Critics might not like ‘Fantastic Four,’ but it’s not the genre’s fault

08.04.15 2 years ago

Tomorrow morning, I'll see “Fantastic Four,” and I'm taking my kids with me. Part of the reason is because when I see films with them, it serves to cut through hype in a very particular way. My kids don't know about buzz, and they don't know about production gossip, and they don't care what Josh Trank did or didn't do in a rented house or what has or hasn't been reshot. It's not important. All they care about is the movie, and that's how I'd like to walk into this one.

Won't be easy, of course. No matter what the film is at this point, it feels like a lot of people have already made their minds up about it. Oddly, though, I get that more from genre nerds than I do from other critics. I think for the most part, every critic I've spoken to about it is walking in not quite blank, curious but not sold, skeptical but not toxic. Team “Fantastic Four” must be feeling like they're under siege, though, because they're in damage control mode in a way that feels co-ordinated, and it's sending a weird message that I think they should step back from if they can.

At the top of this story, there's a new four-minute mega-trailer that they just released, and it's basically every shot you've seen in any ad for the film so far. More than anything, that trailer is selling a tone, and it's a very serious, very straight-faced take. I'll admit that I like my “Fantastic Four” big and colorful and more pop than that, but that's not the only take, and if the film is good, the film is good. I'm not going to beat them up if they don't do the exact adaptation that I would have wanted, because that's not the way adaptation works. That is not the mark of a good adaptation. Simply hewing to my personal preferences wouldn't make it a “good” film, although that certainly seems to be a barometer with some fans.

If I were handling the actors on this one, I'd ask them to stop talking about it at this point. The talking points they've been given are phony, and it's off-putting. “Rarely are films of this size critically well-received,” Miles Teller said in an interview with Newsbeat. “This is not a movie we're going to go on… Rotten Tomatoes, and it's going to be at 80 or 90 per cent.”

When the young star of “Rabbit Hole,” “Whiplash,” and “The Spectacular Now” starts making excuses for his new movie and making pronouncements about how critics don't like this kind of movie, it strikes me as profoundly false. Or ill-informed. Or profoundly false about being ill-informed. And it feels like someone put those words in his mouth. Someone told him, “These films don't do well with critics,” almost like it's a mantra that he can use to hold bad reviews at bay.

You know who spends the weeks before the release of a film reminding people that the critics don't like their films? People who are afraid they've made a bad film. Teller has had it relatively good with critics so far, as well he should have. He's made some very good films in his fairly short film career. Not everything's been great, but the three films I mentioned were all very well-reviewed, and Teller has been well-reviewed in them. For him to parrot that lie about how these movies don't “do well” with critics is particularly irritating to me. He doesn't get to have a thin skin about critics. He's not Rob Schneider, for god's sake.

One of the reasons this galls me is because we are living in an age where genre is finally given serious treatment, and while there are certain critics who like to stand in their yards bellowing about how all the superheroes need to get off their lawns, more and more often, what we see are the same exact sort of responses we see to any other genre. Some films get great reviews, some don't. As with anything, the best way to decide if a critic's opinion syncs up with yours is by reading them over time. Read a wide range of their reviews. You'll know after a while if this is someone you want to keep reading. Honestly, whether I agree with them or not is the last reason I read a critic. For me, good criticism is about the clear expression of ideas or about offering up a way of looking at something that you wouldn't have done yourself. I like to read work by critics who come at things in a very different way than me. I like to be challenged on my own opinion by writing that isn't concerned with scoring points or “being right,” but that is simply good writing.

One way or another, people will make their own minds up by the end of the weekend. My review can't even go live until Thursday, so it's not like critics are weighing in on this months before people can get a look at the film for themselves. I hope Simon Kinberg and Josh Trank and the various writers who have all worked on this are satisfied with the end result, and that a difficult process gives birth, in the end, to something that they feel reflects whatever it was that they were chasing in the first place. And if not? It's not because people hate the genre or the characters. It happens. Sometimes you hit. Sometimes you miss.

Let's just stop acting like it's about something it's not.

“Fantastic Four” is in theaters Friday.

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