Fantastic 4 Review
Once upon a time Roger Corman, that king of the b-movie, made a Fantastic Four film. It’s achieved an interesting status in pop culture history; being made solely so that co-producer Bernd Eichinger wouldn’t have to give up the rights, and never getting a cinematic release. It’s silly, ultra low-budget, but has a certain charm to it. Fast forward to the present and we have Fox doing something not dissimilar; wanting to revitalise the property after the two Tim Story directed features and to add to their own hold on the characters’ rights to prevent them from going back to Marvel Studios. Getting a cast of the best young talent and the director of super-powered found footage film Chronicle Josh Trank seemed like a perfect fit. However all the reviews have been overwhelmingly negative. So is it really that bad? Yes......and no.
Young genius Reed Richard (Miles Teller) dreams of creating a matter transporting device. When he gets recruited to apply that idea to inter-dimensional travel it seems like his work will finally make a difference. An accident occurs, causing both Reed along with his friends Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and Susan Storm (Kate Mara) to receive strange powers, and also the apparent death of Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). As the four attempt to control and study their powers, it seems that Victor isn’t actually gone.
The tone of this movie could probably best be described as grim, and I’m not talking about The Thing. It begins with a childhood focussed sequence that feels like it wants to be an 80s Amblin movie (despite being set in 2007), during which we find out that the origin of The Thing’s classic “it’s clobberin’ time” catchphrase has its roots in Ben’s abusive older brother. The rest of the first half has a washed out, dim feeling, but nothing really standout good or bad. Then things take a darker turn. The aftermath of the accident that leaves the characters with their powers could almost be described as Cronenbergian, with Reed screaming at the sight of his elongated limbs, Ben panicking at being buried in rocks, and Johnny appearing to be nothing more than a flaming corpse. It’s borderline horrific, not the stuff of comic-book family fun. It’s a very mismatched tone that I don’t think works for this property.
According to reports, Trank’s influence over the film ends as the title “one year later” comes on screen, after which we’re in the land of studio mandated reshoots. It’s also here that the film just simply stops making sense and we spiral into a parade of “but why? ...... and how? ....... and why?” moments. The time skip feels like an odd choice, done probably to avoid the heroes getting to know their powers sequence, although for some (like myself) this can be quite an enjoyable thing when done right. As well as not making sense, nothing in this second half feels genuine. Doom’s motivations are vague and can be summed up with “because villain”, and his raid on an army base, whilst very well shot and well done, is very gruesome and feels like something crossed between Scanners and the ending of The Cabin in the Woods. His powers are also just whatever the plot needs them to be. The climax also feels of the “anti” variety, lacking any sense of stakes despite the possibly world destruction. Throw in some very clichéd dialogue and the whole thing just ends with something equivalent to a shrug rather than a triumphant feeling of the team coming together.
The main characters are drawn simply at best and sketchily at worst. Ben is the worst victim of this, being more or less a tag-along. The early moments of his and Reed’s friendship are nice, but don’t feel like they go anywhere. The tension between the Storm siblings is interesting, but likewise doesn’t really go anywhere. Although Sue is at least an established scientist in her own right and part of the team, rather than an incidental love interest.
There’s also a plot element of Reed running away and abandoning his friends for a year, which does not ring true in any way. I’m not even talking about the character from a comic standpoint here, the character as we’ve seen him in this movie doesn’t seem like he’d make this decision. It also seems really superfluous to the plot as a whole, done to prolong the rebuilding of the teleporting machine and to drive the team apart. I’m certain that there are ways to achieve these things that wouldn’t feel so contrived. Maybe this is all something lost in the studio reshoots and had pay-off or was done differently in Trank’s original cut, but we just don’t know and it’s likely never will.
The effects are, much like the rest of the film, a mixed bag, with some looking alright, like The Thing’s motion captured body, and others just don’t work, like Sue’s force-field levitation globes and Reed’s stretching.
My overall feelings about the film are hard to articulate. It tries, at least for a portion of the film, and has some ideas, but due to the tumultuous history of the film’s production they aren’t allowed to go anywhere. At the same time it doesn’t feel fun, the characters don’t work, and I was just left underwhelmed and confused. It isn’t the worst film I’ve seen so far this year, but as an experience I’m not sure if it’s worth it.