Fantastic Four (2015) Review

Fantastic 4, 2015 poster
Title: Fantastic Four
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller,
Michael B. Jordan,
Kate Mara,
Jamie Bell,
Toby Kebbell
Genre: Superhero, Sci-fi
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 mins
Music: Marco Beltrami,
Philip Glass
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: Aug 07 2015
UK: Aug 07 2015
See If You Like: Chronicle,
Fantastic Four,

With the way they’re going with this, the Frightful Four would have been way more suitable.

“Ah, The Fantastic Four come in! Sit down. There’s your titanium stool Thingy baby. Cup of tea anyone? Oh, is it too cold Sue? Johnny, would you mind please? Thanks. Oh Reed, the door, do you… Great! Now guys, between your comic books from Marvel getting cancelled and your previous two attempts from the studio to bring you to the big screen failing, it’s not looking good. The kids just don’t see the relevance in a happy-go-lucky family superhero team in 2015 anymore. Just as it happens though, our work experience lad Josh has come up with a bit of an idea. Guys how about we repackage you all grim-dark that seems to be all the rage nowadays?! Oh and let’s shove all that science to the side and focus on the freakish body horror you all went through when you got powers? Not keen? Hmmm, well I’m Mr. Fox – and since I’ve got all four of you bent over the table as it’s my rights, you don’t have a choice I’m afraid.”

Gifted and intelligent child Reed Richards thinks he’s managed to crack inter-dimensional travel after striking a friendship with tough scrapyard hard lad Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell when all grown up, Nympomaniac). The two grow up and Reed (Miles Teller, Whiplash) manages to perfect the tech, which catches the eye of the head of a science youth think-tank organisation, the  Baxter Foundation, run by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, House Of Cards) Along with Franklin’s biological hot headed son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, That Awkward Moment), his adopted, sarcastic but, brilliantly minded daughter Susan (Kate Mara, Transcendence) and troubled but gifted computer technician Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes), Reed cracks the technology to make a manned trip to the newly discovered planet ‘Zero’. However the new world boasts new energy sources which dramatically alter the five youngsters in fantastic ways. Whilst Reed goes on the run to figure out a way to resolve the group’s new found powers, the rest take to them with varying degrees of acceptance.

Now, for those of you expect this gigantic trainwreck after rumours of reshoots and a dodgy sounding darker look to Marvel’s first family of superheroes, I’m afraid you’ll have to put away your shameless selfie hipster cameras looking to pilfer the unfortunate for now… although hold on to them because Fantastic Four (or Fant4stic, to differentiate from the other two Fox helmed disasters) is still pretty bad. Director Josh Trank’s reward for bringing Chronicle to life is to craft one of the most unsatisfying cinematic experiences in quite some time. You’ll keep watching waiting for an aspect, a character trait or scene to be 100% well done and it never really feels like one comes along. The whole film feels very unrewarding to sit through despite an odd but not unappreciative 100 minute runtime. The characters do exhibit some of the personalities from the comics but the grim dark tone strangles any of the joyful and stronger aspects quietly. As such, they come across as underdeveloped. The cast do their best to convey what is there, although none of them really get into a worthwhile level of performance, with varying degrees of mediocrity-to-poor, but praise must be given to Cathey as he really does well as the dad who just wants to see his children again after the disaster, no matter what has happened to them.

The writing, structure and plot serves as a reminder of all the non-Marvel Studios takes on Marvel characters from the previous decade, and how awful they mostly were in that department. It’s almost nonsensical at times as events roll into each other. I particularly enjoyed (when I shouldn’t have) the Thing threatening to kill Reed for turning him into a giant rock monster with no humour behind the threat, only for… well… something must have happened because the next moment later the two are on speaking terms. Doom’s world ending plan happens just ’cause a bad guy has to have a plan with barely a characterised explanation. When the final scene attempts to add some badly needed humour to proceedings – which just lands with a thick, ‘on the nose’  thud on screen instead – the facepalming as the team gets named is enough to question watching not only another comic book movie but anything made by Trank or Fox ever again. Despite the ambition of seeing this science influenced bunch of characters travel to a strange new world, the plot is tedious, unimaginative and unfulfilling.

Since the introduction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there has been an eye in comic book superhero movies to focus on a specific aspect which makes them unique from one another and base the film on that. Recently, Ant-Man used it’s shrinking powers and it’s thief protagonist to pull off a heist film for example. Now, if anything Trank does well here, it is the body horror aspects he was aiming for from the beginning. The numerous transformation scenes as the four realise what powers they have picked up and the look of disgust & fear from themselves & numerous scientists are generally well done. There are constant reminders of the physical torture they must go through as penance for getting these new powers, with Ben Grimm or The Thing stating he’s gotten use to the pain when he moves a year on from the disaster. I have to give Trank credit for really going to town for finding a certainly unique take on a superhero film, which focuses on what the after-effects of being “blessed” with powers can be which can sometimes not be fun and friendly at all.

There’s one small problem with that – it doesn’t really make Fant4stic feel like a… well, Fantastic Four movie.

fantastic-four-2015-images-dimensionTraditionally, the FF are a family based superhero team which, whilst not adverse to fighting crime and supervillains, were more grounded as science explorers. One issue they would be time travelling about and the next the Four submerged to Atlantis for a deep sea fact finding mission. The whole idea of shoving the wonder and spectacle of that to the side for some dark and pain inducing exploration of the shock and grimness of their physical transformation is a big leap that does not come off for comic purists and cinemagoers alike. Now, I’m not saying you can’t have a different take on an old format now and again at the movies… but something like the Fantastic Four is still struggling to get the formula and the uniqueness of the concept right the first time – do that spot on first and well at that before jumping off the alternative take cliff. Considering this ideally is still meant to be a film marketed for families and children (because you have to make money on a nine figure budget), the subject matter direction is very offputting to them. Whilst the family aspect of the team is kept about and is forced upon the four to solve the big problem at the end, the science side is weirdly downplayed. Don’t get me wrong, the Baxter Foundation kids build an interdimensional transporter and we go to another planet but the gravitas of what they have accomplished is not there, nor is any real sense of celebration or wonder. At least there is no needless attempt to over complicate the science-speak or plot like some of this year’s blockbusters have come underfire for… although all that talk of creating an Interstellar invoking ‘smart’ take on a superhero movie doesn’t get anywhere near close enough to resemble an intelligent movie, as there’s none of that chat here either.

To add to the miserable mood, Fant4stic is a visual mess. Despite the fact that we have a guy that can set himself on fire, the whole film gives off a very bleak dark aura with next to sod all colour, which again furthers us away from the concept. I shudder to think if Trank thought this was a more realistic take but the left behind members joining the army / Government and Ben doing black ops mission where he kills is another step too far away from a classic portrayal. I get how they’re forced into it in an attempt to control their powers but Johnny Storm looking forward to going on an military mission is a disgusting oddity. The computer generated images used are very flat. Reed’s elasticity looks really solid with only simple bending & stretching featured. It comes across as lazy and unimaginative. The Thing does look a way more closer depiction to the comics look of a giant rock monster guy rather the previous films ‘guy in a suit’, but the stylistic choice to show him naked without any junk is a distracting sight to say the least. Finally, poor Doctor Doom. After a not completely out of place murderous rampage (although still shocking to see a character of such intellect striding around with Neanderthal level of firing head explosions willy nilly), our first full look at him is laughable. You remember that awful looking woman robot thing Superman fights at the end of Superman 3? That looks more like Doctor Doom than this monstrosity that we get here.

This film would actually be enhanced by ditching the comic book property that it’s trying to base itself on, because in doing so brings all the responsibilities of doing a movie related to those expectations. I think in it’s core, Josh Trank’s Fant4stic is an unrealised and unfulfilling attempt to do something radically different from the cleaner and softer superhero films we’re accustomed to which would pay off way better… if it was it’s own thing. Sadly dragging the Fantastic Four to the grim and gritty darker side is a tragic misfire as the right experiment is used on the wrong test subject. A lack of imagination dosed in black bleakness that will make you question going to the cinema anymore.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

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Fantastic 4 (2015) Poster 2