Fantastic Four (2015) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Toby Kebbell, Owen Judge, Evan Hannemann
Small role: Dan Castellaneta, Tim Heidecker
Director: Josh Trank
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank
Review published August 7, 2015
If your intent is to reboot the misguidedly jokey Tim Story Fantastic 4 films and "make it right this time", and you make not only a film that is significantly worse, but it's arguably one of the worst big studio release since they learned to do them kinda right with 2000's X-Men. It's worse than anything Marvel Studios has put out, the Amazing Spider-Man reboot, and Man of Steel. This goes right to the "let's just pretend it never existed" category that films like Elektra, Catwoman, Ang Lee's Hulk, Green Lantern, The Punisher, The Spirit, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance belong to.
The anticipation would be that this could be the start of a new and very long-running franchise, as they decide to cast much younger actors to represent the Fantastic Four in their teens (though they are all aged between 28 and 32 years of age). Miles Teller (Insurgent, Two Night Stand) plays Reed Richards in his older form, who has invented, with assistance from his best and only friend Ben Grimm (Bell, Snowpiercer), a contraption that apparently allows it to teleport an object somewhere else and have it return back to the invention. Reed initially thinks that place it goes is on Earth, but he's later informed that he has created an inter-dimensional transporter that is connected to another planet full of all kinds of crazy energy that gets him linked up with Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey, St. Vincent), the head of a government-sponsored science-based think tank for young prodigies called the Baxter Institute, along with his thrill-seeking son Johnny (Jordan, That Awkward Moment), his adopted genius of a daughter, Sue, and an older prodigy named Victor Von Doom (Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), who has already been working on a project of similar direction.
After building a bigger version of the device that can transport much larger objects, the government rep on the case (Nelson, The Homesman) wants their men to take over the project once they see it has been successful, leaving the scientists who spent their lives forging the way little choice but to sneak into the facility and operate the high-tech machine themselves to be the first humans ever to travel to this new, undiscovered planet. After drunk-dialing Ben to join them on the fun, they do just that, and while there, things go awry when they discover the place is rife with an unknown and seemingly unstable energy source that consumes them, as Victor is lost, while the rest of the crew get back, barely, with their lives, forever changed by the experience, not only emotionally, but physically as well. Reed becomes a man of rubber-like abilities, Ben a goliath of stone, Johnny a man of flames and flight, and Sue a woman of invisibility and forcefields.
Part of the problem with adapting a Fantastic Four into a two-hour film is that this is a property built on the notion of a family, each with their own unique powers, with strengths and permutations that aren't so easy to define with one sentence, save perhaps for The Thing's strength. An inordinate amount of time must be spent establishing a history among the characters and what they mean to each other, then trying to explain a mission that they are supposed to embark on, what goes on (read, awry) during that mission, how they get uncanny abilities, how they learn to control those abilities, then, finally, giving them a villain to fight with (invariably) Doctor Doom.
2015's Fantastic Four makes a fatal mistake by not only subjecting us, yet again, to another iteration of the origin story that every FF far already knows, and few non-FF fans would find particularly interesting. But, what's worse, Fantastic Four not only spends too much time with the origin before it can finally discard it to be the fun and interesting superhero film we all imagine it should be based on our recollection of the comic books and TV cartoons, but also makes the entire film nothing but that origin. This leaves the movie feeling anticlimactic throughout for anyone with even a passing knowledge of the well-known comic book characters, as we know things will go haywire, we know they'll get superhuman abilities and what form they will be, and we know that Doom isn't really dead, and that he will eventually become their main nemesis in the film. This means that, even for a relatively short film, it feels incredibly long at the same time, as we wait for each box to get checked off on the origin to ultimately get to the destination that few will be surprised the story eventually goes.
Yes, the entire film is built as the bad pilot to a TV show that looks like it could get better down the road, if only it could shed it's caterpillar embodiment and become that beautifully colored butterfly we all know it could be once they establish the universe they get to all play within. Sadly, Fantastic Four is so shockingly inept, even taken merely as just an origin story, that there's no way we will see a follow-up. We don't like these characters, we don't buy them as a family, there is no joy in seeing them work together, and there's even less intrigue in figuring out how they're going to defeat whatever that thing is that's supposed to be Victor Von Doom at the end.
Further giving that television pilot feel is the fact that this is a movie that feels like an ending was hurriedly slapped on, never generating enough build-up to properly feel like the climax is truly a climax, then as soon as we get an inkling that, "Hmm, maybe this is the climactic battle", it's over. It is so abbreviated, it feels like one of those cases where you had to go do an extended emergency bathroom break and then returned to your seat only to dicover that you missed all of the best parts. Except, in this case, that you never leave your seat, and there's no one else viewing it that can fill you in on all of the cool stuff you misses. Shortly after, we get the obligatory capper, a moment of levity at the end just before rolling credits (they might as well just do a freeze-frame of the cast in mid-laugh, old-school TV episode style, for as low as this film is aiming from a cinematic perspective).
The reins of the Fantastic Four franchise is given to Josh Trank, presumably due to the impressive (to some) work that he did with a comparatively miniscule budget with his previous superhero flick, Chronicle. Trank directs and gets co-scripting credit with veteran action guy Simon Kinburg (X-Men: Days of Future Past, This Means War) , as well as Jeremy Slater (whose The Lazarus Effect features a nearly identical plot of a group of scientists who have to do the job themselves in secret when they're told that someone else will be taking over their life's work), but clearly, big-budget moviemaking of properties that are well-established are clearly beyond the scope of a newcomer with his own ideas on how the story should be told, regardless of its comic book origins. Forget Stan Lee's original work (and forget they do -- he doesn't even get his trademark cameo, which may be a first for a superhero film that he created), Trank would rather shake things up by giving us the basic structure of the Fantastic Four, enough to pacify the fans, but alter just about all of the finer details, as if it is in the details of their origins that we all care about.
The climax of the film shifts the tone from a science-based drama with moments of action to dark and gruesome events that are rare to find outside of a horror film, which goes too far the other way from the original property to even recognize it as a Fantastic Four film anymore. In fact, I don't really recognize these characters as those I read about growing up, as Reed seems more goofy than genius, Sue is virtually personality free and largely not very loyal, Johnny is more a reckless loser than the envy of girls who love bad boys, and Ben is a sad sack victim of abuse that seems sullen, needy and pathetic instead of the hard-nosed good-hearted lug who wears his heart on his sleeve. They all become government stooges without much coercion, leading you to wonder why we should consider them good guys at all if they're more than content to spend their days doing all of the dirty work of whatever military operation some government official can come up with.
And don't get me started on Doctor Doom, who happens to be my all-time favorite comic book villain. Instead of a mad genius despot who craves the power and of his people in Latveria above all else, we have some grotesque, jealous loner who thinks a planet with seemingly no food, water, or people is preferred, and he'd rather be the last guy in the universe. Everyone involved should be forced to see the end of Danny Boyle's Sunshine and see this kind of character kills movies that are actually good, so having one at the end of a bad movie is beyond the ability of most who've suffered through an hour of boredom and disappointment to bear.
In summation, I could quip here that there's nothing "fantastic" about Fantastic Four, but when one looks at the synonyms of the word, perhaps it's the most fitting adjective. After all, what is this movie if not, "weird, absurd, far-fetched, nonsensical, unbelievable, preposterous, ludicrous, unthinkable, implausible, dubious and grotesque"?
©2015 Vince Leo