Why is it so hard to make a good Fantastic Four movie? They’re a family of adventurers. That’s all you really need to know about them going in. But as it is, the closest we’ve seen to a real cinematic adaptation of Fantastic Four comics is the Roger Corman version made in 1994 (and never officially released.) Sure, it’s got 8-bit special effects, cheesy costumes, and terrible actors, but it benefits from a charming practical Thing costume and a chipper so-bad-it’s-goodness that at least gives it a cuddly warmth.
2005’s Fantastic Four and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were cheesy without having any of the personality of the comic. They came too soon in the modern superhero movie wave to get the comic’s light tone and the special effects right. Instead, they were inept and dumb and forgettable.
The newest Fantastic Four movie, though, is the worst of the lot. Despite some decent actors—Miles Teller acquits himself best as the irresponsible genius Reed Richards, though Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are fine (with very little to do) as Susan and Johnny Storm—the movie is comically bad, suffering from wild fluctuations in tone, pacing, and quality.
The truth is, some movies are just franchise-resistant. The first Terminator was such a fantastic example of a closed loop time travel story that nobody should have ever messed with it. T2 only turned out to be such a wonderful filmgoing experience through some mystical combination of James Cameron’s estimable filmmaking prowess and Linda Hamilton’s undeniable awesomeness. Every other Terminator movie has been a farcical mess, a clumsy attempt to build a mythology that nobody asked for. T3 ended with a bummer of a nuclear apocalypse. The fourth Terminator movie, directed by the human punchline known as McG, is more memorable for Christian Bale’s tape-recorded temper tantrum than anything that happened onscreen. And Terminator: Genisys is a hackneyed attempt to build a franchise on top of the failed sequels that came before, a reboot-prequel-sequel hybrid that can’t justify its own existence.
Credit where it’s due: at least Genisys cleverly aspires to fiddle with the original Terminator’s timeline by reviving Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in the 1984 film via a body double and some very convincing CGI work. Early in the film, we’re presented with a cute Back to the Future-style moment where a scene in the original Terminator is disrupted by a new event, but the cleverness doesn’t go much further than that. Instead, Schwarzenegger spends way too much of the film dumping leaden sci-fi exposition on the audience’s heads—in one scene, he blathers on about something called a “nexus point” and in another he holds forth on magnetism. All this dry explaining is a shame, because late-stage Schwarzenegger has a pleasant sense of humor about himself that the filmmakers could have mined for a little more fun. Instead, he’s a familiar face to guide us through a stodgy mess of a screenplay.
Let’s just take a moment to admire what writer/director Joss Whedon accomplished with the first Avengers film. In retrospect it seems obvious, but at the time The Avengers was a huge risk, combining four franchises with wildly different tones into a single action movie. And Whedon pulled it off beautifully. Sure, the first few scenes of The Avengers were awkward and overly talky. And okay, Whedon is not the most visually intriguing director. But he really tied the whole damn thing together, building tension over an hour and a half that ultimately exploded into a long, complicated, and wildly satisfying fight scene. It was such a good, entertaining film that it inspired a kind of alchemy by making every Marvel movie before it seem better in retrospect.
But it’s been three years since The Avengers, and after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, the stakes are higher now. We know the shared Marvel universe works, and we’re ready for the concept to be taken to a whole new level. The question is, can Whedon raise the stakes again?
Whedon himself seems to be obsessed with the idea of stakes-raising in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time, the stakes….are personal. But they’re also huge. And the huge stakes of the first movie still have repercussions. And so do all the other Marvel movies that happened between The Avengers and Age of Ultron. And there are other stakes to be resolved in future Marvel movies, too. Hell, there are more stakes in Age of Ultron than were in every season of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series combined. Here a stake, there a stake, everywhere a raised stake.
The Fast and Furious series has become one of the miracles of modern blockbuster cinema. What started as a decent pulp thriller about youth street racing that made Vin Diesel into a star has become a globe-spanning genre-busting soap opera featuring the most multicultural cast you’ll find at cineplexes. After its splashy start, the series muddled along until The Rock joined the cast in Fast Five as some kind of an international police officer or something, and then it went absolutely nuts. And now Furious 7 is here and it’s the craziest, most nonsensical, most action-packed film in the series.
I mean that as a compliment.
You’ve probably read X-Men comics with less of a convoluted backstory than Furious 7: a vengeful killing machine named Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) targets Dominic Toretto (Diesel, who seems to learn his lines phonetically,) his amnesiac girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodgriguez,) his street-racing compatriot Brian (Paul Walker, who died as the movie was being filmed,) and his whole crew (Ludacris, The Rock, Tyrese Gibson) for putting Shaw’s brother in a coma. Happily, you don’t have to watch any of the previous Fast and Furious movies to get what’s going on in Furious 7—hell, I’ve seen all the movies and I barely get what’s going on in Furious 7. It’s a global cat-and-mouse chase, stretching from LA to Tokyo to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back again. And it co-stars a very game Kurt Russell as a secret government agent named Mr. Nobody. What’s not to love?