20th Century Fox have had quite a good run with superhero movies lately. Their X-Men franchise hit a new high in 2014 with Days Of Future Past and 2016 is set to be an even bigger year with more mutant adventures in X-Men: Apocalypse and also one of the most highly anticipated comic book movies of all time, Deadpool.
Director: Josh Trank
Staring: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Run Time: 98 Mins
Release Date: Out Now
But what of their other big Marvel property, the Fantastic Four? One of comic book legend Stan Lee’s most treasured creations, the quartet predate the Avengers, they were the first great superhero team and yet they don’t have the greatest history on the big screen. A failed attempt in the 1990s, a less than impressive first outing in 2005 followed by a franchise killing sequel featuring the Silver Surfer a few years later, any fan would agree that this superhero team deserves more from Hollywood.
After an eight-year hiatus, Reed Richards and co are back in an all-new rebooted franchise and a much larger CGI budget by the looks of it. But this new start for the team hasn’t been plain sailing either. With a troubled production, unpopular casting choices, major changes to the origin story and apparent post-production woes for the director, there was a lot for fans to be concerned about prior to release.
Should we be concerned though? Let’s face it, the majority of casual movie-goers aren’t going to be that bothered about modifications to the source material, Marvel Studio’s have long been altering their characters origin stories for the big screen. Casting wise, yes our heroes look barely out of high school but a fresh, younger look did amazing things for the crew of the Enterprise a few years back.
So with all that taken into account, I went into this movie with an open mind, after all 20th Century Fox have proven they can do ensemble movies with X-Men and the superhero genre as a whole has made significant progress since the Fantastic Four’s last outing, this could actually be a good movie.
Directed by Josh Trank, the man behind 2012’s dark superhero movie deconstruction Chronicle, it was always going to be a safe bet that this Fantastic Four would have a lot more realism when compared to it’s campy predecessors. Christopher Nolan proved that this was achievable with a character like Batman who already has a dark undertone and no real superpowers, but could this successfully work for Marvel’s ‘First Family’? Unfortunately not.
Despite some good efforts from the majority of the cast, the dark path that Trank has set the characters on leads me to believe that he either hates their comic book history or knows nothing about it. In either case, this new interesting direction the franchise is supposedly taking has drifted so far from the popular comics that they’re barely recognisable amongst a badly written and uninteresting story which offers minimal action and very little fun.
As the movie begins, we are introduced to Reed Richards at a young age, already in mad scientist mode as, with the help of best friend Ben Grimm, he creates a teleporter out of scraps. At this stage, it’s clear that this is Reed’s story as we quickly jump forward to modern day to find that his obsession with bettering mankind has made him not only uniquely brilliant but equally foolhardy and willing to take risks.
Outside of this initial set up, though, the character never sees any growth throughout the movie. Reed is the Hollywood template nerd, brilliant, solitary, unappreciated by his peers and socially awkward. He’s a likeable character and Miles Teller does his best to bring a quirky charm to the role but sadly even the greatest actor on the planet couldn’t overcome the fact that from the opening scene to the final credits, he’s uninteresting and with the exception of Jamie Bell’s Grimm, never seems to connect with the rest of the cast on any level.
Similarly, Bell’s Grimm lacks any depth, made much more difficult to resolve thanks to his lack of involvement for a large portion of the movie. It’s frustrating given the great chemistry between Teller and Bell prior to their metamorphoses that the director decided to leave the character on the backburner for such a long period during the second act. With the post-transformation Grimm heavy on the CGI, though brilliantly done, Bell’s performance has little opportunity to shine through the rock monster and ultimately we’re left with yet another dull, undeveloped character.
With Reed and Ben’s life-long friendship established, the rest of the cast are slowly introduced as Reed is offered a scholarship with the Baxter Foundation. Taking influence from Marvel’s Ultimate comic book universe, this movie’s Baxter Building is home to a government-sponsored think tank, run by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg. E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Susan (Kate Mara).
It’s at this point in the movie that the mediocrity really kicks in as we spend a large portion of the movie inside Baxter’s walls leading up to the experiment which results in our heroes gaining their powers. With Dr. Storms adrenalin junky Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) quickly introduced along with the rebellious hacker with a superiority complex, Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), the whole cast finally settles in together – well minus Ben, who is now out of the movie for about a third of its runtime.
The gang is together and we’re expecting action only moments away as the big experiment takes shape, and then we get a woefully dull montage of the team building stuff for what seems like an eternity. In all fairness to the director and the actors, this dull setting doesn’t diminish the chemistry slowly building up between the characters. With Reed established as the nerd of the group slowly coming out of his socially awkward exterior, the Storm siblings have an interesting dynamic with each other and their father – Sue very engaging with and supportive of her father’s work, Johnny, the underachieving rebel who “can build anything” having a more volatile relationship with his somewhat overly busy parent.
My personal favourite though is Kebbell’s pre-villain performance as Von Doom, he’s undeniably the one interesting character in the movie. Victor is the most developed character here, a brief backstory of how he cracked interdimensional travel before Reed before going rogue gives the actor a brilliant starting point for when Von Doom is brought back into the Baxter fold. His Victor is likeable and yet the narcissism and jealousy towards newcomer Reed is clear to see from the off. Sadly, much like Jamie Bell, post-transformation, Kebbell’s performance is dulled considerably by the Doctor Doom costume and CGI – even so, Victor is one of the few highlights of Fantastic Four.
It’s Victor’s rebellious nature coupled with Reed’s more foolhardy attitude which leads to the accident and their transformations in the first place, more importantly though, at this point in the story – two-thirds in – that we finally get the promise of action and entertainment.
The most inspired scene in the entire movie is shortly after the fateful accident, our first glimpse at the new superpowered team. Sadly set in yet another drab research base, the scene moves from room to room introducing us to the new heroes and their powers. This scene is the one point at which the directors original vision is most evident, a gritty no-holds-barred look at the characters and this is the one point that it actually works. We see Reed, limbs fully stretched out in what many – and I agree – have described as grotesqueness approaching body horror.
The Storm siblings don’t fare much better, Sue unable to control her visibility, phasing in and out and Johnny fully alight from head to toe. It’s poor Ben who suffers the most here, the rock monster crying out for help, at one point completely encased, there is a true sense of trauma and fear, the actors do a fine job portraying that.
Sadly this is the pinnacle of the stories entertainment value, one tiny spec of quality as the movie quickly returns to mediocrity as the team begin the final act essentially reliving the previous hour in reverse – instead of making stuff, they’re trying to unmake stuff. Despite an interesting montage showing the team learning to master their skills, the only real action comes from brief moments with the Thing and Human Torch from a distance. I understand the need to keep this a human story but come on Trank, this is a Marvel movie, we expect a little bit of close-up action.
The absolute lowest point in the movie is Jordan’s one attempt at the Human torches famous “Flame On!” catchphrase, it’s said under his breathe barely a whisper, it is like the actor is embarrassed to be in the scene and having to say his characters signature line. Luckily it’s easy to forgive this one piece of poor form as in the final battle we get a much more impressive “It’s clobberin’ time!” from Jamie Bell.
While the finale is impressive to look at with some very entertaining set-pieces, the movie takes so long to get to this point that what remaining runtime there is rapidly runs out, the whole closing battle is rushed. What is even more frustrating is the fact that finally we’ve got some action, finally the movie is taking off, and then it ends, forever dangling the proverbial carrot just out of reach.
Overall, Fantastic Four is itself an experiment gone wrong, taking colourful and fun characters and throwing them into a world of grey and seriousness, it really hasn’t worked. The story itself is directionless for the most part, running at a snails pace for the majority of the movie before hitting warp speed when the action finally kicks in, it’s the ultimate anti-climax.
The acting on show is the best it could be, they really do try to make something out of the dire script but much like Ryan Reynolds and the Green Lantern, the actors can only do so much when an abundance of poor writing and heavy CGI dull their skills.
This movie has no heart, no life, no fun, nothing of any real interest, it’s the perfect example of how not to do a superhero movie.