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The Fantastic Four, the first family of Marvel Comics, has had a torrid time on the silver screen. In 1994, the series had the embarrassment of an ashcan copy movie, a movie made only to keep the rights to the series and more indignity when Tim Story directed a critically derided series in the noughties. Now it has been rebooted by Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg and the reboot is the best movie in the franchise: but considering what has gone before that is not saying much.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a boy genius who at the age of ten make an inter-dimensional teleporting machine in his garage from junk yard parts and old Nintendo 64s. Noticed by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthey), Reed is recruited by the Baxter Foundation to help him make a breakthrough in inter-dimensional travels with all the scientific possibilities it could hold. But when travelling into the other world Reed, his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Franklin’s adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and his biological son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) all get powers and follow scientist Victor (Toby Kebbell) gets trapped. With nowhere to go the foursome are held hostage by the military who want to restart the research.
Fantastic Four has been receiving an absolute kicking in the press: it currently holds a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 4.1/10 score on IMDB. Even before its release, there were reports that the shoot was in trouble because of director Josh Trank’s behaviour: rumors were he was fired along with fan reaction being hostile to Jordan’s casting. The troubled production is shown on the screen but this Fantastic Four movie is far from being the worst superhero movie or even the worst movie in its franchise.
Fantastic Four has excellent special effects, particularly for The Thing, using motion capture and CGI to bring him to life. Previous versions of The Thing have been men in costumes and they had limitations with the movements the actors could do. At least with CGI the actor is given free rein with his movements and The Thing actually looked like a giant rock monster. One little character moment where The Thing looks sad and guilty over the number of deaths he was responsible for. The studio did not cheap out like they did with X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s CGI.
Kebbell as Doom is also a massive improvement to the Julian McMahon version. He is given an anti-authority ideology, holding the powers that are in contempt and fuelling his view that humanity is not worth saving. When Doom does come back he is essentially Doctor Manhattan if the Watchmen character decided to use his powers against the world. At least we did not get the stupidity of the military trusting Doom after fighting in the middle of New York and letting him have an alien super weapon. But no movie has got the design of Doctor Doom right and this version has the character as a living metal creature with his mouth fused shut. When will filmmakers get the idea that Doom simply wears a mask?
The noughties Fantastic Four movies were criticized for being too light-hearted and too comedic and showed that comic-book movies could still suck. Everyone involved in the reboot decided to go in the complete opposite direction, making the 2015 version “dark and gritty”. It is easy to scoff, Fantastic Four has always been a fanciable series, but then this was the same reaction that people had to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and we all saw how that turned out. Like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Four aims to be more science based and took cues for the use of laboratories and talking about the potential of their discovery. Fantastic Four also takes a hyper-realistic approach like The Amazing Spider-man and Man of Steel and having a revisionist take to the source material, re-interpreting the origins for a modern audience: but it is too downbeat.
For a superhero movie, Fantastic Four is one of the dullest in a long time. Calling it action-lite would be an understatement: the big sequences are when the characters go to the other dimension, a quick fight in a forest and the climax. There are also quick moments of actions on screens in the background. The action is rudimentary, nothing remarkable but not terrible either. It just happens too quickly. The best moment is when Doom shows off his powers; Trank publically stated that David Cronenberg’s Scanners was an influence on Fantastic Four and it shows with some awesome head explosions. But there is not enough bang for the money that was spent.
Fantastic Four is very small scale compared to other movies in the genre, despite the inter-dimensional travel. Most of the movie and the action is set in labs, military facilities or at most a barren wasteland. It was underwhelming and there was no expansion of the world around them. It was an insular experience due to the confined nature of the setting. The level of the action and general plot could have been a Doctor Who episode. At least Ant-Man had richer characters and it felt like that movie was set in a bigger world.
The movie comes in at a running time of 100 minutes and it does feel like it was hacked to bits in the editing room. The first 30 minutes is fine, standard superhero origins stuff, establishing character relationships and traits, foreshadowing the upcoming events and drops a few references for fans. This was the point when Fantastic Four was the most fun because there were the odd jokes to lighten the mood, embraced some of the more ridiculous moments and set up the animosity between the Reed and Doom. But after the team returns to our world, the movie slows down and cannot find any footing. It just meanders, feeling episodic, seeing the Fantastic Four being observed and used by the military, rebuilding the Quantum Gate and finding Reed. It was rushed, episodic storytelling and it was very hurried as it moved through the story. At times the movie scenes fade to black and skips ahead just to get us through the story. It is clear that scenes were cut, like the subplot that Victor envies Reed over his budding relationship with Sue and the scene in the trailer where was The Thing was dropped from a plane does not appear in the movie at all.
There was potential in the movie like the Fantastic Four being taken in by the military, trained to use their powers and having to be used as special forces. It could have been an interesting route to take the Fantastic Four and Trank is capable of this – he made Chronicle.
Fantastic Four is a mess and the production troubles do show on screen. Trank has possibly ruined his career before it has really began and the movie will flop at box-office. This movie is a holding pattern for Fox just so they can keep the rights to the franchise. History is repeating itself, like what happened with Sony and The Amazing Spider-man series. To save face, Fox may end up having to do a deal with Marvel like Sony did with Spider-man.
But Fantastic Four does not deserve the critical mauling it has received either. It is not a Batman and Robin or a Catwoman level disaster. It was well shot, had a better special effects than the previous movies and nuggets of good ideas. The studio at least tried to salvage this movie unlike what they did with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which just dumped out in theaters.