It’s been a decade since 20th Century Fox took to the screens with what was generally considered to be a poor attempt at a Fantastic Four film. The Silver Surfer sequel that followed two years later wasn’t much better. One would assume eight years to hit that drawing board might have been more than enough time to put something remotely decent together, but here we are, with a film that, at its ultimate best, is on par with that 2005 outing.
Fantastic Four’s initial approach, on paper, doesn’t actually telegraph a guaranteed fail. A big-screen adaptation of a Marvel comic that stretches (sorry) back to the early 60s certainly has a right to rework the source material to ensure an exciting new vision comes to life. Here, director Josh Trank (Chronicle) and co. have decided to tweak the origin story of our team, also exploring the negative elements associated with being bestowed with powers.
Fantastic Four’s first section actually borders on being somewhat fun, offering a look at a young Reed Richards and his unfolding friendship with Ben Grimm. As these young wide-eyed boys experiment with home-made contraptions, you would be forgiven for that little smile threatening to make its way onto your face, fully unaware of what’s about to unfold.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where everything starts going wrong. In retrospect, the precipice seems to be approached around the period we learn that our characters will be heading on inter-dimensional travels. Through no fault of our lead cast members, we’re given almost nothing about who these characters are, only that one is kind of grumpy, one’s tough, one makes jokes, one’s a nerd, and one’s a smart gal. Oh, and yes, that grumpy one, Toby Kebbell’s might-be-villainous character named Victor Von Doom, likes said girl (Kate Mara). Complicated stuff, but, not to worry, the focus is too busy skimming over the science-ish things being spat around the place regarding teleporting and the like.
A key problem, one of many, comes down to the film’s pacing and structure. Seriously, it’s a long time before our heroes receive the abilities we all know about already. This would not be terrible had the time been used to give us an energetic exploration of our team and the internal dynamics set to play a strong hand later, but, somehow, not much happens. Finally, our young scientists head over to this unhospitable dimension. Disaster strikes. They’re never the same.
In an interesting move, the film jumps forward a substantial period. It’s jarring, but it opens up the possibility of introducing characters already immersed in these new lives, adding intrigue with the knowledge that they are now being pressured into using their powers for government purposes. It’s yet another interesting idea that is squandered, and in favour of an eye-rollingly dull roll towards an obvious conclusion.
A plus: the talented cast does their best in the midst of mediocrity. Miles Teller does what he can as Richards, pushing the film up a notch with his natural charm and bouncing excellently off Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm – in the few worthy scenes they have together. Bell’s turn is arguably the most wasted. His arc from the tough and likeable buddy of Richards to the anguished and frustrated The Thing, from what is explored, is actually great. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are both decent as Sue Storm and Johnny Storm respectively, but aren’t given much to do, and Toby Kebbell’s Doom has the basic ‘bad guy’ checklist ticked, but the screenplay doesn’t allow him the necessary depth to warrant his malicious transformation (simply not liking earth and having an attitude problem isn’t enough).
Isolating most of the film to a few locations may have been the idea from the beginning, or it may have something to do with the rumours of a troubled production, but what’s left is an unfortunately obvious attempt at keeping a film production mostly tied down to soundstages. Soundstages are common and ultimately necessary, but it’s been a while since I remember seeing them used in such transparent fashion. Perhaps a better, less exposition-filled screenplay may have helped to distract from the limited locales.
As can often be the case in Hollywood blockbusters, even the mediocre ones, money is thrown at the VFX department in the hope that, hey, at least the effects look pretty, right? No. Alas, not even the CGI manages to convince.
Pointing the finger at one department or one filmmaker is futile. Regardless of whether or not those reports of a troubled shoot are true, the resulting product is a disappointing, tedious and ultimately flat attempt at yet another Fantastic Four film. Let’s see how it goes in another eight years.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10