After Tim Story’s Fantastic Four films ended with the catastrophe that was the Galactus cloud, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only way was up when it came to depicting Marvel’s first family on film. Indeed, there were plenty of reasons to be excited for Josh Trank’s reboot: the director had previously made Chronicle – a fun and interesting take on teens with superpowers – and Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell and Miles Teller have all impressed in previous projects. So it is doubly shocking and disappointing that the fourth try at a live action Fantastic Four barely stacks up to Story’s aforementioned films, let alone the high standards we’ve come to expect from comic book movies today.
It all starts promisingly enough: Skilled scientist Reed Richards (Teller) is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm (House of Cards’ Reg. E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Mara) to work at the Baxter Institute after cracking the formula for inter-dimensional travel. They are soon joined by Storm’s son Johnny (Jordan) and former protégé Victor Von Doom (Kebbell), and together they work to build a device capable of teleporting humans to another dimension, specifically a realm dubbed Planet Zero. Once complete the government threaten to hijack the operation, leading Victor, Johnny, Reed and his childhood friend Ben (Bell) – Sue is conspicuously left behind – to make the journey themselves. While Doom is left behind, the rest of the team return with freakish powers.
Though flaws are evident from the outset, the first 40 minutes are generally decent. The dialogue is too expository and more time could be spent establishing the team’s dynamics, but Fantastic Four reimagined as a contemplative sci-fi origin story just about works. The sequence in which our heroes get their powers is by far and away the film’s best scene, and playing up the horror element of superpowers as opposed to the fun it can also be is an interesting move that you can do a lot with and build a journey from.
However, instead of exploring this new dynamic a one year time jump ensues, robbing the film of a crucial segment all origin stories need – mastering their powers and learning to work as a team. It proves to be a gross error, and nearly everything that comes after it is an undercooked mess. There is hardly any payoff to any of the story or character beats that have been set up, and you get the sense that the majority of the film’s second act has been edited out.
In this day and age, superhero movies can normally be counted on to at least be entertaining, but Fantastic Four also fails in that regard. The only action set-piece occurs in what will surely be remembered as one of the worst third acts in modern comic book film history. Not only is it filled with unearned moments, the action itself is incredibly uninspired (seriously, the Tim Story films were more creative than this), and the villain’s plan and motives are unclear. Speaking of Doom, the character design is comparable to the Deadpool of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in its awfulness.
With that said, pre-CGI mask Kebbell impresses as the world-weary Victor, and Cathey is affecting as the group’s father figure. Though the rest of the cast aren’t helped by the fundamental problems in the screenplay and editing, the performances are strangely uneven. There are flashes of charisma here and there, but there are just as many scenes where the chemistry is non-existent or forced. For 95 minutes of the 100 minute run time, Marvel’s first family are anything but a cohesive unit.
It could be argued that these elements are being held back for the second instalment – which has already been assigned a 2017 release date at the time of writing – but on its own merits Fantastic Four doesn’t work, and a misfire of this magnitude begs the question of whether this creative team deserves another shot.