There have been a lot of fantastic films this year. Sadly Fantastic Four was not one of them. For the most part, the film fails for simply not going in directions that could’ve helped. Skipping over key elements and focusing too much on the mundane it drags its feet for a buildup that just doesn’t pay off.
Fantastic Four begins with a kid in a classroom, Reed Richards (Miles Teller). He has a dream and faith in his abilities to make them true. He develops a mutual friendship with fellow classmate Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Together, really just Reed working and Ben supporting, they work tediously on Reed’s work until one day his genius is finally realized and he gets a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation. Reed’s movement to the Baxter Corporation brings the rest of the original gang together. Reed’s work at the Baxter Foundation involves taking over a project Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) was working on. His daughter, Sue Storm (Kate Mara) is also working on the project, his son, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), is coerced to work on it, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a former student of Franklin’s, is brought back on since he started the project in the first place. The project everyone is treating as a big deal… Interdimensional travel.
Everyone seems to hint at a history that makes you curious for more, but you hardly ever get it. Reed once tells Sue he wishes he was adopted, but the only thing we see of his mother and step-father were a short moment of them freaking out during a blackout, caused by Reed of course, but you don’t see any form of abuse or neglect to justify him wishing for adoption. Ben is shown that he may not live much of a great life. He lives in the junk yard his family owns and he may be kicked around by his older brother. Johnny dabbles in some dangerous activities as a means to lash out and bears an unjustified gripe with his father. Sue, on the other hand, works diligently with Franklin, but her relation with Johnny seems tense and she and Victor have a bit of a history, again with no more detail given.
The buildup to the powers could’ve been better if the characters did more than going through the motions. The science logic ends with little more than what can be put on the title of some book and equations are cleverly hidden from view due to camera angle tricks, or crammed all together on a page because geniuses write that way. Even computer work is shown with stuff happening on a screen with a character in front of it, tap tap tapping at the keyboard just off-screen. It’s not the simplest science write off I’ve seen in movies, but it’s not far from it.
How they got the powers was a little fun. It started as a little celebratory drinking and escalated to the full-blown accident that changed everyone. When everyone is affected, we get a treat of a true horror show. Johnny freaking out with his entire body on fire, Reed looking in horror when he sees his body stretched, Sue’s invisibility is more of an uncontrollable sight as she lay unconscious, and Ben is dealing with the fact that he’s now a rock monster. Things were seeming to get interesting with this freak show taking place, until the movie quickly jumped a year ahead, where everyone pretty much has a grasp of their powers and are either utilizing them or just training. Another strong aspect was Reg Cathey’s deep, sweet as molasses voice, with plenty to say as we wait and wait for the powers to come.
The powers were mostly ok, but they did have their faults. Reed needs a suit just to hold his body together, but he has enough control of it to morph his face perfectly to look like someone else. Sue not only has the power of invisibility and force fields, she also has the power of inaudibility. There is a moment where she’s called out in an empty, silent room. The moment she pops on-screen her force field is suddenly emitting a quiet hum. Johnny didn’t have much to show off. Just flying, shooting fire, and being on fire. There is no accidentally fire starting or run in with his greatest foe, a splash of water to depower him. The Thing looked good for the most part, although seeing him sometimes gave me flashbacks of Ang Lee’s Hulk. It was also a little weird that he was nothing but rock the entire movie, without a single article of clothing. Victor Von Doom probably gets the worst treatment. It’s hard not to imagine him as some cheap Halloween store prop with a green glow. He had a lot of power and a decent plan, but executes it horribly and falling for simple tricks. Doom’s power was a bit ridiculous though. His powers allowed him to do just about anything with his mind, like kill people by thought. There were some pleasing moments like Thing fighting Richard and some small combos made with each other’s powers, but those moments are seldom and there and gone like a puff of smoke.
Two shots from early trailers. Check out one of the more recent trailers below to see what’s changed.
I only watched the first trailer, so I was confused when I saw the red, lava like substance in the other dimension suddenly come off as green in the movie. Something changed after the second released trailer. There are other glaring issues with continuity. Sue has almost as many hairstyles in the movie than Bulma does in Dragonball Z. Reed also has various degrees of facial hair between shots. There were also a ton of noticeably shots from trailers missing and scenes from the trailers that were there were clearly presented a little differently.
This movie might have panned well as an original property similar to Push or Jumper, but the Fantastic franchise brings with it expectations. The core team is far from family and Doom and Richard hardly see each other as equals or with understanding. The final battle was underwhelming, especially compared to other superhero movies going back nearly a decade now. The ending set piece was nice, but given a sour note with what’s practically a cliché at this point of the team tossing around names and then cutting to black before the very name would have been said. The first Fantastic Four did a lot of good for the characters and creating an entertaining movie, playing on the abilities and having a decent final battle. Rise of the Silver Surfer started off promising and somehow fumbled its way along until we get a giant cloud at the end, Galactus. This new Fantastic Four fails at providing as much fun or promise of either of the two before it
Sometimes, getting small time directors on a project can pay off. J.J. Abrams’ first big movie debut was Mission Impossible III. Anthony and Joe Russo’s first venture into a big budget movie yielded Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Fox, on the other hand, seems to have a bit more difficulty finding small time talent that can also manage big time projects. Fox seems to be struggling with pulling off similar feats, especially with Fantastic Four. Josh Trank made one fun, small movie with Chronicle, and suddenly brought in to do what he can with Fantastic Four, and this is what we got. The two Fantastic Four movies before that were directed by Tim Story, who has since shared a little on his experience of what it’s like to work on big projects. Now he doesn’t seem too interested in trying something like that anytime soon, sticking with smaller, more controllable projects. Perhaps Fox should go the safe route and stick with more promising directors and writers and not people with just one or two promising credits to their name.
(2.5 out of 5)