Marvel’s first family has not had the cleanest track record at the cinemas. There was the unreleased 1994 version that is legendarily awful. Then there’s the 2005 film made amongst the popularity of Spider-Man and X-Men, which wasn’t necessarily good but by no means awful. Its sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, filled the role of “awful superhero movie” in 2007 (the same year as Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider, mind you). But with the superhero movie renaissance of the last seven years, Hollywood has been trying to take caped crusaders a bit more seriously at cinemas. With that, 20th Century Fox decided to take one more stab at making Stan Lee’s first superhero team a legitimate franchise. The results can be summed up in (fitting enough) four words: big swing, bigger miss.
Fantastic Four opens with the focus on young scientist Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his assistant/buddy Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) trying to build a teleporter. It garners the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara), who are also building a teleporter and need help finishing it. Reed is brought in to put everything together, along with Sue’s cocky brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and Franklin’s former associate Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). The team succeeds in building the teleporter, but a government official (Tim Blake Nelson) wants to have some NASA specialists take it for a test run. The team says otherwise and uses the teleporter to travel to another dimension, where their interaction with the environment has some interesting (I refuse to say fantastic, since it’s too easy) side effects. Doom is lost in the other dimension, Reed can stretch his body to great lengths, Johnny turns into a human fire ball, Ben is a giant mass of rock and Sue can create force fields and become invisible. The group is kept under government watch as they develop their powers, but when Doom returns with wicked intentions, the team must band together and save the world.
I took a very long pause before writing this next paragraph, because I didn’t know where to begin with how WRONG this movie is. The writing, the direction, the pacing, the continuity, the acting, the energy, the action and pretty much everything else about Fantastic Four is WRONG. Every scene of this movie is rushed, as if the movie wants to get itself over with as much as the audience does. Pacing is chucked out the window at frame one with scenes given no time to breathe whatsoever and no connection between characters or the audience. That doesn’t help the dead-on-arrival dialogue, with no lightness or humor written into it. From the early scenes, with Reed and Ben meeting as kids and being nearly robotic in their delivery, that director Josh Trank (Chronicle) either doesn’t know how to direct actors or was on too tight a shooting schedule to fine-tune some scenes. Another take or two would’ve helped make the scenes feel natural, if only the actors in the movie looked emotionally invested in anything.
I’ve never before seen such a big-budget movie where nobody on-screen wants to be involved in this, and it’s even more disappointing because Fantastic Four has a stellar cast. Teller, Mara, Jordan and Bell have all done excellent jobs in better movies, but they don’t show any charisma or interest in the roles here. Most of the time it’s as if they’re all reading off of cue cards trying to get to the next scene. Nelson’s character is supposed to be the slimy government official, but he’s so small and wimpy that it’s almost funny. Kebbell tries to bring some sharp wit to his take on Doom, but when he becomes the supervillain, he’s just a guy in a mask saying ominous things, along with some superpowers that are undefined to the audience. On top of that, this is movie is about as subtle as someone bitch-slapping you with a brick. Literally, Sue calls Victor “Dr. Doom over here” out loud, Johnny’s welding helmet has flames on it and (spoiler) the ending has Ben saying how the whole situation is “fantastic,” giving Reed inspiration for the team name. You may slap your hand to your face in face-palm fashion so many times at this movie, it may give you a concussion. Even simple things, like the continuity of character appearances, are so poorly addressed. Sue goes from dirt blonde to platinum blonde between two scenes, Johnny goes from clean shaven to a thick black mustache (maybe Jordan was filming Creed and was called back for re shoots). I will say that the appearance of “The Thing” Ben Grimm is actually quite impressive and a great visual and vocal interpretation of the character, even with the CGI.
I’m not even sure who Fantastic Four was made for. It’s not for kids, because it’s taken too seriously and can be gruesome at times. It’s not for fans of the comic-book, since it tells the origin story a bit differently and fans will be so turned off by the new interpretation. I don’t even think this is for casual moviegoers, since there is nothing enjoyable about this. This movie is so dull, so stupid, so lifeless and so uninspired that I don’t think any of the producers even watched the final product before getting it out to the public. This movie was made for one reason and one reason only: Fox is running out of X-Men movies to make so they’re trying desperately to hold on to the coattails of the superhero movie boom. Hell, they lost the Star Wars franchise to Disney, how else are they going to keep up? Fantastic Four is an example why, even if it is from a formula that works, a movie should not be a bidding war between director and studio. If Josh Trank had full creative control (or a little bit) on this project, this could’ve been a creative take on the characters. But news reports over the months have shown how Fox organized re shoots and changes without Trank’s involvement, and that’s why this movie is such a mess. Great movies, especially big-budget franchises like The Avengers or Tim Burton’s Batman, work when there is a functioning cohesive relationship between filmmaker and studio. If one thing overtakes the other, it makes for a mess. Fantastic Four is not even a movie, it’s a studio squeezing whatever amount of potential profit they can out of their stock of superhero rights before the well dries up. So here’s to all the critics and fans clobbering this movie into the ground, as it deserves to be.
Final Verdict: 0.5 out of 4