Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Using the technology he started developing in his parent’s garage as a teenager, Reed Richards (Teller) is given the grant he needs by the Baxter Foundation, owned by Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) to build a device that can teleport organic matter to a different dimension. With the help of his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Johnny Storm (B.Jordan) and his adopted sister Sue (Mara) and also the begrudging help from Franklin Storm’s former protégé Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) Richards builds the device. However, when they recklessly use the device disaster strikes and all five of them gain superhuman powers, which Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue must learn to harness to prevent a potentially earth destroying threat.
I am not sure why I went into so much detail with that synopsis as I think we all know the origin story of this one by now, as even for those not familiar with the comics or cartoons, it was after all only in 2005 and 2007 that we had the last two Fantastic Four films. While Tim Story’s two films were slightly childish, rushed and without any real substance, they were at least entertaining and did have some very funny lines (mainly the banter between Johnny Strom and Ben Grimm). However it seems that Chronicle director Josh Trank has tried to go for a much more serious and darker tone for his reboot, which admittedly really had no demand to exist.
Well, that is seemingly the approach Trank has gone for, but with the studio apparently demanding re-shoots after not liking Trank’s final version of the film and him taking to social media to (very briefly) speak about the cut in cinema’s in less than complimentary words, it is no surprise what we have is a 100 minute long mess that often threatens to be good, but just really isn’t. Fantastic Four is basically the visual depiction of an argument between director and studio, and it does not make for very good viewing, and indeed it would appear box office figures. Trank has apparently claimed that his original cut was a great vision for this franchise, and maybe the hideous box office returns will mean we get to see his version at some point, but for the time being we can only hazard a guess as to whether his version is indeed a film these great iconic Marvel characters deserve.
So, the film that seems to be the spawn of studio-director squabbling is as bad as can be expected; it truly is an uneven mess of a film that lacks any engagement, thrills or spectacle, despite the fact its expense is often visually obvious. Of course many superhero films struggle with the origin story when having one protagonist, so having four is theoretically even harder to get to get right, and it is the part when the characters first gain their unique abilities that the film starts to fall flat on its face after an admittedly solid enough start.
Having four characters can mean engaging relationships can be developed, making everything that more emotionally involving, and themes of friendship, family and loyalty can be examined, especially as they are social outsiders. However this cut of Fantastic Four simply has none of that in what should be a crucial middle third. In fact, what should be the most important scenes are simply substituted with a ‘one year later’ and we are left with a hollow shell that should be a film of great character development. This is made all the more disappointing as the film’s first third hints at great friendships and complicated relationships between the central protagonists but then seems to completely forget about them as it rushes to its incredibly dull finale.
However no fault can be thrown in the direction of the performances, with the actors and their characters feeling like the unwanted children if a very troubled and tempestuous marriage. All the actors do the best work they can and hint that they could have all done some great work with their respective roles, but with a version of the film that lacks so much emotional development as the one released in cinemas, it is hard to truly measure their performances.
Of course the main reason the film’s final third happens is Victor Von Doom becoming the inevitable antagonist of the narrative, and if you thought Julian McMahon’s pantomime turn was bad as Dr. Doom, this latest incarnation gives one of the great Marvel villains absolutely no backstory whatsoever. He of course starts off as a scientist that is brilliant and slightly embittered and troubled, but his transition into someone wanting to destroy the entire planet is basically non-existent. This all makes for a finale that is painfully dull and without any tension or intrigue, basically like the entire film.
Despite the appalling box office performance, there has already been a Fantastic Four sequel planned, it surely cannot be anymore underwhelming than this narrative mess of a film. Hopefully lessons will be learned; I often moan about films being essentially made by cynical studio bosses, well Fantastic Four is very much a hideous example of this, and the box office return would suggest that the decent cinema going public have not fallen for it.
If a film were ever a visual depiction of an argument between director and studio it would surely be Fantastic Four; a hollow mess of a film that lacks any direction, conviction or decent storytelling, made all the worse by the fact these are great characters that offer great cinematic potential.