Fantastic Four is a tough nut to crack for Hollywood. Despite two previous attempts, the team has yet to strike gold as a movie franchise. What is going wrong?
In the span of a few years, Josh Trank has gone from one of cinema’s rising talents to a pariah. His work on Chronicle was good, but 2015’s Fantastic Four debacle makes him persona non grata.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) discovers teleportation in grade school. Years later, he is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg Cathey) to work at the Baxter Building think tank. His colleagues include Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and antisocial programer Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebell). There is an obvious tension between Reed and Doom, because the latter is the first to have found existence of an alternate dimension. Cue the sinister music.
While drunk, Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to go over to the new dimension, bringing along the former’s friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Lo and behold, something goes wrong during the trip, and Victor is lost in the process. Upon their return, Sue is also affected by the blast and gains invisibility powers. Johnny combusts into flames and fly. Reed can stretch to great proportions, and Ben transforms into a rock-type creature. Distraught, Reed escapes to Central America. One year later, the four are brought together to face Victor, who is still alive in the other dimension.
The cast does adequate with what little they have to work with. Teller plays Reed with a believable intensity. His precocious beginnings harken to the kid heroes of Steven Spielberg’s filmography. Bell is a reliable, supportive Ben Grimm, yet he disappears for a long portion of the movie’s first half. His transformation into the Thing is difficult to watch, though. It would have helped if his friendship with Reed was given more development.
Michael B. Jordan does well showing Johnny’s recklessness and troubled nature. Despite the film’s flaws, he gives a well-rounded take on the Torch. Ironically, Jordan is one of the few good points of the movie. Mara doesn’t have much to do as Susan Storm, who’s the adopted daughter in this version. While she’s intelligent and driven, Mara has a believable chemistry with Jordan. As Franklin, Cathey provides the knowing, paternal figure and voice of reason.
Kebell is problematic as Victor Von Doom. From the get-go, he’s a creepy computer genius with feelings for Sue. However, he does not feel menacing or commanding in Doom mode. Nor does he bring anything new to the character. His one major moment takes place in a long hallway, but it feels reminiscent of a similar scene in Chronicle. Only difference is, he’s not chilling like Dane DeHaan.
Fantastic Four‘s biggest problem is the tone. Instead of an action-packed adventure, the plot feels akin to a David Cronenberg film, because there is fear and loathing instead of joy and excitement. It does not have much humour and instead goes for a horror-science-fiction feel. Nor does the team get much time to bond as a quartet of heroes; indeed, the only time they come together is in the last twenty minutes. Trank chooses to have the movie shot in pallid blues, black and grey hues.
The film’s editing feels choppy and very strung together, which seems like a cut-and-paste job. As you saw in the trailer, an impressive scene where the Thing drops from a plane is not in the final cut. Similarly, the visual effects range from good to shoddy at best. For example, the Thing’s craggy look is impressive. The Human Torch effects are quite cool, but Mr. Fantastic’s rubbery stretching does not follow suit.
Overall, Fantastic Four is a disappointing adaptation. In trying to be different, Trank misses the point of the characters entirely. Looking back, it’s clear Fox needs to go back to the drawing board. Either that, or let the film rights revert to Marvel.