Before I get into this subject, I would like to encourage anyone reading this to keep an OPEN MIND about the two movies discussed below. I am not trying to confirm or deny any biases you might have. Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, and Comicbookmovie.com aren't the last word on anything, and I try to approach these movies from the standpoint of someone who likes movies, not as someone with a stake in the Marvel vs. Fox debate. I never wanted either movie to succeed or fail commercially. I'm not interested in whether or not Marvel gets the rights back to the Fantastic Four. I just went to the theater hoping they were good films.
With that said, I thought it might be fun to compare this summer's two superhero films. I'm not including Avengers: Age of Ultron in this comparison because it came out (where I live) in the end of May, and for this reason I would consider it more of a spring movie.
Ant-Man, as has often been stated, is a heist movie. Hank Pym hires Scott Lang to steal the Yellowjacket suit from his former protege. As premises go, it's not overly grand or mysterious. The fate of the world isn't at stake, and the script was workable, if a bit formulaic.
A lot of what redeems this movie is humor. Yes, the fight at the end is pretty great, but I think it's Michael Pena's character that keeps the movie from growing too serious or dark. I think that without Pena's character both Scott Lang and Pym's daughter Hope would have brought the movie down. With his character, the whole thing just rolls along.
Yellowjacket was a credible villain, and nothing in this movie feels extraneous. I thought that scene where Scott and Hope finally make out in Hank's house was a bit awkward, but the rest of the movie worked well. All in all, it's a solid, well-paced action movie.
Fantastic Four is a science fiction movie. Reed Richards, a scientific prodigy, develops a technology that allows people to travel into another dimension. It's a big concept movie - at least in the beginning - though many of the concepts are thrown away in a mad rush to reach the movie's conclusion.
Fantastic Four is about HALF of a good movie. Up until Reed's escape from the military installation, it makes good on the promise director Josh Trank showed in Chronicle. The characters are (fairly) well drawn and likable, and the dynamic between Reed and Ben sets a good tone for the rest of the movie.
But then the second act arrives, and Reed somehow begins to resemble Bruce Banner from Marvel's The Incredible Hulk. The inclusion of Tim Blake Nelson in the cast only makes this feeling worse. Reed winds up at the compound again, and nothing the characters do after that point makes a lot of sense.
Worst of all is Doctor Doom, who looks like he escaped from the Roger Corman version of the Fantastic Four. His actions at the end of the film are inexplicable, and the battle between him and the FF is extremely disappointing. Tim Story's version of the Fantastic Four draws a lot of criticism, but at least the conclusion of that movie made sense.
Unlike Glenn Close, who was wasted on Guardians of the Galaxy, Michael Douglas's Hank Pym is the glue that holds this movie together. He is at once arrogant and likable, and his struggle to regain control of the technology he created is easily understood.
The other characters in Ant-Man aren't quite as memorable, but their arcs are satisfying and they fulfill their functions within the plot. After Hank Pym, Evangeline Lily's Hope van Dyne and Corey Stoll's Yellowjacket are well done, even if Paul Rudd's performance is forgettable. Michael Pena is pretty much Michael Pena in this movie, and that's OK.
Compare all of the above to Fantastic Four, in which all of the characters except Johnny and Sue's father are relative enigmas. Sure, Reed says that he wants to "make a difference," but what does that mean, really? And why? Again I was reminded of Tim Story's version, in which the characters were easily understood. Why would Johnny Storm, who is supposed to be some kind of mechanical genius, have so much trouble with his old Toyota? Why would Reed suddenly desert (and then return to help) his best friend? Who is Sue Storm, really? Much of the character development in this movie is largely thrown out the window, and we never really get a sense of why anyone does anything, or to what end.
Worst of all is Doctor Doom. Why does he resent authority figures? Why would he work for a government-funded institution if he did? Why does he hate the Fantastic Four? Why does he want to destroy the world? None of these questions are answered in the film, and thus he is reduced to a giant, cardboard-cutout supervillain, even more inscrutable than last May's Ultron.
This is the area in which Ant-Man truly shines, and in which Edgar Wright's previsualization is most strongly felt. Scott's first shrinking scene is a lot of fun, as are his journeys into the backyard ant kingdom. The fight scene at the end is better than anything in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it is in this context that the possibilities inherent in a shrinking character make themselves evident.
And Fantastic Four? Again, the first half of the movie makes good use of the budget, but the second half really struggles. Reed's stretching looks quite silly in the final battle, and there in no point at which Doctor Doom looks menacing, or even interesting. I thought the Thing looked OK, given the fact that it's really hard to make a rock man look convincing. And what about that crater at the end? Where was the aftermath? Where was the long effects sequence that would have made this meaningful?
I only include this category because it is the only part of Fantastic Four that exceeds Ant-Man. I have always been a fan of Philip Glass.
I think I'm only stating the obvious when I say that Ant-Man is a much better movie than Fantastic Four. Even so, I don't think Fantastic Four is the unmitigated disaster that it's made out to be. It's not nearly as disappointing as Green Lantern, it's not as boring as The Dark Knight Rises, and it's not as jarring as Iron Man 3. Again, it's HALF of a good movie, perhaps best viewed on DVD.
And no, it's not fair to the film (or actress) in question, but I found myself missing Jessica Alba. A Sue Storm I'm not sexually attracted to brought this film WAY down in my estimation. I realize that Kate Mara is a much better actress than Alba, but in this film she wasn't given much to do anyway.