If Fantastic Four is remembered for one thing, it will be that it was desperately trying to do something different. Director Josh Trank, whose previous movie Chronicle was a wonderfully refreshing take on both superheroes and found footage films, set out to make a film that was less interested in being a typical comic book adaptation and more about telling a story about characters. Trank almost succeeded. The first half of Fantastic Four is good; a character film about four brilliant scientists trying to make the world a better place. It’s more science fiction than it is super hero.
Unfortunately, the movie takes a sharp turn about the midway point and jumps headlong into a nonsensical and rushed conclusion. The second half of Fantastic Four is horrible. A mess of bad plot decisions, terrible pacing, and poorly shot action that squanders all the goodwill the first 45 minutes created. This is one of the worst films I’ve seen all summer.
Fantastic Four, despite having a giant ‘four’ in the title is really a movie about Reed Richards (Miles Teller). A child prodigy, Richards invented a teleportation device in his garage at the tender age of 11 with his friend/muscle/not brilliant guy Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Seven years later this experiment catches the eye of Dr Franklin Storm, who’s been trying to crack interdimensional teleportation for years. Reed is invited to complete this project along with Storm’s two conveniently also genius children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and another child genius and founding member of the Interdimensional Babysitters Club, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell).
Convenient baby genius plot device aside, I really enjoyed the set up to this movie. Thematically a bit too on the nose, the early film talks a lot about this young generation working together and using their gifts to correct the mistakes that past generations have made. Our heroes are trying to get to this new dimension to unlock secrets that could save our planet. It’s a noble goal that’s being supplanted by the old generation’s insistence on making the same mistakes all over again. New technology means new power for the evil power hungry baby boomers government. Obvious villain Victor Von Doom, playing a foil to the optimistically naive Richards, isn’t a bad guy. He’s just jaded after his continual interactions with the governments and organizations that want to use his work for themselves. He’s a nihilist, but the film almost makes you understand why.
Guys, doesn’t this all sound cool and layered? Like all good science fiction it serves as an allegory for our current political/economical situation and the lack of hope our young people are currently feeling. Wouldn’t it be great if we get to see this played out to it’s natural conclusion when all of our character’s get amazing superpowers aka the power to effect real change?
Strap yourselves in for disappointment.
Once our heroes crack interdimensional travel and get their super powers in an unfortunate accident, the movie skips ahead one year. Every moment from this point on feels like it belongs in a completely different film. Character motivation is abandoned as we drive forward blindly into a overly large, end of the world CGI slugfest. Dr. Doom’s evil plan and the motivation behind it are confusing and don’t line up with his character. The reshoots that occurred during this part of the movie are sadly obvious: Kate Mara wears two different terrible wigs and the dialogue is choppily edited. It’s enough to make you wonder what the hell happened, especially after Trank’s mysterious (and quickly deleted) tweets Thursday. We’ll never know the answer and frankly, it doesn’t matter much. Regardless we’re left with a divided mess of a film.
It’s unfortunate because the performances here are really wonderful. Miles Teller is great as Reed Richards, playing the character with a dorky innocence that’s fun to watch. Reed is a nice guy. He believes in his work and the people he works with and always wants to do the right thing. He’s nerdy and a bit awkward, but there’s a layer of charm underneath that Teller succeeds in showing off.
The rest of the four have been sadly marginalized, playing backseat to Teller. I enjoyed their work but I wanted to see more of it. Michael B. Jordan is one of my favorite actors right now and I wanted the film to give him room to show it off, but that’s not really what we get. The Human Torch is just a hothead and nothing more. The worst of all is Kate Mara’s Sue Storm. In a summer filled with some real amazing women characters in blockbusters, I really wanted to see Fantastic Four do something interesting with Sue. Unfortunately, she’s sidelined so much that she’s not even part of the group that makes the original journey to the new dimension. Out of all the mistakes this movie has made, not letting any of the four besides Reed be fantastic might be the worse one.
The CGI in the movie looks, for lack of a better word, fantastic. But the climactic battle overuses it to the point of boredom. It’s always surprising when I realize that I’m bored watching a bunch of super powered people throw stuff at each other, but that’s how I felt during the entire final battle. The action is filmed at such a distance that there aren’t any real big character beats, which is odd for a film that during the first half focused so much on character. Fantastic Four tries to recreate the triumphant moment in the original Avengers when the team all stood together for the first time, but it was so unearned and hollow that I felt absolutely no emotion towards it.
Josh Trank tried. You can see it. There are moments of greatness inside Fantastic Four. When he says that there’s a cut of this movie that exists that is good, I really want to believe him. As good as the first half of this movie is, it can’t overcome the terrible turn that it takes at the halfway point. Trank tried, but he failed. This isn’t a good movie. Don’t waste your time or money.
*It’s important to note here that while Fantastic Four is a Marvel property, Marvel Studios does not own the film rights. This film was produced and distributed by Fox and is not a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Given the critical reception of the film so far, I’m sure this is something Marvel will be trying to frequently remind people of over the next few weeks.