“He Was Covered In Boilerplate, And Riding Some Kind Of A…”

…Of a surfboard.

Well, I saw it. And it’s got a dumb title, too.

Of course I had the advantage of coming to it in full knowledge that it would suck, so I wasn’t expecting much. I can’t gripe about it in the way the first-rounders did. But a little bit of clean-up, that I can do.

Fantastic Four 2, like its predecessor, is a terribly misguided movie. The special effects are (mostly) okay. But there’s a problem with the writing.

There isn’t enough of it.

Eerily recapitulating the problem with the score in the first FF movie, dialogue and plot in F42 (and how really, really tiresome these shorthands are becoming — I found myself preferring the French title display on my DVD box, because it seemed somehow less laboured than the English: “Les 4 Fantastiques et le surfeur argent”, ya gotta admit it’s at least not trying to pass itself off as cool)…what was I saying, oh yes, the dialogue and plot seem to’ve been bought straight out of the big discount bin of remaindered screenwriter’s tics at Costco, in bulk, some time ago, possibly for another movie or series of movies…and it just so happened there was enough left over to cover this one too, so somebody did. Oddly, there’s nothing really wrong with the story: as mean an old man as I am, I can’t deny that F42 (gah!) proceeds from place to place and idea to idea reasonably effectively, and is furthermore populated with characters I like well enough…sometimes when I was watching it I was actually able to forget that it sucked, because occasionally somebody was actually doing something that it was possible for me to…well, not care about, exactly, but at least something that was possible for me to observe, track, and follow without needing to buy into a tedious “deeper” meaning whose only purpose was to be integrated with other tedious “deeper” meanings. Not that I have anything against deeper meanings, or their integrations! But in order for the integration to be anything more than a pest, the deeper meaning has to actually be deeper, and also it has to be meaning

And not that that was even the worst of it. I could go on at some length about how much I despise the little “coolness winks” that our current-day fantasy entertainments are so pointlessly festooned with, like so many really lousy modern-dress Shakespeare plays…”you’ll have to toss me”…”is that a Hemi?”…bah. But everybody already knows enough to despise that stuff, right? Surely no one ever leaves a movie saying “I liked how they had the elf invent skateboarding…that sort of sly nod to the concerns of young people really gives me hope that some grown-ups might not be so bad after all…” I mean if it’s all right with you, I’ll just assume that there’s nobody like that. Even if, when I saw The Two Towers, there were these two guys behind me calling out things like “Dude, that dinosaur’s huge! WHOA!” Yes…yes, it is big, isn’t it lads? So big. That rocks.

Mind you, these guys were in their thirties…

“Holy shit, bro, check out the number of steps on that staircase! That thing is wicked long…!

Words fail me, honestly.

But I guess I expect that sort of thing now. I guess I consider it unavoidable, like no one will give anybody any money to even make a movie unless they spray at least a thin coat of that crap on it. However there are other things that can be avoided, like the constant intrusion of bad “deeper” meaning into what ought to be fairly straightforward bits of business, right? Like I said somewhere else, sometime recently, writing’s really mostly kind of like light carpentry. You just have to make the thing stand up. You don’t have to get too fussy with it. Well, that’s what you have readers for, to do the heavy lifting! As well as the superfine detail work.

Scriptwriting’s even easier. You’ve got actors, directors, set designers, musicians. Etc. You’ve got lots of help.

So why not use it? You shouldn’t let the actors (for example) just stand around holding their hammers, looking for nails. I’ll go so far as to say that there was nothing wrong with this movie, that couldn’t have been fixed by giving the actors some slightly more interesting things to do. But even the greatest actors in the world will have trouble hammering through boilerplate. “I didn’t get your name.” “I didn’t give it.” I defy even a Brando to make much out of that. I think the boilerplate might’ve actually even been better in the old days: “My darling, I…!” “Hush, now, little one.” I mean that’s junk, obviously, but it’s junk a person could conceivably work with. It’s crap. But at least it’s direct crap. Crap that actually calls for someone to get in there and do the job of making it function, or it’ll obviously simply, spectacularly flop.

And F42 (aaargggh!) meanders, but that’s not really any big deal. I could stand a little meandering. Not too much, maybe; but a little wouldn’t hurt. And in a way, the FF were made for meandering. But F42 doesn’t just meander, it meanders while shouting out stuff at the top of its lungs that I just don’t care about, and then contrives silly dramatic poses to strike at random intervals, just to remind me that it can get serious, too. There is the odd moment of tension that isn’t blatantly cooked up to serve somebody’s idea of an emotional metronome. There’s the odd bit of attention paid wholeheartedly to what’s going on, which is always a comic-book strength. But mostly the script, mostly the damned brain-dead plot, is a tyrant to the story…and so we’re not given any space to care about the story.

Which is a shame, because I wanted to care. And honestly, there was a lot there that I could have cared about. But I just couldn’t get to it.

It was all covered up.

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4 responses to ““He Was Covered In Boilerplate, And Riding Some Kind Of A…”

  1. You would have had a better time if you’d remembered what I told you about renting the recent special edition of the first FF film.*
    The Kirby documentary alone is worth it (in fact, if you can’t stomach the idea of paying money to rent it, just tell yourself you’re renting a Kirby doc) as well as the “creator’s history of the ff” featurette with all the interviews of people we were fans of as kids (“Gee, Rich Buckler doesn’t look like as much of a goof as a middle-aged man as he did in that old picture in the Comics Journal!”).
    Also, as I mentioned, the extra Alicia scenes would have improved the movie considerably, and watching them produces an odd combination of emotions. On the one hand, the fact that the scenes were written and shot convinces me that the filmmakers DO get these characters in a not totally clueless-and-fucked-in-the-head way. On the other hand, the things they say in the commentary about cutting the scenes for the sake of the “pace” of the movie makes me think that maybe they ARE fucked in the head (or, if I want to be very kind, far too concerned about the fucked-in-the-head [or to be kind, the retarded] in the audience).**
    The “pace” in both these movies, of the loud meandering with occasional posing that you mentioned (which I think the first movie is just as, if not maybe at least as, guilty of) makes it clear that they’re using a meaning of the term “pace” that’s more a kind of “keep the stupid audience stimulated in a sort of heat-death equilibrium of semi-constant din and movement” that has little to do with notions of pace found in the last few thousand years worth of dramatics. It puts me in mind of someone jumping up and down and clapping and whooping in front of a dog to get it running around, excited and barking, rather than throwing a stick for it to fetch or feeding it or whatever.
    When these movies DO slow down, it’s only to spell something out that doesn’t need it. There’s good fast and good slow, and these guys manage to hit the opposites of these pretty constantly
    Oh, and keeping the “Johnny acts like a dick at the bar and learns something when the hot chick tells him what a dick he’s being” scene would not have hurt that movie at all, even though it was every bit as cheesy as it sounds (though there were several just as cheesy scenes kept that I would have chosen to cut over it).
    I remember telling you something like “well, at least they fixed Doctor Doom”. While I was willing to be generous in acknowledging that they saw that he needed fixing, the fact remains that they wouldn’t have had to use up time in this movie making him over into something more resembling the “real” Doom if they hadn’t fucked him up so badly in the first one.
    Finally, I haven’t yet watched the second movie with commentary, or watched all the featurettes (my nephew just got the 2-disc version, which I’ll be borrowing after he’s over his initial “watch the movie every day for a week” kid obsessive viewing thing), but I just know that there’ll be a comment about how they decided not so show Galactus because he would have been to silly or unrealistic for their film. Well, there is no way in hell that any version of Galactus would have been too silly or too unrealistic for the movie that I saw. Even the bare-legs-and-big-G weirdly colored one from FF 48 or whatever. Hell, bare legs with hair and socks. With garters.
    You know what I mean?

    *The deal with the FF DVDs is one of the biggest cases of “DVD dickery” of the last few years. First, the regular version has sweet fuck all in terms of extras. Then the “special edition” released at the time has piddly extras, with the featurettes consisting mostly of those cheesy “on set with” fluff docs that had aired on MTV and the like and the shittiest, least interesting deleted scenes ever, plus a “bonus disc” of the first 20 or so issues of Ultimate FF in PDF form to watch on your computer. Yippee! Finally, the “super deluxe edition” (or as I like to call it “the version that should have come out in the first fucking place”) is released to coincide with the second film. While I understand the soulless marketing scum logic of the decision, it still sucks.
    **Nested parentheses, er, in the house, uh, yo.(!)

  2. Oh, and I have no major beef with Jessica Alba, who seems perfectly pleasant in her public persona, but that damn “I’m putting effort into projecting my forcefield” gesture/stance/expression is giving me irritable bowel syndrome.

  3. I laughed out loud when Jessica Alba — who I’ve got no problem with either — unlike everybody else, I’m bugged by the “Johnny-as-arrogant-dick” characterization more than anything else — look at his characterization in the cartoon, all the things people like about the movie character are in there too, but he’s not a dick — thought I’d just nest some of these dashes while I was here, thanks for the idea, glad I thought of it — made her first big “throw the force field” gesture. Excellent example of an overplayed hand. Pure comics poses like that actually worked really well with the Surfer figure (wow!), but with a live human it just looks like they’re being a fucking asshole about having superpowers. “Stand back, I’LL handle this…with my excellent SUPERPOWER!”

    Also on the Surfer — hey, did you notice that they only had enough money to convincingly animate his face for one scene? The first time he spoke, I was quite disappointed. Plus I thought he was going to ask me if I wanted to take the blue bill or the red pill. Nothing against Fishburne, that’s just not what the Surfer sounds like in my head…

    Also also on the Surfer: when Sue asks him what his name is, I was actually praying for him to say “I have no name”. Just for general moviegoing purposes, you understand. You and I know that Norrin Radd is a person, but can someone who doesn’t know the FF very well really be expected to care about that? Well-intentioned or not, I thought it was a misstep. Further on names: how did Johnny know Frankie’s name? I’d forgotten that was supposed to be Frankie, totally; I was watching the whole movie thinking “who the hell is this annoying Army supermodel? Why is she always hanging around making ambiguous eye contact?”

    They did fix Doom, at least as much as he could be fixed, by them…thankfully McMahon gets to act very slightly outside the Kevin Spacey mode they had him locked into for the first one…but please God, they couldn’t’ve had just the trace of an accent in there sometimes? Just to make him seem a little bet less like an evil plastic surgeon? Meanwhile Ioan Gruffudd is speaking in a mild but definite New York accent at least part of the time– good job, Ioan! I mind him less and less all the time.

    I would actually see the first one again. What the hell, it’s not like it’s Batman and Robin or anything.

    Also, ha, getting a dog excited by jumping up and down instead of throwing a stick for it or something…that really is what it’s like, isn’t it?

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