
Boasting a budget of $120 million, one wonders where all that money went. I've already mentioned how good The Thing looks great thanks to the motion capture expertise of Weta digital, the guys behind Lord of the Rings. But everything else looked cheap. From the CGI Baxter building to a CGI monkey likely reused from Dawn of the Planet of The Apes to the entire CGI "planet zero" looking like a video game. 
Throw all that in with a climax that is all to short and sloppily edited and you have FANT4STIC FOUR. The best example of wasted potential in a superhero movie. It had great ideas, bright new concepts open to exploration and development but alas got caught up in all the behind-the-scenes debacles. The drama during production overshadows the lack thereof within the actual movie. Who knows? To recoup on the loss Fox may release "the making of" feature and makes tons more money capitalising on the controversies involving director Josh Trank.

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Entertainment: B-
Story: C-
Acting: B-
Characters: B-
Music: C-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C+

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes (2005) animated series review. 26 Episodes

Overall verdict: 5.5/10

The Good: Well detailed artwork, generally smooth animation, good integration of 2D and 3D CGI, crafts original tales instead of copying the comics, tactful usage of anime tropes, 

The Bad: repeated use of stock footage, mediocre voice acting, boring action sequences, lack of character chemistry, superficial plots, lack of narrative continuity
In the wake of Fox's 2005 FANTASTIC FOUR movie, marvel commissioned a new fantastic four animated series. This time, marvel rode on the wave of Japanese anime and turned to Moonscoop animation, a French studio famous for such anime styled cartoons like Martin Mystery. They even got voice actors who were best known for dubbing anime to portray the characters here. The result is a decent blend of East and west, traditional 2D art and CGI animation. Decent yes but no where near fantastic.
Visually, FF: WORLDS GREATEST HEROES or FFWGH as I will call it, is a real treat to watch. The vibrant colours have this luminescent glow and The art is pretty to look at once you get past the whole anime styled designs. No it's not all doe eyed little girls and big breasts. This show takes its visual cues from anime aimed at an older audience.

Yes there is spikey hair, yes the characters look anorexic and a little on the long side but nothing that sexualises them. The animation itself is smooth for a TV show and with a decent level of art detail: there are action lines, freeze frames and a few cost cutting measures but nothing as obvious as the typical TV anime.

At 26 episodes, each episode features an original story not directly lifted from the comics but containing elements inspired by the comics. They are relatively self contained with only thin threads of continuity like Doctor Doom's recurring presence. Other than that you get guest stars like Guardians of the Galaxy's Ronan the accuser,



Squirrel-Girl for goodness sakes!

Namor The Sub-Mariner

Avengers like Iron Man

 and even the Incredible Hulk (whose brawl with The Thing is always something fans look forward to).

With original stories comes the good and the bad: it's original so it allows for some surprises. However it does not achieve the level of storytelling that the comics did instead choosing to go with an overall light hearted juvenile tone. There is no sense of peril no matter how many times the world is at stake. There is no thrill seeing as how formulaic each episode can get. Then There are episodes that left me bored beyond belief and it wasn't for a lack of action.
It was the lack of chemistry. Touted as "marvel's first family", the FF here are more like "marvel's college dorm buddies". You never get that sense of togetherness and most of the time they come across as flat archetypes. While the comics and some of the previous cartoons delved into their inner demons and insecurities, FFWGH barely skim the surface with story after story offering little depth and even less world building. It doesn't help that only half the cast do decent voice acting.

TV actress Lara Gilchrist does well in the role of Sue Storm and Brian Dobson does an impressive (for a Canadian) tough Brooklyn accent as Ben Grimm but Christopher Jacot as Johnny is a one note loudmouth and Hiro Kanagawa's Reed Richards sounds like he is on the verge of yawning half the time.
As history shows, Fantastic four once again got the short end of the stick. Mainstays like Galactus and Silver surfer were prevented from being used and Marvel promptly dropped the anime styled property to focus on direct to video productions and the more Bruce Timm inspired Wolverine and the X-men.

FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD's GREATEST HEROES is no travesty but neither is it a smash hit. Not bad, just unremarkable. Everything about it pales in comparison to other super hero animation of the era. So If you do come across a copy going for cheap, it wouldn't hurt to give it a spin just don't expect know...

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Entertainment: C+
Art: A-
Animation: B+
Story: C-
Voice Acting (English): C
Characters: B-
Music: C+
Replay value: C+
"Brains": D+

Fantastic Four (1994-1995) animated series review. 26 episodes. 2 seasons.

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: Generally all of season 2's superior art and animation, spot on voice acting, faithful adaptations of the comic stories, thorough and gradual character development, insightful explorations into each character's personality and struggles.

The Bad: Season 1's low quality animation, constant off model art, generic background music, juvenile tone, corny humour, shallow narrative.

Ah! the corny chorus of the 1994 Fantastic Four Theme song. To the untrained ear of a five year old, it is a catchy upbeat little piece that brings a quaint smile. "Just call for four!. Fantastic Four! Don't Need No more. That's ungrammatical!".  But listening to it years later, that smile is one of bemused disgust; an uncomfortable smile to hold back the disbelief that one ever considered this "cool" back in his younger days.

Debuting in 1994 as part of the "Marvel Action Hour" along side "IRON MAN", FANTASTIC FOUR boasted two seasons of wildly varying quality to the point where they were almost like two wholly different shows. Other than the voices, everything from the music to the art and animation changed drastically between seasons and thankfully for the better.

The first season of the 90s Fantastic Four animated series can only be described as dismal. First you had the low quality animation courtesy of a Taiwanese Animation studio Wang Film and the Manila based Kennedy Cartoons. Weird poses, clunky character motion and a mediocre frame rate; a few fluid shots here and there could not make up for the generally horrid quality. It looked like something 15 years behind the times! A relic from the worst days of Hanna Barbera!. Art-wise, the designs lacked detail, the colors used were bright and cheery and characters continually went "off model" ending up looking silly. Obvious compositing gaffes pop up occasionally leading me to question the quality control department.

On the bright side, the voice cast do an impeccable job of becoming their characters. Particularly noteworthy is Chuck McCann whose pitch perfect Brooklyn accent captures the spirit of the ever lovin blue eyed Thing, Ben Grim. For comic books fans, The stories within this season were faithful recreations of the classic 60s fantastic four comic tales by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The coming of Galactus, the Skrull invasion, adventures in the Negative Zone, and more.

However the execution of those great stories was nothing short of terrible. Silly dialog and Random humor was added particularly in the form of the FF4's new landlady who was continually trying to evict them. That, coupled with unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) moments like a rapping Ben Grimm, The great Galactus hungrily licking his lips and Stan Lee himself pausing the show to break the fourth wall, all of it adds to the utter silliness of the first season.

>Season 2 in 1995 to 1996 saw a vast improvement in the overall quality. The most obvious change was in the animation. A higher level of detail, darker colors, actual shading and more consistent artwork complemented the smooth animation courtesy of a new Production studio "The Philippines Animation Studio". Surprisingly, this same studio that turned in some of the worst looking episodes of X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES have stepped up their game for FANTASTIC FOUR. The writing also takes a darker turn, adapting stories from the 1980s Fantastic 4 comic book run, particularly the work of John Byrne. 

The humour is toned down, replaced now by more mature narratives and actual human drama. No matter what foes the FF4 must face, their greatest conflicts comes from within themselves and among each other. Reed's inner guilt over the ill fated experiment, Ben's ongoing quest for acceptance and coming to terms with his monstrous exterior, Sue's feelings of inadequacy being the only woman in the team, even Johnny's broken heart and repeated tragic romances, all of them very real themes that people can relate to. Themes that a family faces. These were the episodes where the FF truly shine and came together as a real family. Some did get a little angsty but no more angsty than those Japanese anime saturating the internet nowadays. 

Guest stars abounded in season 2, building up the world of the Fantastic Four and giving shape to a shared cartoon universe where all the 90s Marvel Animated series characters co-existed. 


The Inhumans

Black Panther

Ghost Rider


Even the Incredible Hulk

Stories expanded in scope and scale leading up to titanic struggles against Ego the Living Planet, Psycho Man, and a new sinister Doctor Doom. A palpable sense of peril is prevalent in the many conflicts where our heroes just barely scrape by a victory for a bittersweet ending. Threads of continuity allow our characters to grow with each episode that by the end of season 2, the FF are fully fleshed out individuals who went through trials and tribulations together, a family that stayed together and emerged stronger.

Owing to the vast differences in quality in the respective seasons, the rating above reflects the averaged rating between the two. I would rate season one as a disappointing 2/10. But season two is the quintessential translation of the FF4 into animation so it gets at least an 8/10

Casual viewers should just sit through season two but long time fans of the comic books could check out both seasons and see their favorite stories faithfully translated into animation.

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Season 1

Entertainment: B-
Art (season 1): D
Animation (season 1): D+
Story: C-
Voice Acting (English): B+
Characters: C-
Music: D
Replay value: D+
"Brains": D-

Season 2
Entertainment: A
Art (season 2): B-
Animation (season 2): B
Story: B+
Voice Acting (English): B+
Characters: B+
Music: C
Replay value: B+
"Brains": B+