It’s 2015, and the superhero movie genre is beyond saturated. Any new movies being released need to try VERY hard to step up their game if they want to have a shot. The people behind Ant-Man knew that, and went with a superhero heist movie energised by extremely offbeat humour. As Fox’s only superhero movie for 2015, Fantastic Four needs to prove that it is capable of breathing new life into Fox’s superhero slate, which currently only has Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse planned for next year. Did it succeed? Do we finally have the Fantastic Four movie we’ve been waiting over three decades for?
The short answer is: No.
Directed by Josh Trank, this year’s reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise is yet another half-baked attempt at trying to capture the magic of the comic book series that heralded the start of the modern age of comic book superheroes. In all fairness, though, this movie is not terrible, just… unremarkable. It has several saving graces, just… not enough.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been working on a teleportation device since he was in grade school. Supported through the years by his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Reed’s research eventually attracts the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara). The Storms have been working on a similar project, but on a larger scale, and Reed is the key to make inter-dimensional teleportation possible. Roped in to help bring the project to completion are Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and Victor von Doom (Tobey Kebbell). That’s when everything starts going wrong.
When the movie’s plot follows the general origin storyline of the 2004 comic series Ultimate Fantastic Four, co-written by Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis, everything is fine. The book’s hard science-fiction focus translates well to the big screen and it’s actually nice to have a superhero movie that takes its time (approximately the first hour) to generate scientific plausibility for its origin story. However, it’s when the movie deviates from the comic book’s plot that things really start to go wrong.
The movie as a whole didn’t seem to gel. The first hour would not feel out of place among other hard science fiction movies. The second act would be appropriately described as borrowing from the horror genre. The third act – the shortest – was when the superhero shenanigans finally began, and had its fair share of fanservice. Ironically, this was the part of the movie that felt the most out of place, because nothing we had seen so far had prepared us for full-on superhero mode. Interspersed throughout were smatterings of character drama, or comedic moments, none of which really succeeded in defining the movie.
Also, to say that the second and third acts of the movie feel like a rushed job is to give director Trank and the film’s editors more credit than they deserve. Only 100 minutes long, Fantastic Four is as short as superhero films get. Even 2000’s X-Men was 104 minutes, and that movie too felt rushed. I can only imagine how much of Fantastic Four must’ve landed on the proverbial cutting room floor. Actually, I don’t need to imagine – a lot of scenes in the trailer don’t seem to have made it to the final cut. Which is a pity, because the movie would definitely benefit from more exposition and character development.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that there wasn’t more character development, because there really was very little chemistry between cast members. This is especially obvious because the story of the Fantastic Four, at its comic book core, is a story about family. Yes, a family that bickers and has tensions, but also one that is greater than the sum of its parts. For all the criticism against the 2005 movie, one cannot deny the palpable chemistry between that cast. This year’s movie, despite a very talented young cast, just cannot seem to click as a team. It makes you wonder if the casting directors actually bothered to screen test them with one another before hiring them.
That’s not to say there’s nothing redeemable about the movie. I particularly appreciated the many trope subversions that pepper the movie. For example, Johnny Storm’s hotshot personality is established via a drag race and not by making him a womaniser. The “love triangle” between Reed, Sue and Victor doesn’t actually exist – except in Victor’s mind as an extension of his professional jealousy. There’s a very strong millennial-friendly vibe throughout the whole movie – youth is seen as a source of hope and something to be celebrated and protected. The film’s general aesthetic is dark without being grim, avoiding an overly foreboding sense of gravitas.
Also, the Thing actually doesn’t look too strange without pants.
All in all, is the film bad? No, it really isn’t. However, while it would have been remarkable 15 years ago, today Fantastic Four simply comes across as uninspired and unoriginal. Which are two words I never thought I’d use for a Josh Trank film written and produced by Simon Kinberg.
Score: 4 out of 10 for a less than Fantastic Four