A film review by Craig J. Koban August 14, 2015



2015, PG-13, 100 mins.


Miles Teller as Reed Richards / Mr. Fantastic  /  Kate Mara as Sue Storm / The Invisible Woman  /  Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm / The Thing  /  Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm / The Human Torch  /  Toby Kebbell as Victor Domashev  /  Tim Blake Nelson as Harvey Elder  /  Reg E. Cathey as Dr. Franklin Storm

Directed by Josh Trank  /  Written by Josh Trank, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Kinberg

There's no other way to slice it: FANTASTIC FOUR is one of the most utterly joyless, misguided, and wrongheaded comic book adaptations that I’ve ever seen.  

It mournfully strips away all of the awe, wonder, whimsicality, and endearing weirdness of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s iconic super hero creation and instead turns it into something needlessly ponderous, dreary, humorless, and bereft of genuine thrills and excitement.  This is ultimately disheartening, seeing as it’s from director Josh Trank, whom previously made a critical splash with his debut film CHRONICLE, which was, for my money, one of the more clever and inspired super hero (and found footage) themed movies of recent memory.  Here, though, he squanders an amazingly assembled cast and an opportunity to propel the FANTASTIC FOUR to new and revitalizing cinematic heights.  It’s a thoroughly depressing filmgoing experience. 

FANTASTIC FOUR is an attempt to reboot the film franchise, which previously saw two Tim Story directed big screen adventures – of varying degrees of quality – hit the silver screen in 2005 and 2007.  I can certainly understand Trank’s noble-minded attempts here to stray away from super hero origin formulas and conventions and do something reinvigorating with the property.  There’s nothing inherently wrong, per se, with radically departing from the core mythology of the Fantastic Four’s origins, nor is it wrong to have the nerve to shake up the property with some much needed tonal changes.  Alas, Trank seems to confuse an unrelenting and unattractively gloomy aesthetic and a perpetually solemn tone with being cutting edge for these cherished Marvel characters.  FANTASTIC FOUR is so dark, so angry, so grim, and so surprisingly violent at times that it forgets to have fun with these super powered humans and their predicament.  Nothing, if anything, that happens in the film is particularly thrilling either, which led me to ponder why I should care about anyone or anything here in the first place. 



To be fair, FANTASTIC FOUR starts with modest promise.  The film opens in 2007 as we see a brilliant young teenage Reed Richards working on an early prototype of what he thinks will be a revolutionary teleportation device.  He gains help and guidance from his BFF Ben Grimm, who provides ample building material for Reed’s device from his family’s junkyard.  The film flashforwards several years when Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) have a chance meeting with Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey).  He sees untapped and great potential in Reed’s work, especially when so many others in the scientific community have failed to for years.  Giving Reed and Ben an opportunity to work and perfect their teleportation device at the Baxter Institute, Dr. Storm feels confident that breakthroughs will be made.  Reed and Ben are joined on their scientific team by Dr. Storm’s adapted daughter Sue (Kate Mara), son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and project leader Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who seems unnervingly unstable at his core. 

Early experiments with the teleportation device leads to the discovery of an alternate dimension that the researchers dub “Planet Zero,” which has the appearance of an Earth-like primordial body from millions of years ago.  Tests sending chimps to and from the dimension are successful, leaving Reed and his colleagues excited at the possibility of taking the trek themselves in the first human trials.  Unfortunately, the government steps in and wants to send their own men in first, which angers Reed and his team to no end.  Deciding that they don’t want to go down in history in obscurity with own invention, Reed, Ben, Johnny, Victor, and Ben decide to make a secret trip to Planet Zero on their own, but while there a geological accident occurs that bestows special powers upon all of them.  Some of them become heroes, whereas one (that needs no naming at all) decides to use his new gifts for nefarious purposes. 

One of the damning issues that taints FANTASTIC FOUR is that none of the actors here seem particularly invested in playing larger than life heroes.  They have little to no emotional intensity.  Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan are two of the most uniformly decent young actors of their generations (see WHIPLASH and FRUITVALE STATION), but here they’re pathetically saddled with criminally underwritten characters that are mostly void of wit and personality (Jordan has some cocky charm in the film, but his Johnny Storm is all macho posturing and very little else).  Kate Mara is such a sullen and blank slate as Sue Storm that she never seems fully committed (nor apparently motivated) to playing her her as a heroine of worthy interest.  Jamie Bell is on screen so relatively little in the story – considering that he’s eventually transformed into a gigantic rock-skinned Thing, a CGI monstrosity that makes me lovingly harken back to the prosthetic suit that Michael Chikles wore for the first FANTASTIC FOUR film – that it’s hard to even feel for his dreadful transformation.  When they do inevitably have to team up for the obligatory “save the world” climax I never gained any insight as to why they would even want to team up in the first place. 

Something needs to be said about Dr. Doom here.  Toby Kebell is a fine actor (his performance capture work in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is proof positive), but the handling of his antagonist is arguably one of the most laughably misguided attempts at bringing a classic and iconic comic book villain ever to grace the the big screen.  Instead of being a despotic Latverian dictatorial tyrant with grand ambitions of world domination, Doom here is reduced to a grungy computer hacker that pines after Sue (his former flame) and gets really jealous when Reed gets cozy with her.  Beyond the unpardonably lame story contrivances here, Doom’s overall visual look is a hideous disaster, looking more like something from discarded preproduction concept art than a worthy final product.  That, and the ridiculous enormity of his powers are never explained or commented on.  He’s able to telekinetically blow people’s heads up, move any kind of matter with the wave of a hand, and, at one point, is able to generate enormous wormholes connecting Earth with Planet Zero.  Ummm….what? 

And speaking of Doom’s master plan on Planet Zero…FANTASTIC FOUR insipidly and haphazardly rushes so fast towards its heroes versus villain conclusion that it forgets to invest in the personal and dramatic stakes between all of these souls (the way the film uses a one year flashforward is kind of unforgivable in this respect).  The union of the Fantastic Four as a “super hero team” to take on Doom seems like an afterthought.  This would-be rousing conclusion is not assisted by the inexcusably (and unintentionally) humorous throwaway dialogue that the actors are forced to utter as they face off against their nefarious former friend turned enemy. The final 15 minutes degenerates into mindless and poorly executed CGI fisticuffs and mayhem that never, for the love of God, fully explores and utilizes all of the Fantastic Four’s combined powers.  The script rarely seems to understand what Doom’s true end game and motives are with both Earth and the alternate dimension.  Quite frankly, the ending of FANTASTIC FOUR just...confused me. 

The dicey story behind the making of this disastrous film is arguably more compelling than the film itself.  Rumors of a troubled production dogged the industry for months leading to the FANTASTIC FOUR’s release, which apparently led to hasty last minute reshoots (abundantly clear, based on the film’s horrid continuity at times) and recently Trank himself took to Twitter to condemn the production and Fox for meddling with "his vision" of the film (he quickly and wisely deleted the tweet, fearing the likelihood of committing career suicide as a result).  It's of no matter, because regardless of the number of cooks, so to speak, in FANTASTIC FOUR’s creative kitchen the resulting film is an embarrassing mess for all involved.  I’ve rarely seen such a wasted cinematic opportunity to do justice to such a landmark Marvel Comics franchise.  This FANTASTIC FOUR most assuredly dares to be different, but on a level of basic execution, it’s a Thing-sized trainwreck. 

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