US Release Date: 08-07-2015
Directed by: Josh Trank
- Miles Teller, as
- Reed Richards
- Michael B. Jordan, as
- Johnny Storm
- Kate Mara, as
- Sue Storm
- Jamie Bell, as
- Ben Grimm
- Toby Kebbell, as
- Victor Von Doom
- Reg E. Cathey, as
- Dr. Franklin Storm
- Tim Blake Nelson, as
- Dr. Allen
- Dan Castellaneta, as
- Mr. Kenny
- Owen Judge, as
- Young Reed
- Evan Hannemann, as
- Young Ben
- Don Yesso as
Kate Mara and Miles Teller in The Fantastic Four.
As I've pointed out in other reviews, Marvel and its parent company, Walt Disney, have perfected the art of churning out superhero movies. They've created a universe and, more importantly, a lighthearted sense of adventure, that has become consistent across all their many properties. The Fantastic Four is one of the few Marvel properties that Disney doesn't own the film rights to and so lives outside of that universe. Those rights were purchased by Fox over a decade ago and they would have expired at the end of this year if Fox hadn't released another movie version. The difference in tone between the two studios is noticeable from the start.
There is greater level of seriousness to this story than in the Disney Marvel films and a much grittier feel to it than the borderline campy Fantastic Four movies of 2005 and 2007. While at first this a good thing, grounding its outlandish aspects in a more realistic seeming world, eventually it threatens to overcome the movie and become almost tedious. There are almost zero moments of comic relief and when they do come they aren't directed or edited with a light enough touch to make them count. The scene where the four men get drunk and decide to test out their dimension hopping machinery would have been a great opportunity for some light comedy, but the moment is wasted.
With so many superhero movies coming out, to tell you the plot of this film in detail would be redundant. Suffice to say, a group of young men, and one woman, develop superpowers following an accident and they end up doing battle with one of their number when the power he is given drives him insane. Those looking for lots of superhero action are probably the ones being the most disappointed as it takes awhile for this origin story to tell its tale. There's lots of backstory told in the film's first hour before the accident that gives them their powers even happens. The only out and out moments of super powered battle is during the climactic final 15 minutes. On the plus side though, the entire film only runs an hour and forty minutes, which is a blessed relief after the epic sized running times of most superhero films.
The central cast of four is one of the film's greatest strengths. Miles Teller, who starred in last year's buzzworthy Whiplash along side JK Simmons, is the anchor as the brainiac Reed Richards. His ability to stretch his body into any shape is finally able to be given free rein with the help of today's computers. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are both good as the siblings Sue and Johnny Storm and Toby Kebbell is appropriately glowering and menacing as Victor Von Doom. Jamie Bell is fine as Ben Grimm, who is ultimately transformed into the rock-like Thing, but feels underused as an actor.
With such bad buzz surrounding this film, my expectations going in were very low. Perhaps this helped me appreciate it more, because I'm going to go against the grain here and say that I actually enjoyed it. Was it simply that audiences were expecting something closer in tone to the lighthearted Ant-Man or quip-filled The Avengers films? Or could it be that audiences are finally starting to grow even the slightest bit tired of the superhero genre? Granted the film does have its flaws and it could have used a little sparking up, but trust me, it's not the abysmal failure it's being made out to be.
Director Josh Trank and the studio clashed during filming and the final edit was taken away from him and additional footage was shot without him. He recently took to Twitter to say, "A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would've received great reviews. You'll probably never see it. That's reality though." He's right about one thing at least. We'll probably never see it, although who knows, it took 30 years, but Richard Donner was finally able to put out a Director's Cut of Superman II when something similar happened to him. Until that happens with this film, I guess we won't know who's responsible for what or who's to blame for the bad and the good elements that make up this film.
Michael B. Jordan and Toby Kebbell in Fantastic Four.
My brother is correct that this isn't the colossal travesty people are saying it is. The cast is good and there are moments of fun and excitement. But that said, I still enjoyed it less than Scott did. I thought the darker tone was uneven and doesn't really suit the Fantastic Four. There's always been a bit of a humorous side to their comics which, other than a few halfhearted quips from the Human Torch, is completely missing here.
Even running less than two hours there is room for cutting. The entire scene with them sending the chimpanzee to the other dimension was unnecessary and could have been replaced with one line of exposition. What's the use of making a shorter superhero movie if you are still going to take a full hour just getting to the superhero part?
One problem Scott didn't mention is the special effects, which are pretty bad. The chimp I mentioned earlier looks incredibly fake. And if it looks fake on the big screen it will look even worse on a television screen. The worst looking effect is whenever Reed Richards stretches his limbs. Fantastic Four had a reported production budget of $122 million but you wouldn't know it by all the cheap looking CGI.
Miles Teller was great in last year's Whiplash and he makes the transition to big budget superhero movie with ease. He's got an average guy appeal but with some genuine intensity that reminds me of a young Ed Norton. Toby Kebbell is perfectly cast as Victor von Doom. He makes the most of the part even though he gets stuck with some horrible dialogue like when he tells Reed, “There is no Victor. Only Doom.” Michael B. Jordan steals the show as Johnny Storm/Human Torch. He embodies the thrill-seeking, smart-ass personality of the character but he's more likable than the Chris Evans' Johnny Storm ever was. Kate Mara has always struck me as dull onscreen and she did nothing to change my opinion here. I agree with Scott that Jamie Bell has very little to do as an actor. Most of his performance is voice-work.
Fantastic Four has plenty of problems but they don't add up to the worst movie ever made.
Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm in Fantastic 4
Not only does this have a serious tone, as Scott mentioned, but it is downright depressing. Early on Frank Baxter tells the young’uns how his generation destroyed the planet and now it is their time to save it. Later we hear Doom state that the Earth is dieing. No one at any point states what the hell they mean by that. Did the film makers assume only environmentalist whackos would watch this film and blindly nod in agreement?
The characters are just as glum. Reed Richards is a genius that never gets any respect. Even when he does things real scientist cannot do, he gets treated like a juvenile delinquent from his teacher. Johnny Storm thinks he is making a Fast and Furious movie until his father forces his intelligent son to stop acting like an idiot and work at the Baxter Building. Sue is as bland as her fake hair color. Ben gets the worst of it. He is from a trashy family and then turns into a stone monster that does not even have a penis.
A "great" superhero movie makes the non-costumed scenes entertaining as we enjoy these characters and their struggle to deal with their new situation. I liked Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker. I felt empathy for Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent. Robert Downey jr’s Tony Stark was more entertaining than the Iron Man scenes. I felt nothing but a yawn coming on for these four blank walls.
The script is at best a rough draft. The plot itself is not horrible but it left out all and any emotional connection. There should have been romantic sparks between Reed and Sue. We know they will one day marry and have kids but they have zero chemistry here. They act as much like siblings as Sue and Johnny. Ben has absolutely nothing to do. He could have been about to get married only to have to abandon his fiancé after he turns to rock. Johnny is supposed to be a likable joker but, other than the last scene, demonstrates no sense of humor to speak of.
This is writing 101. We have to like the characters and root for them to succeed. I cared nothing for these forgettable four or the gloomy world they inhabit. So what if Doom destroys it? Everyone on screen is a cold bland bore.
A "good" superhero movie shows us plenty of costumed action. Fantastic 4 does not. Doom walks around a building blowing people’s heads up with a glance yet he gets beat up by a man who can stretch. Did he forget he had that ability? He looks right at Reed several times and never thinks to do it. At one point he even holds Reed by the neck. What was he waiting for?
This is one horrible superhero movie. The only ones I can think of that are worse are Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) and Batman and Robin (1997). It is not completely unfair to call this a travesty.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (2015)