Film Review – Fantastic Four
Especially in a world where even the most diehard fan feels superhero movie fatigue we don’t have time to waste on a lackluster project that plays loose with the source material and doesn’t even have the passion to limp across it’s own finish line. We’ve come to expect a high level of quality and entertainment from Marvel movies at this point due to the pretty terrific track record of the Marvel Productions cinematic juggernaut. By contrast, in a production made by Fox, the newly revamped Fantastic Four film is a frustrating snooze.
Based on his X-Men-like movie Chronicle, Josh Trank would’ve seemed like a smart choice to helm a properly licensed superhero film. But his directing has no energy. You feel every minute of the running time and I personally was astonished walking out of this to discover FF clocks in at a mere 100 minutes. This movie is all setup with no payoff and that setup is very languid indeed.
It starts with Reed Richards and Benn Grimm as childhood friends experimenting in Reed’s garage. A strange cameo by Tim Heidecker as Reed’s stepfather (whose 10 seconds of unremarkable screen time weirdly earns him surprisingly high billing in the credits) happens in Reed’s parents’ reaction as their household experiment causes a neighborhood blackout. Cut to years later, Miles Teller as Reed and Jamie Bell as Ben are entered in the High School science fair showing that they have mastered the teleportation technology they’ve been working on. There they are discovered by Reg E. Cathey as Dr. Storm and his savant like daughter Sue (Kate Mara). Dr. Storm recruits them to come live in the Baxter building to continue their research, teaming them up with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell seems to be half asleep in his villainous role) and Sue’s brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan). Successfully creating a doorway to another world, they unwittingly end up in an accident that gives Reed the ability to stretch, Johnny to “Flame On” as the Human Torch, Sue as the Invisible Woman, Ben looking remarkably like Groot as The Thing, and Victor presumed dead but turned into the villain with some sort of undescribed omnipotent powers.
Reading this description, if you know your comic books at all, you will recognize some major deviations from the funny books. No cosmic rays giving our heroes powers, no mention of Latveria or Victor being ruler of his own country, no mention of Reed and Victor as friends from school, Reed and Sue kind of flirt a bit but no real romance between them, Ben has no New York accent and isn’t from Yancy street, no bright blue outfits with the “4” logo on them. Drawing some inspiration from the Ultimate Fantastic Four title we get Reed working on an interdimesional portal in a government run lab. But that’s about all that is recognizable from Stan Lee’s original creation (and no Stan Lee cameo either!). Absolute fidelity to every note of the comic is not required. When making a film adaptation is a part of the process and as long as those changes make sense it can make a movie work. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man had organic web shooters, Tony Stark invented Ultron instead of Hank Pym, Bruce Banner had gamma ray exposure in a lab instead of on a military firing range, Hawkeye isn’t wearing a mask. Those are all changes from the comics but they make sense to the viewers and you can live with them as long as the movie is good. But this Fantastic Four just seems to change things for the sake of changing things with no compelling reason to do so.
I’m convinced no on in Hollywood knows what to do with Victor Von Doom. In those previous two FF movies as written he was probably the weakest link in the production and this time around he’s just plain boring. He has no backstory other than he’s really smart. When he gets his powers, we don’t really know what they are. He is able to look at people and make their heads explode Scanners style. But aside from that, we don’t know what he can do or what he plans to do. He’s not royal, he has almost no time to portray the massive ego Doom has in the comics, and we don’t even get his famous metal mask. They fit him with some sort of polymer plastic see through thing that’s fused to his body that is merely indistinct.
Speaking of how things look, at least in most blockbusters like this you can at least get some thrills from spectacle. CGI rules the day here and badly. Everything is rendered like a cheap video game. The action doesn’t have any weight at all. Far shots of our heroes look like computer graphic characters. The only real action scene takes place on “Planet Zero” which is all green screen computer graphics. All of it looks so terribly fake. Everything you liked about Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year concerning how the practical stunts gave the action weight and depth and drama is completely absent here. Michael Bay’s giant Transformers look more realistic than any of the characters during the action scenes in this movie.
It’s a shame. This cast is immensely talented. Miles Teller is usually terrific. Kate Mara is often charming. Michael B. Jordan can be great fun to watch. But here none of them is given anything interesting to say or do. Meanwhile, it’s a mystery why they wasted money on casting Jamie Bell. He is a “fantastic” actor, but they all but delete him from this movie. He shows up in a couple of early scenes to glower at things. Then, once he becomes The Thing it’s only his eyes and voice. But even as the rocky creature he’s barely in the movie, says next to nothing, and I think only throws like 2 punches. The whole point of a big bruiser character is to unleash some “Clobberin’ Time”. We get almost nothing from him.
The number one biggest flaw here is, it isn’t fun. The Marvel unified cinematic universe has a real sense of joy. That’s why audiences fell in love with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. He is fun to watch. And that energy has infused all of that world’s productions. Meanwhile, Fantastic Four is so glum and dour most of the time that it’s not pleasant to watch. If I cared more, I might rank this movie worse than the other two FF movies (no, I won’t say it’s worse than the notorious unreleased Roger Corman version). But ranking this and those would require even more brain power that could be used somewhere else.
The Incredibles was the best Fantastic Four movie ever made. It has the energy, fun, wit, action, excitement, and character work that the actual FF movies sorely lack. These characters were Marvel’s First Family and they deserve better.