Paul’s Amazing and Sure-To-Be-Perfect 2016 MLB Predictions

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The amount of research that went into these predictions would be laughably insufficient if it even existed. This would be back-of-napkin, but I don’t have a napkin around and I’m too lazy to get up to get one. This is more like scribbling on the underside of a plastic red cup that was once filled with Emergen-C. With that being said, I’m sure they will be 100% accurate at season’s end and we’ll all be able to come back and marvel at how my baseball intellect is on such a higher plane than all of you luddites.

American League East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

The Blue Jays’ loaded offense should carry them to a second straight division title despite some iffy starting pitching. The Rays have a charming lineup full of guys you’ve never heard of but their pitching and defense is so strong that I think they’re going to sneak their way into the playoff conversation. Despite the potential star power of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox still look like a mess to me and their starting pitching behind David Price…blech. The Yankees get a lot of hype for having the best bullpen in baseball, but having the best bullpen in April has never won anybody any division titles, and their lineup is old and susceptible to collapse at any moment. Baltimore’s lineup could just as easily blast 250 homers as it could devolve into an unwatchable parade of high-strikeout .220 hitters, and their chronic inability to develop any pitching will likely bite them in the butt once again.

American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals (Wild Card)
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

I absolutely love Cleveland’s starting pitching and I think this is the first time in nearly a decade that they make serious waves in the playoffs. The Royals barely had any turnover in their lineup from their championship year and they should be just as strong as ever, easily clearing 90 wins. The Tigers could challenge the Blue Jays for best offense in the AL, but their season hinges on whether Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez can stay healthy and effective, because their bullpen and back end starters look nightmarish. Despite the arrival of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the Twins look primed to fall victim to the Plexiglass Principle and regress, mostly because they continue to refuse to develop strikeout pitchers as if it were still 1974. The White Sox made moves in the offseason but did nothing to address an absolutely terrible defensive unit and they apparently abandoned a coherent team-building philosophy circa 2009.

American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

The Astros’ all-or-nothing offense can be ugly to watch at times, but full season contributions from budding superstar Carlos Correa and an improved bullpen should let them coast to the division title. I’m perennially bullish on the Mariners, for some reason, but now that they’re out of the Jack Zduriencik era, they may be able to finally develop some of their hitters. The Rangers caught fire in the last couple months of last season and strike me as a regression candidate with a high potential to disappoint. The Angels are going to waste another Mike Trout MVP-type year because their pitching is mostly crap. No one knows what in the hell the A’s are doing these days, but it’s at least blatantly clear that they’re going to be terrible.

National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

Don’t underestimate the ability of Dusty Baker to get the most out of a roster oozing talent. Baker gets flak for not being sabermetrically-inclined (to put it mildly) and he always wears out his welcome eventually, but I loved this signing. He’s historically been a great players’ manager and that’s exactly what the Nationals need after last year’s disaster. The Mets have insane pitching, but I think they’ll miss the playoffs by a hair because I just don’t think they’re as good as the Wild Card contending Pirates, Cardinals, or Dodgers. The Marlins are a dark horse playoff team if everything shakes out right, but it’s impossible to root for any franchise run by Jeffrey Loria, so screw them. The Phillies are in full tear-down mode and will be a whipping boy for at least another two years. The Braves made a lot of great moves this offseason to strengthen their farm system, but the major league product is an abomination.

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs have so much talent in their lineup that it’s unfair. Even with Kyle Schwarber out for the season, they should sleepwalk to 95 wins, at the least. The Pirates’ front office is maybe the smartest in the game, and their ability to turn retreads into contributors is unmatched in the game today. They also have a star-studded outfield and an ace in Gerrit Cole. In a world where the Cubs didn’t exist, they’d dominate this division. The Cardinals are a factory of young talent and will be in it right to the end, but I think this is the year they finally fall short of the playoffs with the loss of Jason Heyward. The Brewers stink but watch out for my guy Domingo Santana, who has star potential if he can cut his whiffs down (granted, it’s a big “if”). The Reds are in teardown mode and I challenge you to name more than three players on their roster without looking.

National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

With bias proudly on display, I will predict that this Giants team will turn out to be the best of the 2010s thus far. I love the offense and the signings of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija will bolster the rotation enough to make them one of the NL’s best teams. The loss of Zack Greinke will hurt the Dodgers more than people think, but not enough so that they won’t nab a Wild Card spot. The Diamondbacks made a lot of commotion in the offseason but they still appear to be a rudderless ship, and the loss of A.J. Pollock is potentially season-immolating. The Padres aren’t as bad as they looked in the first three games of the season against the Dodgers, but they’re still going to be sunk by a horrific outfield defense. The Rockies will continue to be utterly incapable of developing quality pitchers and their team ERA will once again be unsightly.

AL Playoffs

Wild Card: Royals over Rays

ALDS: Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Indians

ALCS: Blue Jays over Royals

NL Playoffs

Wild Card: Pirates over Dodgers

ALDS: Giants over Nationals, Pirates over Cubs

ALCS: Giants over Pirates

World Series: Giants over Blue Jays because even year.

Awards:

AL MVP: Carlos Correa

NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: Chris Archer

NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

AL Rookie of the Year: Tyler White

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Number of times yours truly has a horribly unproductive Sunday because his MLBTV subscription renewed: Infinity.

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Giants Holiday Spending Spree, Part 3: Denard Span

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During the 2014-2015 offseason, the Giants had a hole in left field. Mike Morse was not returning, Travis Ishikawa was no one’s idea of a long-term solution, and the team didn’t trust Gregor Blanco to man the position again as a regular. I proposed in an article (I’d link, but the web site it was posted on is unfortunately down for the time being) that the Giants should focus their attention on acquiring a center fielder, and shift the oft-injured Angel Pagan to left field. I argued that a move to left would help keep Pagan’s achy back in one piece and if the team was going to spend money or trade farm talent, why not pick up a better player at a premium position?

Shockingly, the Giants didn’t follow my advice. They kept Pagan in center and signed Nori Aoki to man left, which…well, fair enough. Aoki was awesome. Frankly, I’m sad he was only a Giant for one year. He was such an awesomely weird player, looking at times like he had never put on a glove or held a bat but still managing to be a very valuable player. But that’s a love-in for another day…

Pagan stayed mostly healthy but he didn’t hit a lick until September. This offseason the Giants decided to listen to my sage words and signed a better center fielder as a free agent, thus moving Pagan over to left field. So I was right, just a year premature. What was it Branch Rickey said about being early? Does that apply here?

The third major free agent signing by the Giants was, of course, Denard Span. A speedy runner and extreme contact hitter, Span will take over not only as the new center fielder but also as the Giants’ leadoff hitter. Span was signed to a very reasonable three year, $31 million contract. Perhaps it’s a lot of faith to place in a player who missed more than half of last season with injuries, but in a world where Nick Markakis gets four years and $44 million…

Span fits the mold of what I call the “new Moneyball” players. In a league top-heavy with players who swing big and miss a lot, Span goes against the grain by never striking out. He relies on a high-contact approach and his legs to pump up his batting average and set the table for his teammates. The Royals succeeded with a lineup full of these guys the past two years, while most other teams were filling their lineups with walks and taters guys. Span will fight in nicely with Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Buster Posey in a Giants lineup balanced nicely with hitters who avoid whiffs at a high rate, so it’s not hard to see why they went after him (Span struck out in only 9.7% of his at-bats the past two seasons; the league average is closer to 20%).

Since he puts the ball in play all the time, Span is naturally a bit of a slave to BABIP. In the years where it’s been below .300, he hasn’t been very good. When it’s .330 or above, like in 2014, he’s awesome. With the ability to steal 30 bags a year, he’s extremely valuable to the Giants if he can maintain his .350 career OBP for the course of this deal.

Denard Span has all the indicators of your typical Giants player of recent vintage. He puts the ball in play, he’s fast, he plays good defense, he has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. His recent injury problems are a worry and he doesn’t have any power (so of course he hit a three-run bomb on Opening Day), but if he stays healthy his strengths make him an asset to a playoff team, the star on the Christmas tree of the Giants’ winter spending spree. As the final piece of a championship-caliber puzzle, he does quite nicely.

This is a signing that I probably would have had nothing but invective for circa 2007. In these post-“Jack Cust-is-life-” times, though, I’m a fan. A three year deal for a good outfielder is a pretty small price to pay to get Angel Pagan out of center field and away from the top of the lineup.

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Giants Holiday Spending Spree, Part 2: Johnny Cueto

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Johnny Cueto is the closest thing the modern baseball world has to Luis Tiant (you know, this guy!). Cueto is just fun. He can go through an entire at-bat without repeating the same windup twice. He’ll corkscrew himself around and hesitate mid-windup, like he’s pausing to reconsider, then unleash a 96-mph fastball in on a hitter’s hands. On the next pitch, he’s apt to barely wind up at all, only to drop in a long, slow, looping breaking pitch that might remind a few of the eephus. All of this with dreadlocks flying around wildly, and hitters tying themselves in knots trying to figure out what’s coming next.

I was ecstatic when the Giants signed Cueto to a six-year deal (with a player opt-out after two…more on that in a sec) this offseason. While I’m merely in like with the Jeff Samardzija signing, I’m flat out head-over-heels, ready to propose over this sign. Cueto is not only one of the most entertaining pitchers in the league, but he also has some of the filthiest stuff, and should be instantly popular with Giants loyalists. When he’s on his game, he’s a joy to witness, mixing five different pitches with just as many goofy-looking windups.

Case in point: Watching him carve up the Astros in his ALDS Game Five start was a thing of beauty (unless you’re an Astros fan). He gave up a two-run homer in the second inning and then retired 20 straight; the hard-swinging Astros never got another runner on base against him after his second-inning blip. Cueto had them eating out of his hand. When he’s on, he combines dominance with showmanship and, hell, isn’t that why we watch sports?

Since 2011, Cueto has been pretty much always been “on”. His ERA from 2011 to 2014 was 2.48, and he’s been one of the National League’s dominant pitchers for years now, though maybe his brilliance has flown a bit under the radar after pitching in Cincinnati. He won 19 games in 2012 and would have coasted to the Cy Young in 2014 in a world where Clayton Kershaw didn’t exist (Cueto’s numbers that year were ridiculous…2.25 ERA in 241 innings). He was his same old self in the first four months with the Reds last year, too. He’s an ace, worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the Kershaws and Greinkes and Prices of the world.

However, enthusiasm over Cueto’s services this offseason was a bit dampened, at least more than you’d expect for a guy with his resume. There are 81 and 1/3 reasons for that.

Cueto kind of sucked after being traded to Kansas City. In those 81 innings and change, Cueto’s ERA was 4.74 and he gave up ten home runs, which was disconcerting because he left a homer-friendly park for one that was not-so. He also got absolutely blasted by Toronto in his one ALCS start, so there’s certainly still a bit of a bad aftertaste for anyone who watched that debacle.

If you perform an autopsy on his stint with the Royals, though, it’s clear that his crumminess was limited to four bad starts (which was four more than he’d had in the previous four months with the Reds, but oh well). Those ten home runs? Yeah, seven of those were hit by the Orioles, who teed off on him in two separate starts. The O’s were third in the league in home runs, so it’s more likely that Cueto just made a handful of bad pitches to a power-loaded offense than it is that he’s suddenly become homer-prone.

Cueto’s last four regular season starts were excellent, and he was dominant in two of his four postseason starts. So while some wariness is expected, what are you going to hang your hat on: the 80 shaky innings in Kansas City, or the 800 Cy Young-caliber frames that preceded them? It’s not like he had some career-altering injury that led to the ineffectiveness, either. There was even some speculation that Cueto’s struggles were due to not being able to get in-sync with his catcher Salvador Perez at first. It might be a lazy, after-the-fact witch doctor explanation, but sometimes those small sample size anomalies really can be attributed to minute stuff like that.

Quite frankly, I’m bullish on Cueto returning to ace form and I think Cueto is a prime candidate to turn into an immediate fan favorite by the Bay. Giants fans love their quirky players, especially when those players perform, and few pitchers combine quirkiness and quality quite like Cueto.

Plus, there’s a decent chance the Giants come out like bandits in this deal with this opt-out built in after the second year. Opt-outs are a fairly recent phenomenon. They’re clauses that player agents love to insert into long-term deals to help their clients cash in for star performance mid-way through a contract. It’s beneficial to a player if he performs well, certainly, but, in my opinion, I think the opt-outs can potentially benefit a team just as much as the players.

Imagine this scenario: Cueto is awesome for two years with the Giants, then opts out of his deal at age 32, signs with some other team for five years, gets old, injured, and ineffective, as 30-something pitchers tend to do, and the Giants are completely off the hook for his decline phase. It’s very realistic that this is simply a two-year deal masquerading as a long-term pact, and since I despise long-term deals for pitchers, I’m digging this opt-out thing.

All the free agent attention this offseason centered around Zack Greinke and David Price (with good reason), but the Giants snagged an ace-caliber starter of their own in Cueto with a fraction of the fanfare. The Samardzija signing filled a need but the Cueto signing turned the Giants into a team to once again get very excited about.

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Giants’ Holiday Spending Spree Part 1: Jeff Samardzija

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This past offseason, the Giants completed three major free agent signings in an effort to shore up a couple of big holes and keep the team’s even-year championship streak alive. I was going to combine all of the signings into one post here, but since the preseason has already started and this started to get a little long, who’s down for a trilogy? Let’s start with the Shark…

The first big present left by Santa for Giants fans this winter was big right-handed starter Jeff Samardzija. The Giants signed the impossible-to-spell former White Sox starter to a five-year, $90 million deal. $19 million per season might seem like a lot for a pitcher coming off of a season where he led his league in hits and home runs allowed, but the Giants are clearly under the belief that the 2014 version of Samardzija, the one that starred for the Cubs and A’s, was the real deal. Perhaps more importantly, the Giants also see the 216 innings pitched that Samardzija has averaged over the past three seasons and figure he fills a big, inning-munching hole in a rotation that saw only one pitcher (Bumgarner, of course) eclipse the 180-inning mark.

In seven seasons with the Cubs, Samardzija threw exactly 666 innings, which is neither interesting nor particularly informative but is just plain creepy. More interesting, perhaps, is that Samardzija, due to injuries early in his career, has less mileage on his arm than most 31-year-old free agent starters typically have. Samardzija was handled with kid gloves early on by the Cubs, easing into a starting role in 2012 after a solid full 2011 season in the bullpen. Due to some ugly control problems early on in his career, Samardzija didn’t become a full-time starter in the big leagues until his age-27 season. The fact that he has relatively less major league wear-and-tear on his arm in his early-30’s makes the number of years on this contract a bit easier to swallow.

As A’s fans surely recall, Samardzija was excellent in half a season in Oakland in 2014, putting up a 114 ERA+ and pitching deep into games in most of his starts (he averaged exactly seven innings per start with the A’s). Samardzija was brought in by the A’s in their mid-2014 “all-in” trading binge designed to win it all. When they did not, in fact, win it all, the team turned around and traded Samardzija to the White Sox in the offseason (rather than pay him $9 million in arbitration) for a shortstop with a dirty last name and a penchant for unforced throwing errors.

Things immediately got dicey. Samardzija was pretty horrible with the Sox in 2015, right from the get-go. His 4.96 ERA was the fifth-worst in the American League and, as mentioned before, his 29 home runs allowed led the AL as well. He stopped striking out batters and he was particularly crummy in the season’s final months (6.29 second-half ERA!). It was a nightmare season on an awful team, one I’m sure Samardzija would just as soon pretend never happened.

Fortunately, there are ample reasons to believe that Samardzija’s sudden suckiness was due, in large part, to adverse environmental conditions. For one thing, U.S. Cellular Field has historically been friendly to the home run ball, and wouldn’t you know it, Samardzija gave up seventeen of those 29 home runs at home. He gave up twelve home runs in seven second half starts at home. You would have to think that Samardzija would come nowhere near that total pitching at notoriously power-hating AT&T Park.

Next, Chicago’s defense was rancid last season. Fangraphs had them ranked as the absolute worst defensive team in the majors. How good is Samardzija’s ERA supposed to be when he has a team playing to the Benny Hill theme behind him? The White Sox outfield defense in particular was gawdawful (look at the UZR numbers of Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, and Avisail Garcia and try not to retch), and with Samardzija giving up more fly balls than ever last year (for whatever reason), it was just the perfect storm of mediocrity and no wonder his ERA swelled.

With the Giants, Samardzija is now with a better franchise and pitching in front of a much better defense. While his 3.69 FIP since 2012 is unremarkable, he is just a year removed from an All-Star season and is about as reliably durable as they come. While Samardzija may have pitched like number two last season, there’s serious potential here for the Giants to get number two starter-level production for below-number-two starter price.

I’ve never been a big fan of deals greater than three years for pitchers, and this one raised my eyebrows when it was announced, but if Samardzija pitches like he did with Oakland for the majority of the five years that the Giants signed him for, this will be a heist. I don’t think that’s a particularly big “if”, either.

Speaking of multi-year contracts for pitchers…stay tuned for Part 2.

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Fantastic Four (2015)

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It was with a sort of sick enthusiasm that I sat down recently to watch the recent reboot of the beloved Marvel comic book team, which was, by consensus, deemed an unwatchable, unpleasant mess. It is with an equally sick, and rather baffling, sense of enthusiasm that I sit down and plaster 2000 words or so on the Internets about it. Considering my undying love for the 1990 Captain America film, it seems that when it comes to crap comic book movies, I’m like a fly on you know what.

First things first: this movie’s reputation was in the gutter before even seeing theaters. By opening day, it never had a chance with moviegoers. Reports of sniping between the film’s director (Josh Trank, who did the well-received Chronicle) and the studio began to surface in the lead-up to the film’s release. When it finally came out all the bad press and bad reviews made the film radioactive; it grossed only $56 million here in the States against a budget of $120 million. It tied for Worst Picture at the Razzies and holds a nine percent critic approval rating (and nineteen percent audience approval) on Rotten Tomatoes. The studio was gearing up for a sequel, but that got ripped from the schedule faster than you can say “franchise fatigue”. It was a failure of titanic proportions.

It was all made the more unfortunate by the Fantastic Four‘s checkered film history. The famous comic book team, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early-60’s, has been begging for a worthy film adaptation for decades. The first film version, in 1994, was a notorious low-budget quickie cobbled together by Roger Corman (you can watch it right now!). It’s fun in a let’s-get-wasted-and-laugh-at-it kind of way (the Thing looks like a roided-up Ninja Turtle covered in tumors), but the biggest joke was played on the film’s actors; it was made as an ashcan copy to extend the studio’s rights to the characters and was never intended to see the light of day.

In 2005 we supposedly got the real film version of the FF, but it was met with lukewarm audience feedback and seemed to be more a vehicle for Jessica Alba’s hotness than anything else. Of the many complaints, the fact that the Four spend two-thirds of the movie sitting around not using their powers ended up as the loudest. Two years later a sequel came out featuring the Silver Surfer. Like it’s predecessor, it did fairly well in the box office, but fans considered it too lightweight, and were especially offended by the film’s treatment of Galactus (a cloud???).

So third time’s a charm, right? I have to say, I was in the proper mindset for this. I sat down to watch the new Fantastic Four film with expectations lower than a Trump supporter’s IQ. I don’t have an emotional attachment to the FF like I do with the X-Men or Spider-Man. The only time I ever bought one of their comics as a kid was when Thing got mangled by Wolverine. The only time I ever watched the cartoon was when Mr. Fantastic beat Magneto by using a wooden gun, to trick the villain into thinking he’d lost his powers (seriously). So I was pretty unbiased going into this one. There isn’t anything that anybody could do to the Fantastic Four that would offend my childhood sensibilities (like turning the Silver Samurai into a robot…ugh, never mind).

Usually if a movie is really bad, I mean a true stinker, I’ll tend to shut it off after 30-45 minutes. If a film has no redeeming qualities, it’s usually patently obvious within the first hour. This was the case with Chappie, to name one gawdawful recent movie. It wasn’t the case with Fantastic Four. It’s watchable. Not good, by any means, but watchable, and by deeming it that I realize I’ve just become one of the film’s most ardent supporters.

In rebooting the franchise, the filmmakers had two paths to take this latest film adaptation down: the more humorous, tongue-in-cheek path that Guardians of the Galaxy opted for and found so much success with, or the dark, gritty path that so many recent reboots have gone with. They took the latter, and that was probably the first step toward this movie’s failure.

Instead of writing a dissertation on the pros and cons of this film, I’ll check off the film’s major problems here in bullet point format, before trying to somehow defend it.

-Another origin story??? The Fantastic Four have been around for more than 50 years and by this point everybody and their dog knows the team’s back story. They were a quartet of astronauts who went up in a rocket ship, got exposed to a bombardment of cosmic rays, and came back with super powers. Then they worked together to fight evil when they weren’t busy bickering at each other over mundane crap.

Trank’s film attempts to retell the origin story completely. In the reboot, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) is a teenage boy-genius who has discovered the secret to inter-dimensional teleportation by tinkering around with stuff teenagers probably shouldn’t be able to tinker around with in his garage. After setting off his device at a school science fair and traumatizing a bunch of little kids, Richards draws the attention of the head of the Baxter Foundation, who just so happens to be the father of Sue Storm (Invisible Girl) and Johnny Storm (Human Torch).

Long story short: the Baxter Foundation uses Richards’s findings to open a gateway to a new, faraway planet, where they seek to discover new energy sources for Earth (yes, there’s a half-assed environmental message here, too). The Four, along with a rather surly colleague named Victor Von Doom, teleport over to the new planet without permission, at which point the planet goes haywire, they’re splashed with a bunch of magic goop, and, voila, they have superpowers.

I give the filmmakers credit for trying to come up with a different way to tell the story of how the Fantastic Four got their powers, but therein lies the larger problem here: no one wants to slog through another origin story! We’re all familiar with this group of superheroes. Just give them their powers to start the movie, give the film a good villain, and tell a good comic book story! By the time the team has to use their powers for good, the audience has been bored into a stupor because we’ve basically seen or read about this stuff a million times before.

-The character development is…lacking. If any aspect of this film can be blamed on post-production tinkering and the rift between director and studio, it’s probably this one. Reed Richards actually comes across as a genuinely interesting character, and the film spends most of its time focusing on his single-minded crusade to build a teleporter. Richards’s drive to master this technology and his subsequent determination to keep it out of the wrong hands is believable. The other characters? Not so much.

Invisible Woman serves simply as a tool to drive a wedge between Richards and Doom, the film’s villain, who is a complete asshole but has a soft spot for Sue Storm. Human Torch’s famous rebellious spirit is showcased for two minutes when he’s involved in a drag race, then it’s never on display ever again. And worst of all, Ben Grimm (The Thing) spends the first half of the movie acting as sort of Richards’s blue-collar sidekick, then spends the rest of it moping about how he’s now a giant, gross-looking rock monster (and wouldn’t you?). The method the screenwriters use to get Grimm on to the planet with the other crew members so he can get his Thing powers is contrived beyond belief.

So much more could have been done with these characters, but instead they’re lifeless and one-dimensional. They have no rapport, no chemistry, and the non-Richards characters just seem like devices to advance the story. It’s not like they got a bunch of lightweights, either. Most of these actors have been in no-foolin’ good films. Miles Teller was in Whiplash, Michael B. Jordan was in Creed, Kate Mara was in the good season of House of Cards. Toby Kebbell, who plays the villain (and who ties with Vincent D’Onofrio for the most punchable face in Hollywood), was in RocknRolla. Again, maybe if the film had begun with all these characters already having powers, these actors would have actually had something to do.

-In the fine tradition of Spider-Man 3, the villain is lame and incredibly tacked-on. Doctor Doom is one of the most iconic supervillains in comic book history. He’s the evil ruler of the island nation of Latveria (only passing reference is made to it in this film) , whose technological genius and mastery of dark sorcery made him one of the most formidable foes in the Marvel Universe. Here is Doctor Doom’s canonical look throughout comic history:

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Pretty badass. Not a guy to mess with. Now here is the 2015 version who shows up at the very end of the movie:

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If you’re wondering why he looks like the sad, long-neglected love-child of Darth Vader and C-3PO, it’s because his environmental suit got fused with the rest of his body when the group was attacked by the magic lava that gave them all their powers. The other four made it safely back to Earth, but Doom was left behind on the mystery planet, making him understandably bitter. And because we can’t have a bad science fiction movie without the government trying to rape a foreign planet of its resources, another expedition is led a year later, where Doom is discovered alive and well, wreaks havoc, and has to be stopped by our heroes.

FF purists were understandably outraged by this film’s depiction of Doctor Doom. Gone is the despotic madman representing a dire, constant threat to humanity. Instead we get something that was rushed into the last 30 minutes of the film to finally give our heroes an excuse to do something collectively with their superpowers. He’s got some pretty nifty powers (he can control the all of the elements of the new planet, which is handy), but as a franchise villain he’s pretty weaksauce.

Those are the big, big problems here. I should also point out the tired plot device where the team is enlisted by the government and runs the risk of becoming tools of the military-industrial complex, with Richards absconding and going on the run. Yeah, yeah, we already saw that in Avengers, for God’s sake.

Going back to the decision to make this a gritty reboot, the film is drab and generally not fun to look at. Shouldn’t the Fantastic Four be about excitement and wonder, not brooding teenagers grimacing their way around a lava-filled hellscape? Maybe the idea was to give the team some edge or some attitude, but they should have focused on making them fun.

So this movie isn’t a winner, but I sought out to learn if this film is truly as bad as its reputation, and I can confidently say that it’s not. It moves pretty fast, isn’t boring, and I got through it without any complaint. It definitely qualifies as a subpar superhero movie, but it’s not a disaster, and based on the consensus around the Internet, that’s basically high praise.

In all, this movie falls into a bizarre bad movie limbo where it’s not quite so-absurd-it’s-shamelessly-entertaining like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it’s also not an utter biblical-scale abomination like The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s just sort of a bland failure, another misguided attempt to resurrect a famous franchise that will be completely forgotten unless it lucks into a cult following twenty years from now.

If you asked me if it’s possible to make a good Fantastic Four film, I’d respond that that appears to be too existential of a question for us mere humans to answer. Perhaps it’s an unsolvable riddle that man will continue futilely to seek the answer to, like the origins of the universe. Until that happens, my recommendation is to down a beer (or ten), put on the 1994 version, and have a few laughs. At least that one wasn’t even trying.

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