The writing was on the wall. For the past two years there has been nothing but bad rumors and press about Twentieth Century Fox’s impending reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, creating a negative aura (or zone, as it were) around the film that was bound to destroy it, even if, through some cosmic miracle, it ended up being the world’s greatest comic-book movie.
Despite all of its baggage, the endless flood of articles predicting its doom and my own personal misgivings about the planned movie, I still maintained high hopes that writer/director Josh Trank (Chronicle) was heroically going to be able to deliver an entertaining and exciting Fantastic Four film that would prove all the naysayers wrong. Well, fourgeddaboudit…that didn’t happen.
After walking out of the theater I think the positive defenses I had built up in my mind to try and block out the dark cloud that hovered over this film were still holding up, and I spent a couple of hours still trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. But after sleeping on it and thinking on it for some time now, I’m getting angrier and angrier about what Fox and Trank have done to Marvel’s first family and the prospects for another FF movie to ever be greenlit.
By now, surely everyone knows the origin story of the FF. Genius scientist Reed Richards enlists his friends (buddy Ben Grimm, girlfriend Sue Storm and her kid brother, Johnny) to participate in an experiment (originally a trip into space) that goes awry and gives them all special abilities that they then use in various world-saving adventures. But in Trank’s version a lot of the old school story is thrown out the window in preference to the more “Ultimate” comic book treatment of the FF story – and even a lot of that updated storyline is discarded or re-imagined.
The famous Baxter Building is now a think tank where brilliant scientists are busily trying to open a passage through to another dimension where we can use their resources to replenish our own dwindling supplies.
Reed Richards is enlisted by one of the directors, Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), whose daughter, Susan (Kate Mara), is already part of the team. What is Sue’s primary job? She’s relegated to designing the suits for interdimensional travel – and so much for bringing the Invisible Girl into the 21st century.
Sue’s younger brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) gets in trouble for racing and wrecking his hotrod and is brought in to work with his Dad and sister so he can earn money to pay for the damages; and I guess I need to mention the other twist that has received so much attention, that Johnny and his Dad are African-American, while Sue is adopted and white. That this issue has been so controversial (not to mention hurtful to the young actor who plays Johnny) is rather ridiculous, and it is the very least of this film’s problems.
Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) is an older genius scientist that leans to the mad side and when he teams up with Reed they put the final touches on the interdimensional transporter and prove that it works by sending a poorly rendered CG ape through the dimensional doorway and bringing it back safely. That’s when the government decides to take over the project and plans to send the first humans through the gizmo.
The young scientists, eager to be the first to see the other side, hijack the machine and transport themselves to the other dimension. Things go wrong and the resulting accident gives Reed the power of elasticity, Johnny becomes the Human Torch, Sue can control invisibility, and Reed’s childhood friend, Ben (Jamie Bell), becomes a grotesque rock monster. Victor Von Doom, who causes the catastrophe, is left behind and considered lost.
Ben Grimm, the most interesting and dramatic character in the FF is almost an afterthought in this film. We see him for a bit as a kid with a young Reed Richards, then for a couple more short scenes as Reed goes off to the Baxter group, and then again when he becomes the monstrous Thing; but his character is never really developed and his rocky post-accident relationship with Reed – which should have been the most important part of this movie – is only briefly touched on.
This overlong, convoluted and clunky origin is actually drier and more boring than it sounds on paper and I estimate half the film is spent leading up to this point, after which the narrative really starts to deviate from its source material as the military tries to utilize Ben, Johnny and Sue for their own nefarious purposes, while Reed has escapes and is holed up in a jungle hideout.
The four are eventually brought together again and confined to a secret military installation where Reed is forced to finish work on yet another transporter. When the troops then travel through it, guess what they find on the side? Doom, of course, who kills all of the soldiers and any hope this movie might have had to at least be a mediocre genre film.
Allow me to decimate Doom for a minute: Comic-book Doom, technically, has no super powers, he’s hyper-intelligent (like Tony Stark and Reed Richards), has armor that covers his disfigured body and gives him Iron Man like strength and abilities, but in this movie he is able to explode people’s brains just by thinking about it – that is, except for the Fantastic Four for some reason.
Doom has already been crappily portrayed in the previous two movies (three if you count the unreleased Roger Corman version), so why bring him back again? Especially as a character who doesn’t even resemble himself, and when there are plenty of other interdimensional bad guys in FF’s rogues gallery. If you are going to use Doom, do him correctly and in the right context. The Doom we ended up with made me cringe every time he was on screen, but not in the way you would want him to.
Who would have ever thought that the Tim Story directed Fantastic Four movies from 2005 and 2007 would look like the comic-book film equivalent of Citizen Kane in comparison to this new rendition? I struggle to think of anything this new FF has going for it: A few decent special effects; a couple of brief moments where the light shines through and you can see what could have (should have) been – but missed opportunities do not a good film make.
Books could be written about how bad this movie is and I don’t believe the filmmakers doing this re-envisioning had a clue as to what the original vision was in the first place. There should be dynamic drama between Reed and Ben, Ben and Johnny and Sue and Reed, and that is almost completely absent in this film.
The Fantastic Four are an integral part of New York City and the city is barely seen. The Thing has no pants or even his infamous shorty-shorts (as if he isn’t humiliated enough already), but the biggest problem is that the FF comics are fun to read and this godfoursaken film is anything but fun to watch. Grade: 2.5/10
Photos © 2015 Marvel & Twentieth Century Fox Film