Four young scientists and a random friend crack the secrets of inter-dimensional travel and on their first foray into the unknown suffer a terrible accident that bestows upon them fantastic and unusual powers. Everyone in the group whose surname isn’t Doom stay good, the other turns bad.
So, yeah, this one had a troubled production and negative fan reaction from the get go, not a first for a Fantastic Four film… In fact it actually seems to be par for the course as far as FF films go, that horrid thing from the 90s, produced by Roger Corman, never saw an international release, and then Tim Story’s effort in 2005 (along with its sequel) suffered from lacklustre critical and fan reaction.
In defence of Story’s version, it took a valiant and, certainly to this reviewers mind, reasonably successful swing at encapsulating Stan Lee’s intension for the characters back in those early days (if not Kirby’s visual splendour), after all, it was whimsical, wore its heart on its sleeve, had simple yet over-egged dramatic beats (and characters), was fun and colourful enough to appeal to the young and incorporated elementary/preposterous pseudo-science.
That didn’t work, so it’s kind of understandable, from a business-suit’s perspective, why you’d try and go in the polar opposite direction for the reboot, and make it all dark and semi-broody; after all, it worked for Superman (financially at the very least, even if you weren’t a fan of the finished product).
To that end writer/Jonny-come-lately-director, Josh Trank, has opted to stay well away from the original source material and instead has taken the majority of his inspiration from the lesser influential Ultimate Fantastic Four. Not a bad idea, especially if you’re after appealing to a more teen based audience, and you could do a lot worse than stealing the ideas of Mark Millar, Warren Ellis and Brian Bendis.
It’s a gamble that initially looks like it might pay off, because the set-up, or at least the majority of it, is pretty intriguing, as well as the characters being fairly rounded, the visuals impressively grounded and a with decent show of acting talent.
Indeed, that first act makes for a quietly agreeable science fiction movie, all hour and ten minutes of it; the problem is the film’s only an hour and forty minutes long, so the second and third act squeeze themselves into a sketchy and overly edited and/or ill considered thirty minutes.
The really unfortunate thing is that the beginning of the second act looks set to be even more interesting than the first, with the transformation of the characters and their reactions to such playing out as more of a body-horror film than a traditional superhero origin, but just when your settling in for something a little original, BAM! it cuts to one year later, and barring the excellent CG of The Thing, it’s all downhill from there, with inexplicable shifts in character, under explained plot points, ropey visuals and a massively rushed climax.
The evidence so far suggests that the problem lies with Trank’s love of character and origin combined with his inability to conceive original superheroic scenarios and action set-pieces. Chronicle, the film that put him on the map, displayed these traits, with an interesting, character-based set-up and a climax that stole wholesale from Akira. Possibly viewable as an homage at the time it now seems that he simply can’t pull together superhero stories that aren’t derivative and under-cooked.
So let’s talk about the cast, a huge point of contention with fans since it’s announcement, more specifically Johnny and Franklin Storm being cast as black, which, though arbitrary, works to no detriment to the movie. In fact, somewhat ironically, if purists need placating, Johnny is nearest in age, attitude and outlook to the original source material, where the rest of the characters, skin colour aside, are barely recognisable as their namesakes. Sue isn’t maternal, Reed isn’t responsible, Ben isn’t a jock and Doom’s not that bad a dude.
All that being said, it still nearly works, all but the total mis-casting of Jamie Bell, whose Ben Grimm is about half a foot shorter than Reed Richards with the distinct look of someone who would get absolutely crushed on a football field; which would be forgivable if the character wasn’t meant to be a big, strong guy, but the dialogue suggests that he is, contrary to what’s happening on screen. It’s not like he isn’t putting the effort in, but even his augmented voice doesn’t fit with that massive Thing design, it almost ruins the illusion created by the impressive CG.
Perhaps not the car wreck some will have you believe, Fantastic Four is nonetheless a wasted opportunity, a mix bag of good and terrible that comes off as a decent sci-fi film with a slightly crappy superhero film tacked on to the end.