Fantastic Four (PG)
Directed by: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E Cathey & Tim Blake Nelson
Running Time: 120 minutes
The Fantastic Four, one of Marvel’s better known comic series, has had a rocky history when it comes to cinematic adaptations. The movie rights were purchased from Marvel in the 80s, and a movie was made to retain the rights which was never intended to be released to the public. Then 20th Century Fox bought the rights and made the first Fantastic Four movie to be released in 2005, closely followed by sequel Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer two years later, both of which were directed by Tim Story and were successful box-office performers, but were panned by critics and fans alike. Now, Fox has rebooted the franchise under the direction of Chronicle director Josh Trank.
Fantastic Four takes an alternate path with the origin story of the characters Reed Richard (Teller), Sue Storm (Mara), Ben Grimm (Bell) and Johnny Storm (Jordan) who, in the previous movies, gained extraordinary abilities after being exposed to cosmic radiation in space.
Here, we’re introduced to a young Reed refining teleportation technology built in his childhood, having actually created inter-dimensional travel and being brought to the Baxter building by Dr Franklin Storm (Reg E Cathey) to perfect it with his children Sue and Johnny Storm, as well as fellow scientist Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel), who has also been attempting to create the technology. When the group takes the first manned journey to an other dimension, things don’t go well and they find themselves exposed to an unknown energy source, resulting in them gaining their extraordinary abilities.
Director Josh Trank rose to fame with his superhero themed movie Chronicle, a movie that was filmed in the style of a found footage movie where three friends were exposed to something supernatural and found they developed superpowers. It was a somewhat refreshing take on the genre as it was a small independent movie and, while the filming style worked for that, it does not for this.
That’s not to say that the movie is not competently handled, it’s well filmed for the most part and has all the elements required to be the Fantastic Four, it’s just that the decisions made in how the material is approached shows a lack of understanding to how comic-book stories, and big budget action movie, work. Despite what it says on the tin, it may look like the Fantastic Four, but unfortunately what you get when you crack it open is anything but.
There is little to no spark with any of the main characters, resulting in the movie feeling emotionally flat.
Johnny Storm in particular should be shown to be a real hot-headed wise-ass (the one thing that the previous movies got right with Chris Evans in the role), but despite being shown here to race and wreck his car, there’s no sense of his cockiness, just a resounding lack of personality to his character – and it doesn’t come across as being the fault of the actors, but rather a lacklustre script that gives them little or nothing to work with.
Aside from a glimmer in a couple of scenes there’s nothing between any of the characters, either romantically between Reed Richards & Sue Storm, or of the decade old friendship between Reed and Ben, or any sign (save one scene at the end) of the banter and chemistry between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, who should be bickering like brothers.
This is especially surprising because the pacing of the movie at times is particularly slow, as if it wants to take time to giving us these moments, but it instead decides to give us technical information that we neither want or need. We don’t need to know how the inter-dimensional travel device works, we just need to know that it does, and the movie makes sure that we know that it works because it takes about three times as long to show us before the group make the trip.
All of this an hour into the movie when it really should have happened in about half the time – yes, it’s an origin story, but until they go through the event that gives them their abilities, they can’t become the Fantastic Four and start using them. The movie then jumps ahead a year, perhaps the worst decision that could have been made at this point, and the group has now mastered and learned to use their abilities – which we know because we’re shown an infomercial of them learning during the year we skipped over.
Superhero movies can be made using the styling of an independent movie, Christopher Nolan did it successfully in Batman Begins by successfully marrying the character development of arthouse with the visual styling of action, but because of poor writing here there is no character development to speak of, and when the movie is trying to insert action it fails to ramp up the visual side of things equally as poorly.
The camera work is slow and uninteresting, the editing does nothing to excite your eyes. I’m not saying you need to go all Michael Bay and go absolutely mental with over the top editing, but a little bit of flair should be used in an action piece so that it at least gets your juices flowing and your pulse rising, not threaten to induce a coma.
The one aspect that the movie does excel in is the a sense of horror in certain scenes, successfully creating a sense of dread to almost Cronanberg-ian levels, such as when we first see Ben Grimm as The Thing, or first see Reed Richards’ Mr Fantastic.
There’s even a beautifully twisted and creepy shot of Richards lying on an examination table with his limbs stretched out on posts that seems something right out of a nightmare. Then there are scenes later where the horror factor is turned right up to eleven with a rather bloody scene – shot in a darkly lit sequences of course, with flashy lights so as not to be so obvious and push the boundaries of what you can get away with in a 12A or PG-13 movie.
Though the previous two movies were terrible adaptations, it’s surprising just how much better than this the first of them in particular handled the characters. A major criticism of those movies was the cheesy over the top attempts at humour and the joy that came with them, unfortunately it seems that the studio has taken note of this and completely overreacted by removing any joy or feeling at all from this – making it a technically proficient Fantastic Four movie, just not a good fantastic four movie.
2 out of 5 Nerds