I’m officially saying that Mission Impossible Rogue Nation was the end of the summer movie season. It was a sensational cap to a blockbuster season that doesn’t deserve much praise. That said, this weekend does see a new version of a familiar comic book family. The Fantastic Four go against the domestic thriller, The Gift.
The mid-2000s were an interesting time in the world of superhero flicks. On one hand, Spider-Man 2 (2004) became the quintessential comic book movie and Batman Begins (2005) taught us to believe that a comic movie could actually be a film. Yet, success always lead to poor imitations. Ghost Rider, Daredevil and The Fantastic Four come to mind.
The Fantastic Four and its sequel borrowed heavily from the campy influence of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but the actors could not pull it off. Only Chris Evans made it out unscathed, because his take on Johnny Storm was so charismatic. Fox, not wanting to give in to Marvel’s run of success, has held on to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. I don’t see this as a bad thing. X-Men First Class and Days of Future Past have cemented the quality that a different take (than the Marvel house style) can bring. Yet, once again with that success, someone thought rebooting the cursed Fantastic family would be a good idea.
We now see a new origin for the crew. The focal point is Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who grew up always wanting to create a matter teleporter. He, along with childhood friend, Ben Grimm (later played by Jamie Bell) have worked on this project, hoping it will be their meal ticket. Soon after high school, Reed is brought to work and study at the Baxter Institute for the specific purpose of creating an actual working teleporter. There, he works alongside Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).
Note to self – If I ever work with a guy named “Von Doom,” it’s probably best to keep an eye on him.
The first tests work and they realize it leads to a primordial planet in another dimension. So what does this young team decide to do? They secretly enter the portal and make themselves the first human test subjects. Well, clearly this goes wrong. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie.
The team then has to deal with the biological calamity that has happened to each of them. They do this, while trying not to become a tool of the government and eventually have to deal with a new threat.
Let’s start off with one of the obvious problems. At 100 minutes, it’s nearly impossible to tell a well-paced story that is 2/3 origin. The movie seems to crawl by, but you forgive it because you feel there may be a great payoff. Basically, for the first half of the movie, I had hope for the series. Most critics in attendance were prepared to mock every scene.
The second half of the movie drops the ball. It’s almost as if director Josh Trank realized he spent so much time developing the background of the origin that he realized he was short on time and couldn’t dedicate any time to each character discovering their powers. We glimpse the powers in action, but there’s no fun to it.
The rushed ending happens so quickly that it just feels lazy. The big problem with that, is the total waste of actor Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). As Victor, he is the most dynamic character (which isn’t saying too much). With the dark tone the movie took, I almost wish it were an origin story about Dr. Doom. Ha, sorry. Still laughing at the surname, Von Doom. Besides the not-so-subtle references to him blaming us for destroying the planet, we don’t get to see the character turn that Doom goes through.
The movie I wanted to see takes place during the “One Year Later” text on the screen. Shame.
The best scene in the movie does involve Doom pulling a Kingsman on security guards. It’s a glimpse of awesomeness that is quickly forgotten in the final battle, which happens only minutes later.
Fantastic Four is a giant missed opportunity that should have been better. The actors showed up. The costume designers and effects guys did a decent job, but director Josh Trank and the writers had no idea what to do with it. I’m sure Fantastic Four will not get a sequel, but if it did, I’d be excited for it because I didn’t get a proper comic book movie. There was so much buildup that led to nothing. (Insert awkward dating reference here) D+
Stay tuned for Marvel’s Fantastic Four reboot somewhere between Avengers 4 and Iron Man 6.
Joel Edgerton has already proven himself as a talented actor in such films as Warrior, Animal Kingdom and The Great Gatsby. He also has an extensive career as a writer as well. The Gift is his first full-length writing and directing gig. Based on this movie alone, he shows talent and great potential.
The Gift primarily follows Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as she and her husband, Simon (Jason Bateman) move to a nice, new house in LA. Their new home isn’t too far off from where Simon grew up and went to high school. There’s an old adage that says, “You can never go home again.” The tagline for this movie should have been, “You shouldn’t go home again.”
Very early on, the couple runs into one of Simon’s old acquaintances, Gordo (Joel Edgerton). As they exchange niceties, Simon gets Gordo’s number with the intention of never calling him. Yet, the next day the couple finds a gift on the front doorstep. The gift-giving continues as Gordo shows up to the house uninvited day after day. Robyn is typically the only one home when he stops by and she shows him empathy and even questions her husband’s anger at the awkward situation that Gordo presents.
Essentially, this is an extreme example of having a friend that doesn’t understand social norms and you feel like you need to sit them down and set boundaries.
We don’t often see domestic thrillers on the big screen anymore. They were prevalent in the mid-90s, but the familiar tropes were used up quickly. As I sat through The Gift, I tried to be the smart movie-goer and predict where the plot would go next. The thing is, I really couldn’t. That’s not to say that this movie is a crazy thrill ride. In fact, it’s a very slow burn that is only meant to unsettle you.
I believe The Gift will have a difficult time finding an audience, even though it’s clearly the best new release this weekend. It’s a throwback for fans of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and movies of that ilk. The Gift is a movie that threatens Robyn exactly where she should feel safe, at home. The methodical pacing is better meant for viewing at home.
Each of the actors is fantastic. Bateman shows a range that I’ve never seen from him before. Edgerton plays his role so effectively, that you don’t know whether to feel bad for him or fear his unpredictable nature. Rebecca Hall does the heavy lifting. She is relatable enough to put you in her shoes. Robyn has several character flaws and is dealing with trust issues, all while dealing with an uncontrollable and slightly creepy situation.
The Gift is methodical and smart. It may not be a big screen movie, but you’ll be more than happy if you get it from Redbox to watch at home. B