Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell
Trying to forget all the bad press surrounding this film, I went into the latest Fantastic Four reboot hoping to be entertained. The trailers were interesting, boasting a slightly darker, edgier, almost Cronenbergian tone. So despite all the behind-the-scenes issues the film was reported to have, Josh Trank still might have pulled off a coup with his take on one of the most well known superhero teams in history. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Trank’s Fantastic Four isn’t much better than the two films we saw in the early 2000s.
Fantastic Four is yet another origins story (haven’t we seen enough of those already?). In this particular version, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a child genius attempting to crack the secrets of teleportation. Eventually, with the help of his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), he shows off their device at their school’s science fair. It’s hard to believe that they’re still in high school given the fact that they both look like they’re nearing their 30s.
Their efforts are spotted by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue Storm (Kate Mara), who ask Reed to work with them at the Baxter Foundation and help them to realise their dream of exploring an alternate and dangerous universe. Along with the help of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and Sue’s brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), they manage to successfully teleport to this alternate reality, but not without terrible consequences and horrible bodily transformations.
With every new discovery, there is risk. But we are stronger together than we are apart.
Despite being shorter than Marvel’s recent outputs, Fantastic Four feels longer than its 100-minute runtime, which is never a good sign. However, the darker tone makes for a nice change from the previous Fantastic Four films, which were just awful. Trank obviously took inspiration from one of horror’s true masters, David Cronenberg, in particular his work in Videodrome and The Fly. Opting to display the team’s transformations in such a way is inspired, and makes complete sense given the fact that such changes would be horrific. These moments are where Fantastic Four is at its best, but they are few and far between.
Beyond this, Fantastic Four is incredibly mediocre, especially given the high standard of superhero movies we have seen in recent years. Watching Fantastic Four is not unlike taking a trip through time to the late 90s and early 2000s, when superhero films were known for being a bit rubbish. It’s hard to believe it, but before Marvel became the monolithic filmmaking machine it is today, they were in serious financial trouble and were leasing a lot of their most famous characters to the highest bidder. This led to Sony making the Spider-Man films and 20th Century Fox making the X-Men and original Fantastic Four movies. Given Marvel’s recent success, they might not be too pleased to have their name attached to this film.
You’ve opened a door you don’t know how to close. You don’t know anything about what’s coming.
One of Fantastic Four’s biggest problems is its performances. Everyone seems slightly uncomfortable on screen. It’s difficult to say – especially after his wonderful turn in Whiplash – but some of the lines that Teller is forced to deliver are almost too cringeworthy. When Ben says of arch-nemesis Doctor Doom, “We can’t beat him, he’s stronger than any of us,” Reed replies, “Yeah, but he’s not stronger than all of us.” That line will make you bury your head in your hands in embarrassment for the guy.
It’s hard to tell whether this is Teller’s fault, or simply poor dialogue and direction. His delivery at times is laughably bad, and given Teller’s impressive oeuvre, Trank’s direction has to be questioned. An actor can only be as good as his director, and in this case he dropped the ball.
However, the failure of the Fantastic Four might not be solely down to Trank. It’s been well documented that there were reshoots and that the studio, 20th Century Fox, were not happy with the picture. There have been many cases where the studios took the movie away from its director, intervening with the script and the final edit: Superman II, World War Z and The Bourne Identity all spring to mind. Reshoots and studio intervention isn’t always a reason to hit the panic button, but whatever the real story behind Trank’s Fantastic Four is, the end product is bad.
I need a heat-resistant workshop, and a big-ass sunroof!
Not only are the performances poor, so are so-called special effects. They feel rushed, as if added to the film at the last second, or even pulled from the 2005 film. The team’s dynamics are non-apparent and Doctor Doom’s motives and powers are left unexplained. One of Marvel’s most well-known and interesting super villains has yet again been cast aside, poorly written and terribly dealt with.
It’s also no way to treat Toby Kebbell, a truly brilliant actor who is given absolutely nothing to do but look angsty and moan all the time. The rest of the cast are similarly mistreated. If you take a second to look at their previous work, you can’t help but be impressed: Teller, Mara, Jordan, Bell and Kebbell are a cast that would give The Avengers a run for their money, but they aren’t allowed to show their proven ability on-screen.
It’s hard to convey the feelings of sadness, of utter disappointment, felt whilst watching this film. Fantastic Four promised such potential, especially with the director of the well-received Chronicle at the helm. However, the end product is disappointing to say the least. Can someone please get it right? Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing all deserve so much better.