Film Review: Fantastic Four (★★)

fantastic_four_ver3Considering the pretty low bar set by the first two (or technically three) films featuring these comic book characters, this new version of Fantastic Four only needed to be average in order to easily surpass them. Sadly, this is barely able to reach that goal, offering up as mediocre a superhero flick as I’ve seen in some time. In some ways, this is basically a ridiculously long trailer for whatever might come next with this franchise.  Nothing seen makes me want to see more. The cast is wasted, the look is generic, and essentially we’re watching the world’s most expensive television pilot for a show no one is particularly keen to see. Closer in quality to the likes of Green Lantern or X-Men Origins: Wolverine than even the least from Marvel, Fantastic Four is just hollow and without compelling material. Co-writer/director Josh Trank has so little to offer that it’s just a total shame, especially when you consider how talented a main quartet he’d recruited in Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and particularly Miles Teller. It’s just a bore.

This is an origin story, first and foremost, so it’s just about all set up for another, presumably more interesting movie. We begin by meeting Reed Richards (to be played by Teller) as a preteen genius, one who sees his teleportation invention scoffed at by all but tough kid Ben Grimm (eventually Bell). They become friends eventually get a crude device made in high school, one that gets the attention of researcher Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue Storm (Mara). Reed is recruited to work alongside Sue, her brother Johnny Storm (Jordan), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) to finalize a true version of his invention, which Franklin informs him is a gateway to another dimension. They do, but when government associate Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) and company inform the team that NASA will be handling the first manned mission, the young geniuses revolt. A drunken Reed, Johnny, and Victor decide to go first, calling up Ben to come along as well. They make it, but are subjected to something that transforms then all, along with Sue when they return. Suddenly they have powers (Reed/Mr. Fantastic can stretch, Ben/The Thing is now essentially a rock monster, Johnny/The Human Torch is able to ignite his entire body, and Sue/Invisible Girl can, you guessed it, make herself invisible, in addition to flying) , which the military wants to utilize, though Victor is driven mad and becomes the villain Dr. Doom by the end, his astronaut like suit fused to his body. Honestly, that’s about it here with Fantastic Four. We see them all get their powers, experiment with them a little, work for the government or evade them, and then come together in the third act.

fantastic-four-2015-images-dimensionMore often than not, the right casting can help elevate even lesser superhero movies. Sadly though, this one wastes its rather great cast. Miles Teller has his first overt paycheck role and it shows, as he’s fairly uninspired. There’s very little of his trademark personality on display, especially in the second half when he’s mostly being aided by CGI and spouting exposition. The same goes for Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan, and Kate Mara, who all get less screen time than you’d expect. Bell is one note tough, Jordan is thoroughly wasted by only being slightly goofy, and Mara is little more than a plot device. Even Toby Kebbell, who seems poised to chew some scenery eventually when he becomes the bad guy, winds up with a fairly anonymous performance. It’s nice to see someone like Reg E. Cathey get a bigger part, but he’s tossed aside when the action begins. In addition to Cathey and the aforementioned Tim Blake Nelson (also wasted), the supporting cast includes Dan Castellaneta, Evan Hannemann, Tim Heidecker, Owen Judge, and more.

I had originally expected filmmaker Josh Trank to be the biggest boon here to the production, but that’s not the case at all. His direction is bland, pointlessly dark, and without any personality. Trank doesn’t give his cast much to do, which is partly due to the script he co-wrote with Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater. The trio do nothing to make this an interesting origin story. Even co-composers Marco Beltrami and Philip Glass aren’t immune to an overall blandness. The dark and gritty approach sometimes works, but not here. The fun Trank had with Chronicle is completely absent. The pacing is almost all wrong as well. The first act stretches on, the second is boring, and the third is totally rushed. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen more of a throwaway action climax.

The whole point of Fantastic Four appears to be setting up a sequel that actually sees them being heroic (and eventually a meeting with the X-Men, if rumors are to be believed), but so little of this flick makes you want to see more from these people. As a general rule, I’d watch the main quartet do anything, but their lack of chemistry and Trank’s seemingly lack of interest makes this so workmanlike it’s almost offensive. This clearly was only made because it was expected to relaunch a franchise. To paraphrase a well worn movie line…”they spent all their time thinking about if/how to do this, but not about if they should.”

No one was asking for a new Fantastic Four movie, so it’s no shock that even the creators of this don’t seem to know what to do with them.  It’s a total misfire.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!