Dir: Josh Trank
Writer(s): Josh Trank, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Kinberg
Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelson and Reg E. Cathey.
Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The Fantastic Four aka “Marvel’s First Family” is very beloved by many fans. However, 20th Century Fox has never really been able to nail down the characters. Tim Story’s 2005 film, and its sequel in 2007 were not received well and came off as too goofy and campy. Enter the age of gritty and darker comic book movies and Josh Trank brings his take – sort of – to the Fantastic Four with a movie more connected to science instead of science-fiction, with elements of experiments gone wrong and familiar characters. However, it’s all the behind-the-scenes drama that most people will probably remember from his reboot.
I don’t want to focus on the behind-the-scenes drama because if you walk in to the movie with all that in your head, as much as you want to enjoy the movie for what it is – which you should always do that – it will get to you. However, Trank isn’t completely to blame, at least according to some well place and reliable people. That being said, this review will ONLY focus on the movie and not things that unfortunately happened. I will just say this, Trank and Fox may take the hits, but at the end of day, it’s the fans that lose.
The movie starts off by showing us a young Reed Richards (Owen Judge) building a machine that he believes at the time to only be a teleporter. With the help from a young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannermann), the two pull it off. Up ahead seven years, an older Reed (Teller) and Ben (Bell) try to show off their invention at a science fair only to be disqualified because they think it’s a magic trick. However, Reed and Ben meet Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Mara), who sees Reed’s invention as the last piece of their own project they’ve been doing. Reed gets to go work at the Baxter Institute where he continues his work.
Franklin Storm eventually brings in a resentful former worker and co-founder of the project they bought Reed into do, Victor Von Doom (Kebbell) and Johnny (Jordan) to help finish transporting to another dimension. Seeing that the machine works, and it is possible to travel safely to the alternate dimension, the project takes a bump that they didn’t see coming. So Reed calls Ben so the two, along with Victor and Johnny, can go and see their work for themselves. However, disaster hits as the four try to return and as they try to head back the four – along with Sue by accident – becoming affected with abilities they don’t know and can’t explain.
For all intent-and-purposes, Fantastic Four is an origin story. The characters are new version from what you’ve seen before. In fact, the movie tries to play them as teenagers. Yes, teenagers: Miles Teller, who is 28, and Jamie Bell, who is 29, are treated as that and when we see the “adult” versions of them, they are in a science fair in school. Sue is apparently the same age or maybe older, and Johnny is able to drive – the first time we see him he’s street racing – and tells his father during an encounter later in the movie that he’s in adult. Victor is the most notable adult of the five. The age issue is probably a small thing, and not the worse part of this movie, but it is odd once you think about it.
The nice thing about the film is, for the most part, you know who these characters are. Reed wants his work to mean something and do good for everyone, he’s not doing it for the fame. Sue wants the same thing, but goes about it for own way. Johnny wants to be his own man and doesn’t want to really follow in his father’s footsteps although he could. Victor is driven by ambition and doesn’t want his work to be messed with by anyone, especially the government.
The least developed character at the start is Ben Grimm. The only thing we get from his character is that he comes from a poor income family and gets beaten up by his older brother. Once he gets turned into The Thing he becomes angry, but, he uses his anger. It’s hard to talk about it because I don’t want to get into spoilers, but there is a single shot that connects to what he’s been up to since turning The Thing, that I thought would be a great place to go and have that be a new character trait or something that can change the character that we’ve known for ages. But, no, instead it gets tossed aside and it never mentioned again.
I’ll say this, the first two-thirds of the movie work, even with the middle of the movie being a bit sluggish and unbalanced. Fantastic Four is a filled with action. Instead it brings the focus to the characters and dealing with their newfound abilities. Instead of automatically embracing it, they are actually scarred, especially Ben, who of course gets the worse of it. The film jumps a year after they get their powers and sees them be able to use them. It did irk me that we couldn’t see the actual scenes of them learning how to use their powers because it would have given us an extra layer to attach to, but as is some of the rest of the movie, a missed opportunity.
Now, that’s the first two-thirds, and again, it isn’t that bad as many are saying it is. It’s not perfect. However, the final act of the movie is what really hurts Fantastic Four, so much so that no matter how hard I tried to not think of the behind-the-scenes problems, I thought of them, and you can clearly see some of the problems. Moreover, the final act is way too rushed and kills any sort of potential and monument the movie had. It’s almost a shame to say, because you obviously you want a movie to end strong, but Fantastic Four’s ending feels like they were doing too much in little time.
The cast does okay with what they are given. Miles Teller is pretty reserved here and doesn’t step foot into the typical leadership role until the very end. Kate Mara’s Sue Storm has her very brief moments to shine, but gets a little stronger as the movie goes on. Jaime Bell, again, is one of the most underdeveloped characters as human Ben Grimm and even The Thing. There was some great potential for his character, but they don’t do anything with it. Also, the CGI-d Thing isn’t too bad. It’s probably the best effect the movie has, which is saying something because some of the CGI is a bit wonky in areas.
Michael B. Jordan is okay as Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. He a certain attitude to him that makes sense when you look at everything that he goes through. Of course, everyone was up in arms when he was cast as Johnny and the question of race came up – along with some disturbing and disgusting comments – but no one batted in eye when Reg E. Cathey was cast as Franklin Storm. Anyway, the stupid argument of race doesn’t even matter at the end since Sue is the one that’s actually adopted. The adoption is bought up about twice, never to full effect, but it almost doesn’t matter. Which brings me to my next point.
The four never really feel like a full fledge team. Instead when they face Doom at the end, it feels like they are just teaming up because Doom is trying to kill everyone on Earth. Even when the movie tries to make it seem like they’ve always been together as a group, it feels forced. Yes, the argument could be made that it is an origin story and this is how they become the team or they haven’t earned the team at this point, but considering Sue and Johnny are supposed to be siblings, and Ben and Reed are suppose to be best childhood friends – although they only have a few scenes together and some don’t even work – the group doesn’t blend well together.
As for Toby Kebbell’s Victor Von Doom aka Dr. Doom, or just Doom, well, let’s just say that it isn’t all that great. Kebbell is a great actor and is finally getting some recognition for that, but wow, did Fox mess this up. I’m even going to say that Victor is a better character than Doom, and Doom has superpowers! Maybe it was because there isn’t enough Doom in the movie, and even his short screentime isn’t the best. I think if his look was different, than the scenes of him using his powers could have been more terrifying. I’m indifferent about the look, only because of the way they went about making the look. Unfortunately, even Kebbell couldn’t save the character.
Reg E. Cathey is highly misused here and no thanks to some weird editing – most likely by Fox when the kicked Trank out of the editing process – is robbed of what could have been a great scene with Jordan before the final act. Tim Blake Nelson plays a greedy government official that chews up any scene he’s in, but the role is wasted on Nelson, who is a great actor, because it really adds nothing, other than have a human antagonist opposite Doom.
All in all, Fantastic Four is not as bad as people and critics are saying. The movie isn’t fantastic (sorry, I had to), but it isn’t terrible either. The final act of the movie does hurt the film a lot because of how rushed it feels and the terrible structure of it. The behind-the-scenes drama coming out does hurt the film a bit, but only because it is extremely noticeable in a lot of places. Also, there are quite a few shots in the trailer that seemed really cool that aren’t even in the movie! So be ready for that. Yes, Fox and Josh Trank will take the hit, but it is us the fans that suffer from all the drama. So is Fantastic Four worth watching? In most cases it is, and then the ending comes around, and then it isn’t.
2.5 out of 5