Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jaime Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathy
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
Developed in the shadow of two failed attempts at good films about Marvel’s first family, Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four carried with it the hopes of legions of fans of the famous quartet. It also carried the hopes of Fox studio execs aiming to build up a cinematic universe to mirror that of Marvel Studios. Can this film live up to those expectations? Is this the movie that we have been waiting for? Does this at least do justice to one of the most beloved super teams in comic book history? Short answer: No. Fantastic Four is a film full of wasted potential.
Teenage genius Reed Richards has spent the majority of his life working to achieve human teleportation with the help of his childhood friend Ben Grimm. Discovered at his high school science fair, Reed begins to work and learn at the prestigious Baxter Foundation owned by Franklin Storm and his adopted daughter Sue. Soon joined by disgraced student Victor von Doom and Sue’s rebellious brother Johnny, Reed manages to complete a four person teleporter to another dimension. When used, however, it results in Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue being granted extraordinary powers. The four must band together and learn to use these powers to save the world.
Violence: The film carries with it a noticeable lack of violence, at least when compared with other superhero movies. The few moments of fighting are pretty PG. The scene where the Four receive their powers, however, could be out of a horror movie. There is also a scene where multiple characters are killed in a violent (think head squeezing) manner. These are the only two scenes where a younger viewer might be scared, and for the most part, the movie does not push the boundaries of PG-13.
Language: The movie might hit the PG-13 quota for “s***” but otherwise is fine. No crude humor to speak of.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol References: The consumption of copious amounts of alcohol is actually one of the main catalytic events in the film. The movie does not glorify it, however.
Positive Content: Fantastic Four have always made a habit of making science cool. The fact that even bad boy Johnny Storm does science is a good message for kids. The film also shows negative consequences stemming from underage drinking.
Negative Content: None unless you count plot holes as negative content.
When Fox announced that they were making another go at a Fantastic Four movie, many were skeptical, and rightly so. The company had failed twice before, so what would make this attempt different? The news that Josh Trank, who directed cult hit Chronicle, would be directing helped to assuage fears.
A thoughtful and stirring first trailer even helped to start generating hype. That would soon be flushed down the toilet as the project was plagued with rumors of departures from the comics, studio interference, and behind-the-scenes antics. Any hope that this would be the film to save the FF was quickly fading.
Some of these rumors (like that The Thing only says “Thing”) proved utterly false. Others, however, like that the studio edited the later parts of the film heavily, appear to be true. The result is a patchwork film that feels like it left a bunch of scenes on the cutting room floor. There is actually a moment in the film that one can point to where things start to fall apart and what few plot threads there were begin to come loose.
Let me get this out of the way now: This is a Fantastic Four film in name only. If you’re expecting the adventurous fun of your average FF comic, then you will be disappointed. This film decided to go the dark and gloomy route, which is not always a bad thing, but is a large departure from the comics in this case.
What the movie does get from the comics is drawn from Ultimate Fantastic Four, which started in 2004 as part of Marvel’s alternate universe Ultimate imprint. In the Ultimate comics, the Four get their powers from traveling to a different dimension (rather than from space) and has Dr. Doom’s origin intertwined with the team’s. The team’s powers are also in-line with the comics. Otherwise, it’s all pretty much different. This is especially noticeable with Doom’s look and powers, which appear to have been pulled from thin air.
Even though it does not exactly hold true to the spirit of the Fantastic Four, the first half of this movie is just fine. Not great, but it kept my attention well enough. The most glaring problem is the fact that the team does not receive their powers until well into the movie, far past the point where most superheroes movies would have had an exhibition of powers or a fight scene of some kind.
Instead, we get long montages of science-doing. Science is fun and all, but if I wanted to watch characters do things I didn’t understand I would watch Interstellar again. The movie is very slow paced. Remember all those scenes from the trailers with The Thing going out on military operations? Those were cut out of the movie. I spent the majority of the film just waiting for something to happen.
Many fans were banking on the performances to save the film. I believe that could have been a possibility if the cast was given anything to work with. Every character (yes, even Doom) falls flat with the exception of Johnny Storm. Michael B. Jordan does a great job showing both Johnny’s heart and his wild side, and makes the most out of a lackluster script. I believe that Johnny stands out in part because his personality is the easiest to write.
Reed, Sue, and Ben are more difficult, which may be why they have personalities in the loosest sense of the word. Yes, Reed is brilliant and awkward. Sue is brilliant and not awkward. Ben is…there? Ben Grimm is not just a guy. He’s the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing! But without an easy trait like “smart” or “rebellious” it’s like the writers just didn’t know how to make him stand out.
Speaking of, this has to be one of Jamie Bell’s easier paychecks. He appears in the movie as himself for maybe ten minutes total, and even his voice work for The Thing is limited. Kate Mara is okay as a young Sue, if a bit more chilly than she is in the comics, and Miles Teller does an admirable job as young Reed. However, their characters are never really given a chance to grow or establish any depth. They’re just moved from one plot point to the next.
Taking into account that this never was going to be Doom from the comics, Toby Kebbell does a fine job as Victor. He carries a slight accent to remind everyone that he is Latverian and manages to pull off being adversarial in just about every conversation. Again, the movie does not give him much to work with. His motivations as a villain are largely unexplained and his animosity towards Reed is built upon the absolute shakiest of foundations.
To round out the main cast, special shout-out to Reg E. Cathy, who does a great job as Dr. Franklin Storm. He pulls off the father/mentor role quite well and I wish we had gotten more of him being great.
The main issue that I have with the film is its structure. All but the last fifteen or so minutes feels like buildup. What normally takes the entire third act of a superhero film is jammed into those last few minutes. At the hour and a half mark the film, which had been slow-paced up to that point, suddenly shifts into high gear and starts moving at lightning speed out of nowhere.
And then it’s just over.
It isn’t like they were pressed for time. The movie is pretty short by superhero standards. Cutting out the rushed climax, the movie could very well be a prequel film to a real Fantastic Four movie, or perhaps the first half of a three hour film. It’s almost as if they planned on having all of the good stuff in the sequel. Unfortunately for them, a movie, especially one in this position, needs to be able to stand on its own, which this film most certainly cannot.
I was really disappointed by this film, not because I was expecting a lot out of it, but because it was filled with potential. I thought that if it was going to be bad, it would at least be laughably bad, but instead it just made me sad.
There were pieces that I really liked, like the scene where the team gets their powers or how the effects for their powers were done. There are fleeting moments where I feel as though I’m watching a film that should be good. However, the plot stretches so thinly that it might as well be Reed himself. The dialogue is slightly ham-fisted, the climax moves at the speed of sound, and most of the film is kind of boring. This will not be the movie to save the Fantastic Four. If anything, it has prevented us from getting that fabled film for a long, long time.
+ Powers are done well
- Weak Plot - Very Slow Pacing - Rushed Climax - Underdeveloped Characters
The Bottom Line
While Fantastic Four holds some promise, it fails to make good on any of it. The attempt to make a dark, gritty Fantastic Four falls flat, due to weak motivations, weak characters, and a plot that drags until the end.