How many times can you screw up a franchise? A lot, apparently. With the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe, in the last few years 20th Century Fox has gone back and refreshed the Marvel Comic franchises still in their possession; their new takes on “Spider-man” and “X-Men”, both of which feature new, younger casts, were generally positively received. It makes sense then that they would do the same for “Fantastic Four”, as their 2005 film version—and its 2007 sequel—were largely panned by both critics and audiences.
The good news is that this new “Fantastic Four”, directed by Josh Trank”, is at least half of a semi-decent movie—okay, that’s not really saying much, but still. It starts off with the film’s main protagonist, Reed Richards, as a child, teased by his peers, parents, and teachers about his determination to create a teleporter. However, his classmate Ben Grimm—who presumably doesn’t have so great a life at home—is intrigued, and helps Reed find a power converter for the teleporter he built in his garage—which works, as it turns out. Fast forward seven years, and Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Campbell) are in high school, entering Reed’s new teleporter in the school science fair. It is there that he catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathy) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) of the Baxter Foundation, who as it turns out have been working on a teleporter to go to another dimension. They just haven’t been able to figure out how to return the things they transport. Reed can do that. So they invite them to come work with him. Just why they would be looking for someone who can build a teleporter at a high school science fair isn’t clear, but we’ll let that slide for now. This movie has bigger problems.
The scenes that set everything up prior to the accident that involves Reed, Sue, her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and Ben obtaining their powers are mildly interesting, but way overlong. So let’s fast forward to the last part of the movie, after they have their powers, because that’s when things really start to tank. It’s too rushed—way, way too rushed. It feels like there is way more to the scenes of them building the teleporter in the lab than there is to them dealing with their powers and defeating the bad guy. That bad guy is Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), one of the scientists who worked on the teleporter with them and was lost in the other dimension during the accident, presumed dead. Earlier in the movie, he appears to have some strong opinions that differ from the rest of the group. They want to go to this other dimension to find new resources that could save the Earth; he believes there’s no point. Why give such power to the people who are the reason for the planet’s destruction? When rescuers bring him back to Earth, this opinion that he briefly voiced earlier in the movie suddenly compels him to start killing people in the facility so he can teleport back to the other dimension and create his own world. Which sounds pretty good to me, except that by going back there he creates a black hole that will swallow Earth or something, so the Fantastic Four have to go there and stop him. What ensues is the movie’s “climax”, a mildly entertaining fight scene that lasts all of a few minutes. And then that’s it. That’s the film.
That’s far from all that’s wrong with the movie. So many topics are brought up but never fully realized, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized that they only had so much running time left and had to drop everything so the Four could defeat Dr. Doom. There are some emotional scenes involving the accident, and Reed’s guilt that his inviting Ben to come teleport with them resulted in his becoming the Thing, a giant, rock-like creature. Reed, who can stretch, Johnny, who can fly and catch fire, and Sue, who can turn invisible and create force fields, all still resemble their normal human forms. Ben does not. But while Ben is clearly mad at him, clearly feels isolated and abandoned, this is all dropped, and suddenly they are all happy and good friends again at the end. Reed, who disappears for a year after the accident, appears to have been rebuilding his own teleporter somewhere in Panama so he can go back and fix everything. This, however, is also not fully explained. And some of it is just plain stupid. For instance, the whole reason the gang ends up in the other dimension when they aren’t supposed to be there is because they get mad that the government is bringing NASA in so trained astronauts can go—not them, the scientists who created it. So they get really drunk, Reed calls Ben over—Ben, who isn’t even remotely supposed to be there—and they go. And what exactly is the Baxter Foundation? It appears to be a school, but then they also don’t have a problem letting people who haven’t even gone to college working on teleporters for the government.
The saddest thing is that the film really isn’t even fun. It’s not a bad movie that’s still enjoyable—it’s just a bad movie. There’s virtually no humor to be found, and while the special effects are impressive, visually the film is just as dark and depressing as its story. The comics are bright and colorful; this movie just travels from dark lab to dark alien world to dark government facility. The dialogue is cheesy, and we are given hardly any background to any of the characters. Yes, we see glimpses of Reed and Ben’s lives at home, and we see Johnny engaging in illegal racing because he likes to act out (I’m assuming because he doesn’t want to work at the lab like his dad and sister? That isn’t really apparent either) but we don’t really get to know these characters, so toward the end when the audience is obviously supposed to feel for them, we don’t. It’s especially a shame because the film has such a talented cast—Teller, Jordan, and Mara are all fantastic young actors, but you wouldn’t know it if this was the only film of theirs you’d seen.
This franchise has so much potential to be a fun, action-packed blockbuster. Given the quality—or lack thereof—of the last “Fantastic Four” films, it’s not like the bar was set that high. But this movie is possibly even worse than those, because while the prior films at least had a sense of fun about them, this one takes itself way to seriously, and gets lost in the process.
Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre