Josh Trank recently directed a failure of a film called Fantastic Four. There were many issues with the film from the get-go ranging from fans hating the casting, the ad campaigns being sub-par and failing to drum up any sort of excitement, Fox meddling in the post-production and, finally, the final product and abismal failure in the box office. What I found to be most interesting is that Josh Trank directed another film called Chronicle that, when you break down the film to a base level, is extremely similar to F4. However, their general rating and box office-to cost ratios could not be more different. Of the two films, Chronicle, was definitely the more successful of the two and I want to explore why in this short post.
In Chronicle, we follow a few high school-age boys as they find a weird pulsating hole in the earth that is making very loud and deep noises. The decide, against their better judgement, to explore further and go inside the hole. The eventually find this glowing rock and when they touch the rock it starts making noises and starts freaking out. The next scene we see if of the boys attempting to escape the cave and one having to be carried out.
The next day they find something off, they have abilities. The movie does not cover exactly how they discovered said powers, but you get to see them exploring the powers. Learning how to use them, control them and we get to see them get stronger. We see them do antics like moving and entire car to a different parking space and watching the owner look extremely confused when they come out to the car. Another scene they control a teddy bear and make a little girl run in fear as the bear terrorizes her.
Not everything is mere fun, they also make dumb or dangerous decisions which lead the group to set up certain rules for future power-use so that they may avoid trouble. In one scene, one of the boys makes a car skid off the road, accidentally, and they have to save the people in the car from drowning. In another they almost get killed when they’re nearly hit by a plane flying by as they are playing catch (in the clouds). We see the group dynamic change from one of mere fun to one that is growing increasingly aware of the danger and gravity of their powers. They are forced with the choice of doing anything and everything they want, because why not? They’re better than the average humans. Or choosing to hide their abilities and play it safe as to not draw attention or accidentally kill anyone.
In F4, we are first introduced to Reed and Grimm when they are kids who are attempting to build a teleportation device. The experiment essentially causes a city wide blackout. Timeskip to when they are 18 years of age, they have entered their experiment into the local science fair. They get disqualified from the fair but impress Dr. Franklin storm who is working toward a similar device. They spend about half the film attempting to build the device that will take them to a different planet dubbed “Planet-Zero” and when they finally succeed, the government all but removes them from the project so they can send in their own government officials.
Reed, Grimm and the others who have helped build the machine (Doom and Johnny Storm) drunkenly decide to go through the teleporter first and be the first to plant their flag there. When they make it to the other side, they see a green substance and glowing green gas/liquids that, upon touching it start to erupt and go violent. Dr. Doom is left behind presumably dead and the other who make it back have super powers and are stuck in a lab being tested on, experimented with and so on. Reed, in fear, escaped the facility and, a year later, he is hunted down and forced to rebuild the machine so that they can go back so that the Government can attempt to gain what has made everyone so “super”.
The premises, at their base level, are extremely similar. We have a set of teenagers in each– going somewhere they should go and encountering a foreign object or substance that gives them super powers. However, where they differ is with the execution of these elements.
In Chronicle, after the boys get their power, we get to see them develop it, learn about it and actually have some fun with it. They build up a friendship over there time together and build strong bonds where non existed before. They learn the consequences of their actions along the way and even set up rules and a way to survive. The discovery and learning of powers is essential to a super hero film because, in many cases, it’s the most fun. We get to see our heroes not as perfect being but as flawed ones that have a lot to learn, they’re humanized and therefore relatable.
In F4, much of the power-learning and team building is skipped over. Where they could have build bonds during either the learning of their powers or the building of the teleportation device, they chose, instead to do a Rocky-style montage or do an entire year-skip into the future. We see literally NO team building and zero of them discovering their powers which, arguably, could have made the film a billion times better.
Instead, we are expected to believe that the team easily comes together in the final battle despite their lack of chemistry the entire rest of the film. This makes the final battle feel out of place and awkward.
The villains in both these films are a bit similar also in terms of HOW they originally are part of the core team and are friends, but they becomes the villain by the end and attempt to…well… kill anyone and everything in their way. The difference, in the two films is a matter of development versus laziness. In Chronicle, the main villain is very shy and weak, but generally likable. He has a tough home life with his abusive father and near-death mother. We see his mental state deteriorate throughout the film and see his fall and change from protagonist to antagonist– and we can even understand his plight to some degree. He initially attempts to rob a gas station for money to support his mother’s hospital bills but ends up getting hurt and hospitalized–leading to his imminent arrest. This, along with his father telling him, whilst he is in the hospital, that he his worthless, causes him to finally fall of the rails and go full-evil.
Dr. Doom, in Fantastic Four, is also a good-guy turned bad. Or is he evil the whole time? They hint at this in the beginning of the film when they talk about Victor Von Doom and how, when he was removed from the teleportation project, he attempted to burn down the lab and all of the research. However, we learn that he doesn’t exactly trust the government, so maybe he was just trying to protect his research? In either case, he is part of the group until he if left behind in Planet-zero and presumed dead. He was alive, however, and has been kept alive by the mysterious force of the planet. We do not see him during this year and when he is discovered and brought back to earth he immediately goes on a killing spree and attempts to destroy the world. While the movie hints at the characters motivation we don’t really get to see his demise and downfall. He just seems angry to be angry– we can’t relate to a character like that.
The final battles in these films are like night and day. Neither are perfect, but at least Chronicle’s is longer than 2 minutes and has some logic to it. In Chronicle, we see Andrew (the villain) fighting Matt (his cousin), Michael B. Jordan is already dead at this point so we sadly do not get to see him in the fight. But the two super-beings face off in the middle of the city using their awesome telekinetic powers to repel and launch objects are each other, create forcefields and so on. The final fight ends with Matt attempting to get Andrew to stop the madness and reluctantly having to kill him with a large metal pike to the back leaving Matt to be the only one left as he cries over his cousin’s corpse. It’s a very well done scene given the low budget of the film and it is well choreographed and easy to take seriously. You feel the epic scale and you feel the sadness in the protagonists heart as he fights someone he does not want to fight.
In F4, the impromtu team attempts to fight Doom, a man with weird powers that I still don’t quite understand. He might also have telekenisis? We see him control things with his mind and exploding people heads. But in the final fight he acts almost illogically. Instead of exploding their heads, like we saw him do effortlessly to about a dozen people, he decides to just fight toe-to-toe with the F4 and is actually winning until the team instantly discovers the power of teamwork. This all takes place within about two minutes and the audio, graphics and choreography are extremely bad. The film ends with Doom being killed and the team getting a government owned base of operation….just ’cause.
The films are very similar in terms of premise, but it is the execution of those premises that make the films extremely different. In one film we get to see characters, relationships and villains well fleshed out and we even get to see the development and experiments with their powers. In the other film we see almost none of that. Every chance they get in the seconds film, they time skip and leave the character development up to the imagination of the audience.