Release Date: 6 August 2015
Running Time: 100 Min
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey
Plagued by rumours of reshoots, tantrums and studio interference, Fantastic Four arrives in cinemas with something of a troubled reputation. Director Josh Trank has already thrown the film under the bus, with a tweet that claimed ‘a year ago I had a fantastic version of this. You’ll probably never see it’. What we do get to see is an infuriatingly muddled and lopsided film that shows just enough flashes of innovation to narrowly avoid being an unmitigated disaster. That’s right, Fantastic Four is pretty damn far from being fantastic.
In 2007, eleven year old science prodigy Reed Richards accidentally discovers a method for interdimensional travel alongside his friend Ben Grimm. Seven years later, and the eighteen year old Reed and Ben now look like Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, a pair of best friends with zero chemistry and the least convincing teenagers since Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill went back to school in 21 Jump Street. When Reed displays his invention at his school science fair he catches the eye of Franklin Storm, the head of an advanced science institute who has been conducting research on similar concepts.
Brought into the Baxter foundation to work on perfecting their teleportation device, Reed meets and befriends Franklin’s brainy and beautiful daughter Sue, his hot-headed son Johnny, and the brooding scientist Victor Von Doom, the previous head of the project. Finally solving the problem of bringing organic matter back from the mysterious new dimension, Reed, Victor, Ben and Johnny decide to secretly teleport themselves late at night, so that they will be remembered as pioneering explorers rather than being forgotten as cutting edge scientists.
When they finally get to this other dimension (and this is about an hour into a film with a running time little more than ninety minutes) things go horribly wrong and they are exposed to some weird glowing, lime-green gloop that horrifically transforms them. Sue too is irrevocably altered when she’s caught by a blast of residual energy that blows back through the portal while she desperately tries to bring the boys back home.
Trank’s commitment to bringing a hard sci-fi edge to an adaptation of a goofy comic about an invisible woman, a stretchy man, a giant rock monster and a dude that flies around covered in flames, is admirable, if at times a little ill-advised. It’s nice to see someone try something a little different with a comic book movie, and just like 2013’s The Wolverine was basically a yakuza movie with little bits of superheroics, Fantastic Four is mostly a science fiction film for its first two-thirds. Unfortunately after spending ages establishing these characters, their relationships and motivations, the after effects of their accident and the trauma it seems to have caused them – probably the most interesting part of their individual and collective character arcs – is casually glossed over. A hard cut to one year later after the four have their abilities under control and come together to stop a world ending threat feels like a huge cop-out.
This shift into superpowered action seems to come out of nowhere, with little to no build-up, context or explanation of what’s happening before it all fizzles out a little later. The jarring change in tone for the the last act would seem to be result of interference by a studio panicking about the lack of action in a tentpole comic book movie. While it certainly doesn’t help things, this interference isn’t the only thing wrong with Fantastic Four. The performances are flat, the special effects not particularly special, and Trank seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that gloomy, darkened visuals equate to grittiness and edge; it does not, it simply makes everything boring to look at. Not a total disaster, but a botched attempt at trying something new within an increasingly formulaic genre.