Fantastic Four Review
SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW DISCUSSES ELEMENTS OF THE FILM WHICH COULD SPOIL LATER PARTS OF THE MOVIE. NOT THAT ANYONE WILL CARE, BUT JUST LETTING YOU KNOW
The question that needs to be asked about Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four movie is not, “Is it bad?” but rather, “How bad is it?” Well, here are a couple of true statements to answer that question: it is far and away the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made and it is also the absolute worst Fox Studios Marvel movie ever made (Yes, far worse than X-men Origins: Wolverine). This critical and box office disaster is a film that is so disdainful of its source material and so lacking in compelling reasons to exist that I can think of only one way to properly express how much I disliked this movie: Come back Jessica Alba! WE MISS YOU!!
The story of this flaccid, joyless waste of time is that Reed Richards (played as an adult by Miles Teller) wants to grow up to be the first man to teleport matter, something that Reed’s science teacher (Dan Castallaneta) says isn’t a real job. Reed befriends fellow classmate Ben Grimm (played as an adult by Jaime Bell) and together they pledge to complete the project. Seven years later, 30 year olds Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (they’re supposed to be in high school but clearly aren’t) enter the local children’s science fair to show off the completed device only to have it laughed off as magic despite a successful demonstration. At this point, Reed and Ben are introduced to Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Susan (Kate Mara) who point out that he has discovered interdimensional travel and invite him to the Baxter Building to work on completing the project. There he meets Dr. Storm’s son, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and a whiny, hipster prick scientist who is apparently supposed to be Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Together they complete the project, but when the government says they plan to send NASA astronauts through the gate instead of the scientists, Reed, Victor, and Johnny get drunk and decide to travel across dimensions, dragging Ben Grimm along for no other reason than they had an extra seat. The transport is successful but the mission goes wrong when Victor decides to be an idiot and gets apparently killed and as a result of an accident while teleporting back, Reed, Ben, and Johnny mutate and get superpowers. Sue, who didn’t go with them and never entered the transport pods, also gets powers and mutates for no readily explained reason. From there, there is a lot of whining and moaning until the last 10 minutes when it’s discovered that (shocker) DR. DOOM is still alive and the honestly pretty pathetic-looking Fantastic Four have to fight him.
If that synopsis feels like I skipped details towards the end, that’s because there isn’t much happening in the last two parts of this horribly paced movie. The first act is a solid hour of dull setup and no action with zero character development, humor, enthusiasm, or investment in the story of any kind. The second act is roughly 30 minutes of people whining about their powers and (supposedly) emoting, and the last 10 minutes are where there is supposed to be a climax complete with the only real action scene in the movie. This alleged climax is so dreary, boring, and lame that it actually elevates that crappy climaxes of past comic book movies like Iron Man or even Fox’s original X-Men movie (which was made 16 years ago). The pacing in this movie is atrocious and the dour tone and complete lack of action until the end makes the experience of watching this relatively short 100 minute movie feel like having teeth pulled. Furthermore, its attempts to distance itself from the last iteration of the Fantastic Four fail miserably because despite its moody tone and pretensions towards serious, meaningful themes, the overall execution ends up being even dumber as a result of bottom of the barrel writing and poor direction.
At this point, I feel like I might as well just make a list of problems that Fant4stic doesn’t have because that would be a shorter list than the ones it does. The screenplay is entirely exposition with no character development or dramatic payoff for the narrative. This makes large portions of the film not only boring, but pointless. The final conclusion at the end makes the Fantastic Four seem like poorly adjusted sociopaths who screwed up royally before and instead of paying for their screw-up decided to threaten the government into giving them a big budget laboratory for them to work in. The one good idea the film had was to treat the Fantastic Four’s mutations and transformations as unnatural PG-13 body horror, but it has no payoff so that good idea is also wasted. The acting (even from mostly good actors) is bland, lifeless, and unnatural to the point where scenes of supposed levity are either so awkward as to be unintentionally unnerving or so poorly written and edited that what attempts at jokes there are fall flat. Director Josh Trank’s attempts to reuse themes and character arcs from his previous film Chronicle are utterly wasted here because whereas Chronicle was about stupid teenagers wandering into an off-limits site with no idea of what they were getting into and accidentally getting superpowers, Fant4stic is about three supposedly intelligent people getting drunk and wandering into another dimension (knowing the risks full well) and acting like idiots and accidentally getting superpowers. Furthermore, it would appear that the likability of characters in Chronicle was more a result of Max Landis’s screenplay than Josh Trank’s direction because in this movie he apparently cannot even get a believable human performance out of his fairly charismatic actors. Also, I don’t know whether to blame the studio or Josh Trank for this, but the editing is also fairly incompetent. Scenes either end too quickly or are held on longer than they should and peculiar transitions between scenes give the impression of a movie that was stitched together making cohesion impossible. Also Fox attempts to save money by having only a small handful of locations for film scenes and having those be either bland underground bunkers/labs, empty Canadian forests, or lazy poorly made original Star Trek sets for the other dimension or other planet (it’s very unclear what it is) they visit. The cheapness continues with the constant, poorly used CG which looks pretty consistently awful. When you create a terrible CG monkey that does nothing but sit in a chair (because real monkeys can’t actually sit in chairs) you make your film look more like an Asylum production instead of a big budget studio film.
All of the previous problems I mentioned are problems that I have with this just as a film. Its issues as an adaptation of an iconic comic book property are even worse. As much as I personally dislike Reed Richards as a character, even I feel that this is probably very disparaging to the character. They attempt to make him more likable by making him a lot dumber and Miles Teller is so unconvincing at having real emotions he might as well have been played by Gumby or Stretch Armstrong for all the difference it makes. Jaime Bell is okay as Ben Grimm, but they hardly ever allow him to talk once he becomes the Thing, and whoever thought that telling him to underact when he became The Thing was a good idea needs to be taken out back and beaten to death with a rock monster. Finally, maybe this is just me, but having The Thing’s famous catchphrase result from domestic abuse feels like deliberate spite for the fans of the source material. Johnny Storm attempts to have a few jokes and Michael B. Jordan has a lot of charisma, but again the screenplay is so lifeless that all of his attempts at jokes all fall flat.
However, in terms of flat out wastes of space and time, nothing beats Kate Mara as Sue Storm. The fact that she and her brother Johnny Storm are different races was criticized heavily before the film was released, but that is explained away pretty well in the movie. What isn’t explained is why Sue Storm is in this movie at all. Other than being the adopted daughter of the Storm family, she contributes nothing to this film other than finding Reed when he goes AWOL after the accident and bringing the idiots back from Planet Zero (no really, that’s what they call the alien place in this movie). She has no chemistry with anyone in the cast, she has no personality to speak of, and her origins as a war orphan from Kosovo have no purpose. Her one quirk to make her interesting is that she listens to music to make her focus (which means this movie stole from Blade Trinity of all things). Also, her one big moment in the film is sorting through lots of data to see a pattern and track Reed’s movements. That’s it.
And then there’s Dr. Doom. First of all, how sad is it that one of the greatest supervillains in the Marvel universe is tied to these terrible movies and will probably never get a good incarnation until Marvel Studios gets the rights back? As bad as other live-action versions of Doom are, this one is by far the worst. He starts out as a whiny hipster from Latveria who is supposedly a genius and whose only reason for being there is to be creepy around Sue and to try and fail to be charismatic and masculine around Reed. I say supposedly a genius because the first thing he does when he enters the other dimension is stick his fist in a puddle of glowing goo and cause the planet to erupt. After this bit of mind-numbing stupidity, he’s out of the film until the third act where he inexplicably survived on a hostile planet for over a year with no other people and also somehow found himself a cloak to make himself look more like the classic comic book character; a task that fails miserably since his design aesthetic is Ultron but with no mouth and filled with glow sticks. His powers are inexplicable, his motivations are unexplored, and the way he’s defeated is nonsensical. The actor playing him has no charisma, he has easily some of the lamest and most boring dialogue in the film, and the only reason he’s a villain is that the government refused to let him return to Planet Zero and thus he started killing people. How they thought this was a good idea compared to a mad scientist dictator is beyond me.
To discuss this film any longer would be pointless. Fant4stic is awful. It was produced by people who had no real interest in making a movie and only sought to spite a business competitor. A supposedly talented director implodes creatively under the weight of Fox’s likely meddling and the abysmal screenplay and resolves to simply get bad performances out of good actors and make a film that is so insipid and boring looking that it feels like a default screen saver on a laptop that you would likely dispense with at the first opportunity. The effects are bad, the tone is irritating, and the utter lack of action until the very end leaves you unsatisfied and annoyed. I would tell you not to see this movie, but considering the box office returns of this train-wreck it would appear most people did that anyway. This film is a blight on the superhero landscape and the fact that Fox is going to justify holding onto the film rights because of this debacle is infuriating. Stick to X-Men movies, Fox. You apparently can’t make anything else.
I have nothing good to say about this movie. What few good points it has, namely in terms of quality actors, are overshadowed by the sheer weight of the awful screenplay, cheap crappy effects, stilted direction, and joyless tone. This film is both insufferably unengaging and pointless. It's existence speaks to a mindset at FOX that suggests they only made this movie to spite a business competitor. Easily the worst superhero movie FOX has ever made.