Four times FOX. Four fecking times have you tried to make a Fantastic Four film and you still can’t get it right. Yes, right of the bat I’m telling you that this latest Fantastic Four interpretation from director Josh Trank is a big old steaming pile of poo. That’s probably being harsh. It does a number of things quite well. But Jesus none of it comes together. I guess I should flesh this all out a bit. I suppose that’s the purpose of a review thing. Warning… this is gonna be one of them reviews where I just run through the events of the film wondering why it’s all so awful.
You know the Fantastic Four basic premise right? Super genius Reed Richard (Miles Teller) invents a thing and he and his buddies use it to travel to a place and they come back with super powers. Note how vague that was. In the traditional Fantastic Four origins they travel to space and are blasted by cosmic rays. That would be too cartoony for this version though. Instead we have the far more believable traveling to an alternate dimension. That ain’t too much of an issue, it is the basis for the Ultimate universe version of the Fantastic Four after all. I just assume someone decided that space travel was too childish or something and alternate dimensions are way cooler. Plus it means you can shoot half the film in one big warehouse and don’t have to build a rocket set or do any space scenes which would cost more. Anyway, the guys get powers, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) gets left behind for reasons I’ll mock later, and then stuff maybe happens…?
For the first 20 minutes or so the film feels like it may at least go in a solid direction. We have young Reed Richards making a crude dimensional transporter thing in his garage with the help of his buddy Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). They get picked up as teenagers to work on a full scale version of the device by Franklyn Storm (Reg E. Cathey), although only Reed goes to work on it cos I guess Ben actually didn’t do much. We meet Sue Storm (Kate Mara) who, because she’s a woman, is making the environment suits for the guys to wear when they travel to this other dimension. God forbid she actually be doing the science stuff on the actual device. The environment suits aren’t even what they wear when they get their powers so she doesn’t even get to design the costumes that control their powers… another thing I’ll get onto. Johnny Storm (Micheal B Jordan) is a rebellious teen and gets pulled into the project because he’s smart (we are told) and can build anything. Ben is just chilling at home I guess.
So Victor Von Doom is brought in and he’s some sort of technical genius and a bit of a douche but they get on with each other fairly quickly so, that’s OK I guess. The experiment works and the guys are promptly told that NASA will be coming in to do the actual human expedition to the other dimension. This irks the team somewhat so they get drunk… well just Reed, Johnny and Victor do… and decide to travel to the other world instead. I shit you not this is what happens next. Reed says “hey, we shouldn’t go on our own. There’s one person missing”. Reed then calls Ben Grimm, who’s had nothing at all to do with this and takes him with them. No calling Sue. Yeah, she wasn’t there at all. Hell, it’s not like she was there before literally any of them. They go to the other Earth, Victor touches some green glowing goo that he himself says is alive, which causes stuff to blow up because of course it does. Sue realises the transporter is active and gets to the lab to bring the guys back. When they do Johnny gets set on fire, Ben is being pelted by rocks and Reed is struggling to close the hatch door. That’s what determines their powers. Sue was at a desk and a big blue blast of CGI hits her which I guess makes her invisible now. Doom is left behind and we hear nothing of him for at least 30 minutes.
Literally the moment that they send a chimp to the other Earth the film just takes a massive nose dive. Characters start making dumb decisions. The film does this whole team falling apart thing when they were barely a team to begin with, especially as one of them hadn’t been around for 20 minutes of the film. They were co-workers, not best buds. When they get back the organisation funding their experiments, headed up by Tim Blake Nelson, who should never be in a serious role, has them all locked up and are running tests to figure out what has happened to them and why they’re all showing weird powers. Now, for a moment things get interesting. The characters are separated and are shown not being able to control their new skills. Reed is stretched out. Ben Grimm is a pile of rocks slowly forming a human shape. Sue is cycling in and out of the visible spectrum. Johnny is on fire. For a moment you can see the body horror influences Josh Trank spoke of in the run up to the film’s release. Reed Richards escapes by stretching his way through the air vents and then…
1 YEAR LATER…
Yup, we jump forward a year. Ben Grimm is now working for the military as part of a deal where Tim Blake Nelson (who has a name in this… Dr Allen, but it’s Kimmy’s dad from unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so I don’t care.) promises to find a cure for their mutations if they do military works. Again, there’s some interesting imagery here as Ben watches video of what he’s done around the world. Here’s the problem. This goes against everything the Fantastic Four are. They aren’t hired guns for the military and never would be. Yeah there’s some moral conflict but Grimm is an 8ft mountain of rocks. What exactly would they do to him if he refused. Johnny could burn the whole building to the ground. Sue could vanish, literally, and walk out the door. Why do they work for the military when they could just leave and figure it out themselves with Franklyn? Hell, they could find Reed and get him involved. Instead they send Ben to capture Reed and make him work on the new dimensional transporter thing because that’ll totally work out OK.
So I mentioned the costumes earlier. No, the Tim Story Fantastic Four made out that the special space suits they were wearing when they got bashed with cosmic rays pick up some of their mutated DNA and adapted to be suitable for their unique powers. That was a fairly decent way to explain why The Human Torch’s suit doesn’t burn to a crisp whenever he flames on. Efficient and acceptable in a film of the tone it had. Here the environment suits Sue was making just get discarded, so she literally doesn’t contribute in any way to the team by doing that. I should mention that she discusses the science of the dimensional gate before we find out she’s making the suits. She could have easily been working on that. The team get given suits that are adapted to their powers. From where? Who knows. Sue’s suit adjusts to her visual spectrum when she vanishes. Johnny Storms has an on/off switch he has to flick to hide his flame powers because they’re naturally always on. Why? Who knows! Was it too fantastical that he could turn them off at will? Ben Grimm can’t stop being rocks (He doesn’t even get shorts by the way) so why should Johnny be able to stop being on fire I guess? Oh, but Sue isn’t always invisible. She controls that once she figures it out. Even Reed made a suit of his own while he was on the run that looks right, if a little lower tech, next to the rest of the team’s despite not having ever seen them. Why can’t this film just accept what it is?
And that’s the crux of this film’s issues. It doesn’t want to be a Fantastic Four film. The teams powers are barely utilised. You may have noticed they I never refer to them by their superhero names, that’s because the film never does. Not even jokingly. They had to create a on/off switch on the Johnny Storms suit because they must have thought him being in control of the fire was too goofy. They’re never called The Fantastic Four, the film even ends at the very second the name is about to be said because it’s embarrassed by it. There could have been potential for a decent film about an original group of super humans here. Not heroes because these guys barely qualify as that. They literally discover their drive to save the world in the last 10 minutes. Oh man… I’ve not got onto the last act yet.
So… about 30 minutes from the end of the film they get the new dimensional gate thing working and a team is sent through. Not them… just some nameless guys. When they reach the other Earth they find Doom still alive wandering around looking like his skin has become metal with neon green lights in it. Apparently this world shaped him into this and kept him alive. He’s in a poor way so they bring him back where… and remember the proximity to the end of the film here… Doom wakes up, tells Tim Blake Nelson that he hates the Earth and wants to destroy it, gets up and starts blowing brains up because that happened in Scanners, goes through the dimensional thing again but sets it to open a black hole to suck up our Earth through. The team follow him, get owned, decide to work as a team and the film is over. And when I say about 30 minutes, I’d say it’s closer to 25.
The film has no direction whatsoever. It’s 99 minutes long and by the 1 hour mark we still don’t have a villain’s scheme, or even the actual villain. The team have no goals other than to not be mutated in various ways, but their attempts to cure that just involve doing the thing that got them that way to begin with. When Doom does show up he’s not actually Dr Doom. He’s just a moody twenty something that thinks the world sucks for some reason. When he wasn’t all melted metal and green Christmas tree lights all we got from Victor was that the world is all wrong because corporations and the government and stuff. There’s no actual backstory to him. Just an archetype of an angry internet nerd totally sure he’s super right about things and the world must burn because of it. The characters have no actual arcs. They have parts of an arc. Tiny fractions, but no real resolution or even progression. After they get their powers they’re never even on screen together until the final minutes. Where’s the team conflict? Where’s the building of friendships and all that?
Effects often look pretty decent but there’s many times where they just look like they were rented out from a early 2000s film. Sometimes Ben Grimm is a well animated pile of rock man, others you can see the rocks stretching across the character model’s skin. Reed Richards stretches about 4-5 times in the film and each time it looks as ropey and weird as it did in the Tim Story films. Sue Storm’s hair keeps changing to a cheap and wrong coloured bright blonde wig between shots to help you see where reshoots were done. Oh, and the film ends with the currently most overdone ending in blockbuster movies. With a big blue beam shooting into the sky and a threat from another world. How did that become a trope?
This film is shite. Trank claims that there was a really good version of this film a year before but I don’t believe him. No amount of reshoots would have changed the fact that this film is embarrassed to be a Fantastic Four film. You can make your comic book film as grounded and dark as you like but sooner or later you have to confront the fact that your main cast are a rock man, a stretchy man, a flaming man and a woman that can turn invisible. There’s a reason Marvel’s films are doing so well. It’s because they aren’t afraid of what they are. They’re big, dumb, fun action films. It really pains me to say this but, the Tim Story Fantastic Four films were better. They weren’t ashamed at least. And they were trying to be fun. They were shite, sure, but they tried. Obviously the Roger Corman Fantastic Four is untouchable in its brilliance. This Trank film is just bollocks though. It has no idea what it’s trying to be or how to even tell a story. Fuck this film.