After months of bad press and rumors about a dysfunctional set working environment, Fox has released their reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise for all of us to lay judgement on. Director Josh Trank’s (Chronicle) contemporary re-imagining of Marvel’s first family is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish and will not only anger longtime fans of the comic, but it will annoy savvy film goers with a story that feels rushed and incomplete. This film is sadly another example of how to take a franchise, which is rich in history and beloved by millions, and suck the life out of it with unnecessary changes and inconsistent filmmaking. Fantastic Four is nowhere close to fantastic.
Childhood friends Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have worked on building a teleporter out of spare parts from Ben’s family’s junkyard since the 5th grade. Now high school students, the duo enter their invention in the school fair, which catches the eye of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), director of the Baxter Foundation, a science academy for brilliant young minds sponsored by the US Government. Reed is recruited to join them to help complete the work of Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a young genius who created the “Quantum Gate”, a teleporter similar to Reed’s invention. Aided by scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) along with Von Doom himself, Reed begins work on the machine with hopes to teleport the team to another dimension.
After a successful test run, the facility’s supervisor, Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), informs the team that they will assemble a team of NASA trained specialists to travel to Planet Zero (that’s what they’re calling the other dimension) and explore. This doesn’t sit right with Reed and Victor who convince Johnny and Ben to break protocol and ensure their legacy as the first men to teleport to another dimension. Of course things go wrong and the team is placed in danger, leaving them, along with Sue, with super-human abilities beyond their control. From there the group is quarantined to be monitored by the government to ensure the safety of the planet, but when an opportunity to re-open to portal is presented to Dr. Allen, the temptation to explore the dimension is too much for him to deny, but what comes out is something that neither Dr. Allen, nor the team, are prepared to fight.
On paper this seems like a pretty decent movie if it weren’t for the execution and script. The film takes a long time to get going and much of the film is people staring into computer screens with very little interaction. From there the film spirals into spliced together scenes attempting to tell a story, but there’s little character development past brief explanations of what abilities each has been given. The buildup to the showdown with Doctor Doom is as lackluster as you can get. There is no real understanding of what the characters intentions are, or why, past a few glimpses of Von Doom being anti establishment and the opportunity to create a strong rivalry between Reed and Doom was squandered throughout the film. The reveal of Doom’s look, a moment which should create excitement from the audience was met more with laughter and cringing as the attempt to re-create this iconic character with a new look was met unfavorably.
The films actors are presented with such little, if any, emotional exploration that much of the film each character seems to just be staring off into space waiting for something to happen. Miles Teller’s exploration into what makes Reed Richards, well, Reed Richards, is lost amongst his assumption (and seemingly the assumption of the director) of how a kid with exceptional intelligence would act, which isn’t very impressive. A lot of the venom spewed at this film was over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, a white character in the comic book, but that’s not the problem with the character, the real problem is that he isn’t Johnny that we know and love from the comics. Jordan’s interpretation of Storm is more aggressive than playful which creates more of a character filled with angst more than ego. Jamie Bell is on screen so little that it is hard to interpret his character past introverted but loyal young man. Kate Mara spends most of her time staring at a computer screen so it’s hard to interpret the emotional center of her character, but the time she does have interacting with the other characters she is given very little to work work. A real shame for such a wonderful actress, but my real issue was with Toby Kebbell as Victor Von Doom. Kebbell is bland and lifeless and lends to credence to the iconic character he is portraying. At no point do you feel the menacing nature of Von Doom or understand the hatred that he emits towards the Fantastic Four. A lost opportunity on top of a series of poorly executed opportunities.
Overall, Trank’s Fantastic Four is a joyless, dull film that sacrifices everything that makes the comics so great for a gritty, realistic environment which doesn’t translate well with these characters to the screen. Chalk this one up to a promising film that fell short of its mark.
1 1/2 out of 5
After Credit Scene?