What a misfire. It’s inexplicable how a story with Marvel Comics origins, not to mention two previous failed cinematic adventures in 2005 and ’07, could be so poorly told. Blame director Josh Trank (Chronicle) who, rumor has it, was fired from an upcoming Star Wars spinoff because of his erratic behavior while making this film.
It’s an origin story, starting with Reed Richards and his friend Ben Grimm in fifth grade. We certainly didn’t need to see them in elementary school but this in microcosm is the film’s problem: Far too much exposition, not enough actual story. It takes about an hour for the titular “Four” to get their superpowers, another 20 minutes before there’s finally a villain, and 20 minutes later, the movie is over. These are 100 of the most misshapen and ill-conceived movie minutes you’ll ever see.
During the first hour, science supernerd teen Reed (Miles Teller) invents the ability to teleport matter to an alternate dimension. He’s given a full scholarship to a science institute, where he works around the clock to continue developing the idea and completely ignores everything else that’s supposed to come with a college education. Under the supervision of Franklin Storm (Reg. E. Cathey), helping Reed figure out where the teleportation goes (and how to return from it) are Sue Storm (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who’s a bit of a wild card. One too many montages later, the experiment succeeds, with a chimp as test subject. After a good round of drinking, Reed, old friend Ben (Jamie Bell), Johnny and Victor teleport themselves. Disaster strikes, and even Sue is affected as she helps them return. Now Reed is super-stretchy, Johnny is ablaze, Ben is a rock “thing,” Sue turns invisible, and Victor is presumed dead.
The sad thing is, the potential is present and undeniable. The visual effects are fine, though there’s not enough action and it’s hard to see where the entire $122 million budget went. The actors make the most of the cheesy dialog they’re given by writers Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater, and seem to be having fun with their roles. And the fact that the story takes a gritty scientific “body horror” transformation approach is actually rather cool, but it’s all for naught when the overall construction of the movie is this off-key.
This is the third disappointing Fantastic Four movie from 20th Century Fox in the last 10 years, and what’s especially galling is that this version feels like a big setup for more. An entire movie should never feel like the beginning of something greater, largely because that something greater may never come (remember The Golden Compass?).
Unsurprisingly, a Fantastic Four sequel is scheduled for June 2017. At this point, you have to doubt that’s going to happen, given the likely critical drubbing and poor box office performance this film will get. It’s probably a good thing if no more Fantastic Four sequels ever happen.