As an avid comic book reader, I was never fond of the Fantastic Four (established 1961), sure they have some compelling space story lines, but I always felt they worked better in a larger spectrum with other Marvel characters (in the comics). Whether it is Reed geeking out with his other science bros like Tony Stark (Iron Man), Dr Hank Pym (Ant Man) and Peter Parker (Spider-Man) or when the Thing takes (or at least tries) on the Hulk or Invisible Woman/ Sue Storm aka Sue Richards having an undeniable chemistry with Namor (Marvels version of Aquaman) or Logan (Wolverine), these four characters (including Johny Storm aka Human Torch) just together living as a family never really interested me much. Well except for the exception of their main antagonist Dr Doom (IGN ranked him as #4 on best villains of all time). But yet as a huge fan of the super hero genre, it is disappointing to see how despite millions of fans (and story lines), the Fantastic Four have never seen a good big screen adaptation.
There was a movie in 1994 made by Roger Corman (king of the B-Movies), which was never released. It was only made to secure rights for a friend, and is stuff of pure cinema legend and sought out by cult film fanatics. If you’ve seen any YouTube clips of it, you know it’s terrible (Update: the movie has found its way online). Let’s fast forward to 2005, where the guy who made the Barbershop movies, director Tim Story, was given the opportunity to make a Fantastic Four movie. If you can recall it, you’d remember it was pretty enjoyable, yet Jessica Alba was really the only memorable thing from the movies, or at least the most talked about. Nevertheless, the film was a box office success enough to guarantee a 2007 sequel Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer which was pretty awful. Fantastic Four is one of those Marvel properties that has yet to be turned over to Marvel itself, and is still owned by 20th Century Fox, which is unfortunate, because that studio still has no clue what it’s doing with this franchise.
That brings us up to date with 2015’s reboot directed by Josh Trank. Trank‘s only other credit was the awesome “found footage” superhero film Chronicle, but supposedly Trank is very difficult to work with, which is why he was booted off the upcoming Star Wars film. Whatever good Chronicle had going for it is non-existent here with Fantastic Four and seems like it’s one long set up for something yet to come. Right from the production and the casting (controversial casting of Michael B Jordan, an African-American actor in an essential white role), the film has been making news for all the wrong reasons.
I think the first major clue for me that this movie was doomed (no pun intended) was, the first trailer itself! A super hero film trailer which was not exciting! Even duds like Elektra and Ghost Rider had better looking trailers. Another major clue for me that this movie was doomed was its running time of 100 minutes. Why? Because when you have a film like this – a reboot, where it has to introduce various new characters, set them up and a new premise/universe, the movie isn’t going to be an hour and a half long. It’s going to be two hours. Those extra twenty to thirty minutes can make a difference. For the record, the first two Fantastic Four movies had around the same running time. The original film was only six minutes longer. But that movie wasn’t the best one, either.
I’m reminded myself of X-Men. X-Men was a great movie. It had a similar running time, but not the same task, as it wasn’t a reboot, well kinda. Yet as the first installment in a franchise, it did a fantastic job at setting things up. Yet, with Josh Trank at the helm and a talented cast of Miles Teller (who was awesome in Whiplash last year), Kate Mara (exceptional in Netflix‘s House of Cards), Michael B Jordan (brilliant in Fruitvale Station) and Jamie Bell (excellent in TURN: Washington’s Spies), I wanted to give this film a chance despite the wide-spread negative reviews pounding the internet. In my opinion, it’s not as bad as the reviews are pointing it out to be, in the sense it’s not ‘the worst superhero film.’ Did everyone forget Batman & Robin, Elektra, Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Catwoman?
This is a film very much out of time and place in today’s market of superhero movies. Ten or fifteen years ago a studio might have been able to get away with it but not today. Audiences like to be entertained and with the competition offering much more excitement, I don’t see audiences taking to this, at all. The film’s plot really shows potential and it does manage to have some great moments, but it just takes too much time to become interesting, long enough to make us not care.
The story follows young genius, Reed Richards, who at the beginning of the film, working on an experiment that attempts to construct a teleportation device. It was hardly a success as the object they’ve sent to who-knows-where, never returned. Seven years later, now teenage Reed (Miles Teller) is again trying his luck on the same experiment. The attempt yields a better result but is still dismissed as a magic trick by his high school teacher, but not by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who at that moment, is drawn with utter interest to Richard’s experiments. The meeting brings Richard’s feet to Baxter Institute where he is joined by Storm’s adopted daughter, Sue (Kate Mara), his son, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and his ex protegé Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), to work in completing a larger and more advanced version of Richard’s device. The success of their effort prompts their team to send all four of them to their target alternate universe, but the consequence is far worse than they could imagine.
It’s easy to dismiss Trank‘s Fantastic Four as an unfortunate victim of superhero fatigue that emerges in the wake of the continuous influx of superhero movies inundating the big screen, but you can’t shrug off its fatal narrative flaws that include unfocused pace and bland character developments. The latter may have been completely covered by the actors playing the two-dimensional characters, but ex-positional defects keep sending them to becoming something the audience might find hard to care about. Perhaps its the ill-contrived rationales behind how all the often-sense-deprived proceedings work, that keeps the film constructing a form, worth-of- attention, or the forced CGI-gimmicks that strip the sense off the moment’s supposedly strong sentiments, that hampers its spectators’ ability to absorb its message, and thus, feel that the dangers these characters are about to face, is real. Either way, it’s difficult to care, much less find reasons why we still should.
The running time really is a problem. This film is rushed beyond belief and its plot is nonsensical. The characters’ introductions are decent enough, particularly the Fantastic Four, but their roles throughout the rest of the film are disconcerted. Exposition can be tiring, but after the exposition ended and the action was supposed to pick up – it didn’t. Second, the plot. As I said above, the film’s plot seemed interesting. It had potential and it looked like it could go somewhere, especially considering how superhero movies nowadays have managed to flesh out their stories and make them very enjoyable.
There are even hints at awesome things to come at certain points. But the film’s in shambles. You hope and feel it will go somewhere, but in its hour and a half running time, it feels so empty. One of the reasons for that is the third thing, the writing. The writing isn’t good – the film’s climactic conflict feels backed up into the end of the movie, because there wasn’t enough time to set it up. The writing caused the pacing to be terrible – transitions between scenes weren’t good and some scenes either went on for too long or were far too short. Speaking of “things”, The Thing is entirely CGI. No make-up, costume or anything – just a giant, naked rock monster. Yes, he’s naked, too. Not even any shorts. Huh. But yet, in his shortest screen time, he will probably be the only thing you remember.
Did I talk about Doom? I don’t get it why can’t FOX just stick to his comic book origins? It may sound a bit flashy, but its anything better than what they have been providing us with. Sure the Doom here is way more efficient & creepy than the previous films, but what is with him being this dis grunted blogger, and shouldn’t they have mentioned he is going to appear on-screen for only five minutes or so. Doom makes an unsurprising return here as their common enemy, driven by a fusion of body and alien matter to cause global destruction and around whose defeat to ensure the survival of planet Earth becomes a rallying call for the team to unite despite their differences. It is one of the dullest and most unexciting finales we’ve seen in a Marvel movie, not least for the fact that it doesn’t know how to collectively bring together their superpowers except in a tag-team fashion to distract their opponent.
There’s probably some salvageable remnants left in Fox‘s previous attempts to bring one of Marvel’s most popular superhero team to the big screen. That’s maybe what Fox thinks in pushing this new adaptation, given how franchises keep being rebooted and resurrected these days, assuming either lighter or darker takes, to pull away themselves from the shadows of their previous (most often, forgettable) forms. The latter is more evident with this film, as Director Josh Trank, puts a darker spin to it, employing a grittier feel to its plot. While that is true and recognizable, there’s no denying of its desperate efforts to emulate its Marvel predecessors. Trank‘s intention of emphasizing the tension within the quartet is evident and admirable, but is ultimately undone by a script that doesn’t develop it in any substantive manner. Worse still, it leaves an audience looking for visual spectacle severely wanting, that not even a very busy third act manages to salvage. The way the characters get their powers is more interesting and more realistic, and the team is assembled, but they skip any kind of training montage to a single display of their abilities which are not yet honed, we skip all that to introduce the main villain. He is majorly overpowered for reasons unknown, but the action finally begins, only for the movie to end after the first and only super showdown.
On the whole, Fantastic Four is a not so fantastic effort to build a franchise! Despite a likeable cast, a weak story, a cringe worthy script & average special effects, the film turns out to be one of the most disappointing films I have seen all year. To be honest I was really enjoying the movie until the end and it straight up didn’t deliver after making us get to know these characters, and making us wait to see the good stuff! I don’t think this ‘franchise’ needs to crossover into any other universe, be it preferably Marvel and not X-Men, as it’s got enough potential to hold its own, and I’d give a sequel a chance because it’s a step in the right direction, which is still scheduled for a release on June 2017.
Overall Rating: 4.5
Director – Josh Trank
Starring – Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 100 minutes