Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank
People really don’t want to like this film. In the few days since it came out I was struck by how badly everyone was panning it. Most of the comments that I’ve seen have denounced this film as a travesty that ranks amongst the worst comic book films of recent memory. It’s one thing for a film to receive widespread negative criticism, but what really struck me was the aggressiveness of that criticism. People really hate this film. I’ll confess that I’ve never really been a fan of the Fantastic Four and that I’d be lying if I said I was optimistic about this film, but I was determined to give it a fair chance. A part of me did keep thinking that if a film receives this amount of backlash there probably is a reason, but at the very least I felt that it deserved the benefit of the doubt. Having now seen this film I must admit that I thought it was pretty weak. However, looking back at it now, I’m not convinced that Fantastic Four deserves all the hate it has thus far received.
The story follows Reed Richards (Miles Teller) whose greatest ambition is to uncover the secrets to teleportation. His brilliant mind and groundbreaking discoveries catch the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), the director of the Baxter Foundation, a research institute for young and brilliant minds. With the aid of Franklin’s smart and capable children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and the furtive but equally intelligent Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Reed uses the considerable resources now at his disposal to complete the Quantum Gate. Upon its completion the group, along with Reed’s childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) venture into a mysterious, parallel dimension where they get caught in a freak accident. In the aftermath Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben all discover that they have acquired special powers and must use them to deal with the consequences of their mishap.
Although I’m still kind of struggling to understand why people might be angered by this film, I can certainly understand why they’d be disappointed by it. Anyone who goes to see a superhero film does so for one very simple reason: to see awesome superheroes doing awesome superhero things. Yet by the time the titular superheroes actually acquire their powers, over half of the film’s runtime has already gone by. Thus the phase in which they learn to control their powers is almost completely glossed over and the climax is unceremoniously rushed. I think this film is more of a shame than anything because the first hour is actually quite promising and even kind of decent (with a few problems here and there). It’s only after the heroes gain their powers that the film falls apart completely. Based on what I’ve heard about the film’s turbulent production this can be probably be explained by the studio interference and the reshoots that led the film’s own director Josh Trank to denounce the film upon its release.
It really is a shame that Fantastic Four turned out the way it did because it did have the makings of a pretty decent flick. The first hour does an adequate job of establishing the main characters complete with personalities and motivations and was even able to include some clever ideas in the story. I liked how they worked in The Thing’s obligatory yet painfully childish catchphrase, I liked the idea that Reed and Victor essentially came up with the same ideas and theories independent of each other and I liked the little touches during the accident that determined each character’s individual superpower. I thought that the actors did well with what they were given and that the film did a reasonably good job of modernising the overall concept of the Fantastic Four. It was only the last 40 minutes after the characters gained their powers that the film lost me.
There were some problems prior to the film’s breaking point. The idea of Reed being discovered at a science fair was pretty weak, the motivation that drove the characters to venture into the parallel dimension was one of profound stupidity and Sue Storm, despite being quite a well-established character, is given little to nothing to do throughout the film. However as soon as the film reaches its bewildering time jump, it completely loses the plot. What follows is a messy sequence of flimsy and apathetic scenes that lead into an incredibly poor third act. The conflict between the heroes and the main villain doesn’t make any sense, the action is underwhelming and tedious and the film practically gallops through the climax without taking the time to build any tension or excitement. If the reshoots were the cause of this haphazard change in quality, it might explain why the actors are suddenly so lacking in life and energy. It’s as if the entire cast and crew gave up on this film halfway through.
All in all Fantastic Four is a poor film with conflicting visions and wasted potential, but I’m still not sure I understand why people are so unforgivingly contemptuous towards it. Maybe it’s because this film took itself more seriously than the previous ones and people were therefore expecting more from it, maybe it’s because the Marvel fatigue is starting to set in with the audience, or maybe there really is something truly terrible about this film that I’m just not seeing. Since I wasn’t a fan of the Fantastic Four in the first place it is possible that I’m simply more forgiving of this film’s missteps than the fans of the comic books are. For what it’s worth I think that Fantastic Four is better than the Tim Story films but I realise that’s not saying much. I don’t think it deserves the backlash it has received but at the end of the day it doesn’t have a lot going for it. It isn’t a film I would urge anyone to see; I’d only urge them not to dismiss it outright.