Director Josh Trank Starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Toby Kebbell, Jamie Bell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Train wrecks are absolutely tragic, but what’s worse is when it’s known or discovered that it could have been prevented. At times Fantastic Four feels like a throwback to an earlier era when comic book adaptations weren’t treated with the same love and respect, but what grinds my gears is how far we’ve come with this genre. How can they make these same mistakes when we’ve got close to ten years of examples showing how it successfully it can be done?
This is what makes Fantastic Four such a sad experience. It’s not the worst comic book film ever made, though it makes a very solid case for the worst in recent times, but despite this there are brief glimmers of potential all throughout that show just how good this film could have been. And because I could identify this I often found myself questioning the direction of the film. Why do we spend the first thirty minutes learning of the history of Reed Richards (Teller) when none of it seems to affect him? Sure, he’s a genius who built a great, fancy teleporter, but none of the other melodrama remains relevant as the film pushes forward.
I do understand it’s an origin story, but it’s the origins of the Fantastic Four. And even if it were the life and times of Reed Richards it’s completely ignored once we’ve transitioned into near-adulthood. But for whatever reason this is what the first half of the film chose to focus on. Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) is given a miniscule amount of background that involves domestic abuse and that too is utterly forgotten about when he reenters the story. Furthermore, the extent of the development of Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) is what he did the night before he arrives at the Baxter Foundation and Susan’s (Kate Mara) development consists entirely of a fleeting mention of her adoption. It hints at some hostility between the two and their father (Reg E. Cathey), but it goes nowhere.
Meanwhile in the background the team helps create an even bigger, fancier teleporter. We’re also introduced to the conceited and moody Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), whose only reason for ceasing his previous working relationship with Baxter is because he didn’t get his own way, poor baby. It may also have something to do with Susan not loving him, or something, it’s not like there’s any chemistry between the cast to affectively portray shared emotions.
I wondered why this inkling of a love triangle between Reed, Susan and Doom goes absolutely nowhere; it didn’t make sense until Doom mentions his feelings in the finale simply as a motivation for his revulsion of the world around him. Yep, Victor Von Doom wants to destroy the world because Susan wouldn’t go out with him. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
And all of this time could have been better spent exploring the dimension of Planet Zero, the green glowing energy that gave them their powers, and the universe in which the Fantastic Four exists. Instead a whole year passes between acts (first to second or second to third I don’t know, it’s poorly structured) in which we’re bogged down by a new location that looks exactly like the last. I was still waiting for the story of the Fantastic Four to truly begin. This was an origin story alright, the origin of a potentially fully completed film.
But amazingly there are redeemable moments that shine through, suggesting that this might have been so much better than what we got. What little characterization that’s present is clunky and very roughly patched together, but the relationship between Reed and Ben touches upon what could have been. However, by the time this comes back into play the characters are so wooden they’re devoid of all depth.
In fact this middle third of the film is exactly what I would have liked to see. The journey to Planet Zero is suspenseful and heart pounding and the fallout is very touching. Only the return of Victor, in his all-new evil persona, comes close but the final battle and overall ending is so incredibly rushed that any build-up is quickly washed over. But when I consider what I just sat through I guess that isn’t such a bad thing.
A recurring theme throughout superhero films these days is how despite their superiority they are all somehow inherently flawed, just like the human beings they protect. Well Fantastic Four is this theme applied to the film itself; despite everything it could be it is one major flaw. The world of cinema wasn’t ready to tackle the Fantastic Four ten years ago and I guess they’re still not ready now. And so we wait for a time in which the awesome foursome can be faithfully, and effectively, adapted.
I.e., when the rights expire and can be reclaimed by Marvel…