I normally never feature any spoilers in my reviews, but seeing how thinly written this film is, some may be unavoidable. So, minor spoiler alert, for those who are wary of such things.
Fantastic 4 (Fant4stic?), Josh Trank’s attempt to leverage the success of his low-budget superhero masterpiece Chronicle into the big leagues of established Marvel characters, might not actually be a movie. It’s the promise of a movie, but it itself doesn’t seem to actually be one. It has special effects and sets and Tim Blake Nelson, but nothing of any importance happens over the course of its one hundred endless minutes. In any other film, the events of F4 would comprise the first 35 minutes, tops. This joyless dirge of pointlessness will make you take back every bad thing you ever said about Tim Story’s Fantastic Four films… Even the stuff about Jessica Alba.
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a genius scientist. Together with Johnny and Susan Storm (Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara), his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and Victor Von Doom (Some Guy), he creates a teleportation device to another dimension, all under the tutelage of Johnny and Sue’s dad, Franklin (Reg E. Cathey), one of the most ridiculously dour and monotone characters I’ve ever seen. Naturally, things go wrong, and our leads are gifted with super-powers, and, as a result, spend most of the film confined to Area 57 (51 was taken) and trained by the army to become weapons.
It’s not like the film is dense with material, it just chooses to dwell on all the wrong details. All of the would-be themes and interesting ideas that could have been leveraged into making a character-driven genre film disguised as a big-budget tentpole are all but completely ignored, all in favor of… A whole heaping pile of nothing. No laughs, no drama, no romance, and no romanticism; instead, the movie is a slave to its plodding plot, in which the machinations of events leading to foregone conclusions are drawn out to the limits of credulity. What should be important themes in the film are given the same relevance as Easter Eggs in any mainstream comic book film; Ben Grimm, who should be the emotional core of the film (a la Michael Chiklis) is the first to be used as a weapon by the military, and while he is very sad about the whole affair, the only insight we get into just how damaged his psyche may be is a fleeting glimpse at a sizzle reel of his military excursions, showcasing how many people he has killed (By the way, there’s more action on television sets within the movie than in the movie itself). What could be an interesting direction to take the character instead goes nowhere, is nary mentioned, and is cynically used as motivation for the characters (we don’t want to happen to Johnny what happened to Ben!). In fact, now that I think of it, the dynamic between Reed and Ben is similar to that between Wolverine and Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; one leaves the military and becomes a hero, the other stays and becomes a tool, thereby motivating the other… Only Deadpool had more characterization than Ben.
Deadpool had more characterization than Ben Grimm.
Victor Von Doom is the biggest loser of them all. While lip service is given to his Latverian heritage, as well as his comic book nickname, in the film, he is just a generic nerdy scientist with a nihilistic hacktivist angle. He also has a crush on Sue, which, again, never leads to anything. He only appears as the iconic Doctor Doom for about ten minutes, and, while the effects used to show his transformation are very impressive, his appearance is so sudden-yet-predictable that no time is taken to define him before the obligatory and uninspired world-ending stakes are brought in.
Cue yet another problem: Miles Teller is a terrible actor. While the script (by Trank, Simon Kinberg, and Jeremy Slater) is indeed terrible, the problem doesn’t lie with the directing; Michael B. Jordan is charismatic as ever, and Kate Mara and Jamie Bell both turn in watchable performances. Teller’s delivery of technobabble nonsense and addressing the stakes at hand during the undercooked climax is like hearing Madonna read an audiobook with her inexplicable late 90’s British accent. Miles’s uninterested acting, combined with the cheesy set the finale takes place on, compounded by the lack of rational build-up (in a movie which is ostensibly nothing but) elevates the mediocrity to a level worthy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I suppose I’m obliged to report on something positive in the film, no?
Ok, well, some of the visual effects are pretty good. The aforementioned Doctor Doom makeup/CGI is excellent, as is the costume design in general. Ben Grimm’s Thing CGI and Johnny’s fire-effects are also very believable. Finally, the prologue featuring child versions of Ben and Reed is well-done, and using a bunch of linked-together Nintendo 64s as a makeshift supercomputer is a novel idea (albeit one already done in Chappie) Actually, the child actor of Reed, Owen Judge, is superior in the role to Miles Teller, and I only slightly sarcastically would have preferred an all-child version of the film.
The Dark Knight proved that taking a grounded approach to source material can result in rave reviews and box office gold, launching a seemingly endless swarm of half-baked clones. Perhaps taking that approach to a story about a man with the powers of Stretch Armstrong and a bad guy named Victor Von Doom was not such a good idea.
Also, the final shot of the film is eerily identical to the ending of Avengers: Age of Ultron. They were probably in production at the same time, so it’s surely a coincidence, but still… This movie sucks.