Someone should alert the audience that they showed up about thirty minutes late for Fantastic Four, and that the film continued on for another thirty or so after the end credits. There’s really no other explanation for the unmitigated disaster that was Josh Trank’s reboot of the flunky Tim Story franchise about Marvel’s first family. In the lead-up to the film, one had to wonder exactly what would have to be done wrong in order to make a film that ended up worse than Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom, or Galactus the evil cloud. Well, you completely eviscerate any shred of character development for anyone in this dreck and then you cut out any and every sequence that isn’t cramming exposition down the audience’s throat to keep the completely ludicrous plot chugging along fast enough to hope that they don’t notice how stupid it is. From there you throw the characters head-first into a comic book movie showdown even worse than Wolverine fighting that gigantic chrome robot. Trank has already publicly stated that this is not his cut of the film, and while that may be true, this steaming sack of garbage still has his name plastered all over it. Fantastic Four is essentially every bad quality about a Marvel Studios flick tossed into a blender set for puree; what comes out is unrecognizable, undigestable slop that audiences should feel insulted to have suffered through.
Tim Story’s films are counted among the worst of the superhero genre for good reason, but at least they still tried to have some fun along the way and, bad as it may have been, they still gave the characters a little bit of meat to chew on so they could sort of try to become well-rounded. This film dumps the audience into the life of young Reed Richards, whose attempts to build a baby inter-dimensional portal are scoffed at by Homer Simpson and his entire class, but for one sorta quiet kid who just looks at him cock-eyed. Immediately flash-forward to seven years later, when now-teenaged-Reed Richards (Miles Teller, who should get billed long distance charges for how badly he’s phoning it in here) is trying to do exactly the same thing and is still getting laughed at by Homer Simpson. Luckily, someone just happened to show up at a high school science fair who was also working on an inter-dimensional portal because this movie has to move at a lightning-fast pace because anyone who takes more than a moment to sit and think about it realizes that these are the stupidest smart people ever put to film. If anyone walked out of this trainwreck feeling a little let down or disappointed, or underwhelmed, they should replace those emotions with anger at how insulting this film is at every single turn.
Aside from Reed and Ben Grimm (Jaime Bell), the audience is quickly introduced to Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey), and his children, Sue and Johnny Storm (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan). Quickly, because zero time is actually committed to trying to invest anyone watching in any of these characters. There is one- repeat, one- scene for each of these characters that very, very swiftly tosses some little shred of development at them. It’s as if Trank and screenwriters Simon Kinberg & Jeremy Slater watched every Marvel Studios film and witnessed how piss-poor the character development is for their villains and wondered what it’d be like if they made an entire film like that and removed every shred of fun from it. It’s bad. It’s not even close to so-bad-it’s-good. Trank may as well have filmed himself pouring scalding hot cups of coffee over his head for one hundred minutes because that may have actually benefitted the audience and entertained someone.
It’s hard to pinpoint the few things that the film actually did right, but they’re there, buried beneath the avalanche of meandering nonsense. Aside from Teller, the rest of the main cast is fairly good. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan are the standouts among the team, mostly because Ben-not-the-Thing-yet is on screen for all of forty-five seconds. Fanboys who complained about Jordan’s casting because it meant one of the Storm kids would need to be adopted are rightly proven wrong about it, as he is probably the film’s most enjoyable character. That, and the film has so many other problems that Jordan’s casting should feel like the absolute least of them. Johnny and Sue wouldn’t have felt any more like brother and sister regardless of their blood ties in this script since it gives both of them so little to do, and none of that little is devoted to actually developing or showing their brother-sister relationship. Reg E. Cathey is effective at attempting to be the emotional glue at the center of the film, but his connection to the other characters feels as artificial and forced as the attempt the film makes to connect to the audience. Toby Kebbell rounds out the cast as Victor von Doom and actually manages to breathe some life into the character, and the scene where he rampages through the military compound is ripped straight from a horror film to great effect. Doom is actually a pretty damn scary guy, something that Tim Story never seemed quite able to convey. Still, Kebbell’s talents are wasted since he spends so much time absent from the film, and he does little more than brood a lot leading up to his transformation. The music feels forgettable and stale, and the effects are a far cry from much better efforts in much better films, but they are far from its worst attribute.
The biggest hindrance to the movie, outside of all of the problems within the script, is the length of it. It feels like there was a much more complete film here at one point that someone then cut every poignant moment of character development out of. Does this have anything to do with the main plot? No? Jettison it immediately. It certainly makes one wonder if Trank’s words ring true about his now-lost cut of the film, but audiences are never going to see it given the falling out between him and the studio. Now instead is left the hollow husk of a film that never should have been, especially in this day-and-age of comic book films. The Marvel Studios films, flawed though they are, at least know what they’re trying to be and strive to repeatedly hit those points. Great actors, writers, and directors and popping up all over the superhero genre and have turned it from a colossal joke into the most lucrative genre in film at the moment, with quality work being turned out at all levels. Even the worst of superhero films from the darker days is better than this. Batman & Robin had more character development and more heart than this. It is infuriating, given the talent involved, that this movie ended up being less exciting than the last time I had food poisoning.
The circus surrounding Fantastic Four has been amazing to watch in the days and weeks leading up to release, from the cancellation of the 3D conversion, to the horrendous marketing and the quotes from Teller and Simon Kinberg promising that the film is better than drinking a beaker full of acid and jumping off a cliff. Yet when the smoke settled and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it battle with Dr. Doom ended, the victory feels hollow and meaningless. Every accomplishment and major story beat in the movie feels empty, rushed, and textbook. It plays as a “superhero movie starter kit” with Trank and Kinberg constantly drawing outside the lines and eating the last few chapters of the book. It is impossible to grow with or attach to any of the characters since they are essentially just grabbing the ball and trying to crawl forward, even though they got tackled at the one yard line twenty minutes earlier. It is a sad and desperate attempt to bring these characters back to the big screen, and it forgot to give them any life. It is a sickening and maddeningly frustrating effort that falls flat on its face, and then keeps smashing its face into the ground. This is, without question, the worst superhero film of the past ten years, and arguably of all time. I’d suffer through X-Men Origins: Wolverine ten times in a row before ever watching this disgusting tripe again. I’m embarrassed to say I even bought a ticket. Two out of ten stars.
by Nicholas Haskins