What It’s About: Reed Richards is a little nerd with a dream: to build the world’s first matter transporter. Now, here’s a shocker: he does it! Well, in small form as kids with his best bud Ben Grimm and they blow the power in their entire neighbourhood in the process. Years later, Richards busts out a more successful version of the device for a high school science fair. Dr. Franklin Storm and his daughter Sue spot Reeds device and bring him to New York to help them perfect their own. Turns out they didn’t build a matter transporter, but a device that opens a portal to another dimension. Along with the help of Sue’s ne’er do well brother Johnny and the ominously named nerd-in-black Victor Von Doom, Reed manages to build a massive interdimensional transporter. After the gang’s bosses balk at allowing them to be the first humans to travel to this alternate dimension, they get drunk and do it anyways (along with Reed’s old buddy Ben). That sure seems like a mistake, right? You have no idea. The gang return to earth scarred and cursed with body morphing conditions like stretchy limbs, invisibility, fire-flinging, and a clobbering rock body. You know, cause this is actually a Fantastic Four movie.
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Pro: A Unique Take On A Popular Property
When the trailer for this secretive Fantastic Four reboot was released, it came along with extensive interviews with Josh Trank describing the movie as more of a sci-fi and body horror take on Stan Lee’s first superhero comic with plenty of references to movies like Scanners and The Fly. Fortunately, that wasn’t lip service. The first hour or so doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, but a weird little science fiction flick that takes a brief foray down the body horror once as the heroes assume their powers involuntarily. It’s a genuinely interesting reinvention of a story that’s already been told in three movies and decades worth of comics that works particularly well during a dark n’ twisted few minutes as the heroes struggle with their mutating and contorting bodies. In an age when superhero blockbusters are as ubiquitous at the multiplex as imitation butter, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker experiment with the property and transform it into something new.
Con: Fails When It Becomes A Superhero Movie
Unfortunately, Fantastic Four does eventually have to turn into a superhero movie. Would it be cool for it to end with the Reed, Johnny, Sue, and Ben in painful agony suffering from the very mutations that made them heroes in past incarnations? Absolutely, but that’s not how $120 million comic book blockbusters work. By the time Trank gets through the meat of his revisionist Fantastic Four tale, he has to rush everything towards a wiz-bang conclusion where CGI heroes beat up a CGI villain in a CGI landscape. The grand finale would feel overly familiar even if it was effectively mounted, but it’s not. Oddly for the filmmaker who made the brilliant superhero(ish) movie Chronicle, Trank seems completely disinterested in the comic book theatrics of this blockbuster and those sequences never quite come together. That’s a real shame since that’s the stuff anyone who buys a ticket to a movie called Fantastic Four is paying to see.
Pro: A Fantastic (sorry) Cast
Sure, it’s been many a moon since talented actors were unwilling to sully their imdb page with a superhero movie, but Trank still did manage to stack the deck with some great actors here. Miles Teller makes for an amusingly sarcastic n’ nerdy Reed Richards, Kate Mara is a creepily calculated Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordon charms it up as the Human Torch, and Jamie Bell finds human inner pain within a motion capture CGI rock monster. Beyond the central hero team, Toby Kebbel makes geekiness threatening as Doom, Tim Blake Nelson does his thing well and the likes of Dan Castellaneta and Tim Heidecker pop up for cameos. There’s a damn find core of actors there if this movie manages to expand into a franchise, even if they all seem to have been fed the same line of direction, “Do it again, only sleepier this time.”
Con: Feels Tampered With
The most frustrating element of this Fantastic Four movie is that it so clearly feels like it’s been tampered with. The pacing is off throughout, there are huge laps in time between some scenes suggesting awkward edits, and several scenes from the trailers are mysteriously absent from the final film. On top of that, the awkwardly mounted superhero showdown finale plays out with such a wildly different tone than the rest of the movie that it has “reshoots” written all over it. There have been rumors floating around both loudly and quietly that there were major production troubles here and the final product sure feels that way. It’s hard to say whether the movie was radically re-edited when Fox panicked after seeing Trank’s final cut or if the script went through one rewrite too many before a frame was shot. Either way, the flick has all of the earmarks that something has gone wrong. It’s hard to imagine a movie this lumpy and uneven was designed that way from conception. Perhaps one day we’ll learn the troubled tale behind this production, but for now it’s clear that this is not the movie that was intended.
Con: Kind Of Boring
Conclusion: Despite some clever ideas, wonderful sequences, and a talented cast this is yet another disappointing attempt to bring the Fantastic Four to the big screen. It’s odd to think that we live in a world where there’s an Ant Man movie worth watching and yet there are now no less than four failed feature length adaptations of Stan Lee’s oddball superhero family. This property should be a bunt to get right, but somehow it’s cursed. Perhaps there was a draft of the script or an early cut of this Fantastic Four that lived up to Josh Trank’s ambitions and maybe one day it’ll be available. For now, we can only look at the Fantastic Four that is and sadly it’s yet another letdown. Unfortunately, The Incredibles remains the closest thing that we have to a decent Fantastic Four movie. Hopefully Marvel Studios will be able to negotiate getting the property back a la Spider-man because clearly neither for folks at Fox or Roger Corman have any clue of what to do with these classic characters.