Fantastic Four (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on August 6, 2015

"Fantastic Four" presents this writer with a strange crossroads: How does a movie with a potential saving graces deserve such vitriol inherent in the lowest rung of the Rating in Stars system? The answer lies in the word itself--"potential." These are inactive saving graces, and the movie sees to that about an hour in. It's after our quattro of protagonists have become mutant beings with fantastical properties. One of them flees the government facility in which they are being tested and another is hired by that government to do their bidding. Then the movie jumps one year into the future, leaving a hole where the film's intended heart (seeing the development of camaraderie and collaboration among three of these people, basically) should have been.

And by now, the audience reading this review will have heard about the issues that plagued the film's production. Of course, those issues are irrelevant to the quality of the final product, but the seams are some of the more obvious in recent years. This random jump into the future, which unceremoniously excises the film's intended reason for existing (to introduce us to the team's sense of togetherness, despite the absence of one of them), is empirical proof of how out-of-control director Josh Trank's vision was at the hands of greed-driven studio executives (and indeed, Trank himself has made this clear over social media within the previous 24 hours of this writing). Whether by accident or not, though, the movie speaks for itself, and what it says about the state of studio interference is not pretty.

As for those heroes, likely everyone knows who they are, but the movie inspires awe toward how rudimentary the development here is--at least until it simplifies the characters even further. Reed Richards (Miles Teller for some reason) was a child prodigy in the scientific field, creating a teleportation device in his parents' garage with best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, chewing gum and looking his character's surname). Johnny and Sue Storm are adoptive siblings played by Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara as if they cannot stand each other, and their father is Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), who hires the four of them to adapt Reed's model to their own teleportation device.

The science here is relayed through endless, incomprehensible exposition that melds together into total incredulity on the part of a screenplay (written by Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater) that is only working on the barest skeleton of an actual narrative structure. There's the loaded first half, which builds up to the moment the film's inciting incident happens: Reed gains the power to morph and stretch any body part (an act that, through these particular visual effects, never fails to be unintentionally hilarious); Ben becomes a giant, rock-based creature (and again we have visual effects that render him nothing more than a garish onscreen creation), Johnny can turn his entire body into a ball of fire (and let's just assume these visual effects are bad, ok?), and Sue becomes invisible and wields the power to create force fields.

Enter the third act, wherein they must confront Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), whose human counterpart has no detectable motivation for villainy until he's not much more than unknown quantity. The alternate dimension or planet or whatever they're supposed to be traveling to in order to examine its landscape turns Victor into a metallic being and Kebbell's performance into a vague parody of the villains to which we are usually accustomed in this sort of affair. The climactic action sequence quickly becomes random commotion; at least the scene has a general sense of geography, although the barrage of plasticky visual effects sort of impedes any entertainment value to be had.

Back to the word "potential," though, because the stuff exists here, trapped outside the glass case of what has arrived onscreen. Just when the movie is primed to define its dull human characters beyond their most obvious characteristics (although Ben doesn't even get one), they become even less definable superheroes. Just when it seems the movie is going to set up a villain with a motive, we get to see it focus solely on his Maniacal Plan (which doesn't even offer any insight into what he wants to accomplish or why). Just when it seems "Fantastic Four" might turn into something at least palatable, that's when the indifference toward even the basic ambition of doing something interesting rears its head. The result is, perhaps completely by accident, a disaster of unforeseen proportions because it just seems so bored with pleasing any audience that might appreciate it. This is the worst superhero movie I've ever seen.

Film Information

Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm), Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom), Reg E. Cathey (Dr. Franklin Storm), Tim Blake Nelson (Dr. Allen).

Directed by Josh Trank and written by Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater.

Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action violence, language).

100 minutes.

Released on August 7, 2015.