By now, you’ve probably heard about the terrible reviews that 20th Century Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four has been receiving. There are reports of Director Josh Trank being pulled off the film and key scenes being scrapped by the studio—lots of behind the scenes drama. However, is the film really that bad as all the reviews suggest? Well, yes and no.
The film takes its cues mainly from the source material found in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate” version of the classic title. In this version of the story, all the members of the Fantastic Four are much younger than their original counterparts and instead of going to space like in 1961, the team—wisely—opts for inter-dimensional travel instead, seeing as space travel has been conquered. The team is composed of the same four characters: genius and leader Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), his childhood friend Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell), and siblings Sue/Invisible Woman (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm/Human Torch (Michael B. Jordan). Reed is discovered by Sue and Johnny’s father, Franklin (Reg E. Cathey), and brought to the Baxter Institute to work on inter-dimensional travel. Franklin then goes to recruit a former student, Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), an arrogant, but brilliant young man who will in no way fulfill the promise of his ominous last name. Once the dimensional travel machine is completed, the government immediately wants to step in and take over. Not wanting that to happen, the young scientists take control of their machine and make the first trip into another dimension. While there, an accident occurs and they are imbued with superhuman powers. Eventually, Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben must learn to work together in order to stop Victor, who now only goes by Doom.
Fantastic Four plays like a film that was completely gutted in the editing bay. At 100 minutes, it’s one of the shortest comic book films in the last several years and that short runtime shows in the slapdash interactions that are supposed to qualify as character development. Nothing that happens in this film feels as if it is earned at all. There are at least two montages that are supposed to show the audience how the characters are becoming closer and learning to use their powers, but because these moments are simply glossed over, the audience never feels their impact. The film feels like a loose collection of Fantastic Four scenes that someone just threw together to get to a pre-determined runtime and then released into theaters. The plot is so non-existent that there is zero build-up to the third act showdown with Dr. Doom. He just kind of shows up and they fight and that’s it. Again, nothing is earned because character development was sacrificed heavily in this one. Some of the visual effects are dodgy too. Thing looks good, but some of the green screen work is very amateurish. And for the love of God, can we get ONE film where Doom looks like his comic book origins? The only time he looks remotely familiar is when he wears his cloak. It’s amazing to me because Doom’s look is as iconic as Darth Vader’s and Fox continuously screws up this simple, simple element of any Fantastic Four film they touch.
It’s a shame that no one involved in making the final product was interested in any real character development because the actors all do pretty good work here. The biggest issue I had was that all the actors are playing way too young. There was no reason why all these individuals couldn’t have been in their twenties. Of course, I can’t really delve into who does the best work because most of the interactions these characters have is just to vomit out exposition, but with what their given, the four leads are likable enough. I didn’t hate Kebbell as Doom, but he’s just not given enough to do. The setup is there for Reed to be blamed for what happens to Victor, but it never comes up again. For those who don’t read the comics, the hatred Dr. Doom has for Reed Richards is the ENTIRE BASIS of their conflict. In this film, they fight over a girl—again. Mara is good as Sue, but it’s amazing how her character can be both brilliant and completely marginalized in the same film, especially since she’s admittedly the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four. It was interesting to have Mara and Jordan as brother and sister, but the filmmakers never really do anything with it. Cathey brings his usual gravitas to the proceedings, but Franklin Storm is basically relegated to being a platitude factory mixed with a fortune cookie—a completely wasted opportunity.
There are so many things wrong with Fantastic Four that it would take pages upon pages to delve into all of them, so I’ll save everyone the trouble and just say skip it. It’s not offensively bad like the Transformers films; it’s more a case of just inept storytelling. The real crime here is that there are the bones of a good movie here, but either Trank couldn’t deliver or the studio sabotaged him for some reason. The other thing that has to be noted is the reason why 20th Century Fox released this film. Yes, of course they want to make money, but this film was made and released for the sole purpose of retaining the rights to the Fantastic Four and their ancillary characters for ex amount of years. No one came to Fox and said they had a great idea for a new spin on the FF. It was a soulless bid to keep the rights from reverting back to Marvel Studios and that is never a good enough reason to make a film, especially when you’re just going to shit all over great characters that fans have been reading about for over fifty years.