Directed by Josh Trank.
2015. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Michael B. Jordan
Reg E. Cathey
Tim Blake Nelson
Sigh. A Fantastic Four reboot. We knew it was coming to this on the Monday after opening weekend of 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Lots of us went to see it over the three days preceding that. Most of us hated it. On a personal note, I'm extra mad at this film. That weekend happened to coincide with my son's birthday. In lieu of a party, I took him and a handful of his friends to see whatever movie they wanted. Naturally, that was the pick. It was about six of us and I splurged for the occasion. Popcorn, candy, and drinks all around. Yes, this is gripe about money. The truth is they enjoyed it so I wasn't really too mad. The part that angered me happened later when my whole family decided this was the movie they just had to have. By have, I mean own. They, it was a conspiracy, made sure it found its way into our shopping cart during a trip to Wal-Mart. I protested, at first, then caved and forked over even more cash for that crap. I suck.
The new Fantastic Four sucks, too. It's clear that the powers that be decided they needed to start from scratch, as if the previous films never existed. Unfortunately, they never figured out how they wanted to tell the story, or for that matter, what the story even was. Obviously, it's an origin tale. It just doesn't appear to be well thought out. The way things happen it feels like they made it up as they went along, but didn't actually watch it before releasing, so a bunch of things were just left out.
We start with a pubescent Reed Richards, played by Owen Reed, as he manages to invent a teleportation device, kinda sorta with the help of his new friend Ben Grimm. Young Ben is played by Evan Hannemann. By help, I mean he keeps Reed company. Anyhoo, the device works, but wipes out much of the city's power grid. Fast-forward to their high school years when the boys are showcasing Reed's invention at the science fair. It's been improved to the point where they only take out the gym's glass backboard. By the way, Reed and Ben are now being played by Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, respectively. A couple of highly interested observers tell Reed that he actually cracked the code to interdimensional travel and offer him a scholarship/job to work on some huge sciencey project. The observers happen to be Dr. Franklin Storm (Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Mara). Reed joins their team and Ben is left behind, for now. Reed's new friends soon include Sue's knucklehead younger brother Johnny (Jordan) and apparently tortured genius Victor von Doom (Kebbell). Eventually, and oddly shoe-horned in, Ben is brought back into this mess. More sciencey stuff ensues.
One of the big issues with the film is that its all over the map, tonally. As opposed to the all-out goofiness of the earlier FF flicks, this one tries to do a little of everything. Sadly, it doesn't mix them well. It fails to flow smoothly from one style to the next. Instead, it takes hard, sharp turns at unsafe speeds. One moment, it's impersonating an Avengers movie, then it suddenly swings into Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. We also switch into The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor: The Dark World, for good measure. The result is a film that never finds a groove in which viewers can settle. This might work if the different tones were effective on their own. They're not. The jokes aren't funny, the tension isn't tense, and the grit isn't gritty. Rather than being all things to all people, as it tries to be, it winds up being nothing to anyone.
All of the style-hopping has an adverse effect on the characters, too. Without a natural flow, the people in the movie don't act and react in ways that feel organic to them, but in ways the director, writers, and/or studio heads think the audience wants. The constant acquiescing to our perceived collective likes means we never have to deal with the characters on their own terms. This renders them superficial, at best. Often, they are something far worse: boring. It becomes an origin story about people we never are about. We never care because there is nothing beneath the surface. With no meat on which to chew, the very capable cast that has been assembled is left acting out scenes in a vacuum rather than as part of a cohesive whole. Chemistry between any of them is rendered null and void because they are a group of performers grappling with a cold screenplay.
Another casualty of the movie by committee approach that seems to have run rampant here is clarity. Why our heroes are doing what they're doing and the consequences of doing or not doing it is never properly explained. Actually, the what is explained. They are trying to enable humans to travel interdimensionally. Earlier in the film, Reed only sent inanimate objects. The purpose of this is vague, at best, and there is nothing planned for what they will do when they get there. We're only told that information in that other dimension could help us save this one. Who figured this out? What information are they looking for? And save us from what? Are we in some sort of imminent danger? I know the world needs saving. It would just be nice to know which particular threat we're talking about. Then again, none of that matters because the movie never gets that far. This is the iceberg that sinks the ship.
Many a superhero movie has overcome a lackluster origin portion with a thrilling third act. Fantastic Four even fails at this. After all that time telling us how our heroes get to be fantastic, no workable conflict is actually set up. What we get amounts to Dr. Doom throwing a hissy fit and everyone else having to deal with it. Then it's over with pretty quickly. That there is very little action to speak of before this compounds the error. We're robbed of the chance to see the titular team be the great unit we think they can. Just when the movie should be start, it's ending.
As the credits roll, we're left in an odd place. The film we just saw is short, barely an hour and a half, but feels much longer since so little works or even happens, at all. Still, we know that it should be longer. It feels like huge chunks of it are missing. It's well over an hour of set-p for something that amounts to nothing. That nothingness leaves us to fret over the things that made the time we're spending on it a grueling endurance test. I'm talking things like all that cringe-worthy dialogue that helped a good cast be so bad. We've already touched on the lack of action, sub-par storytelling, poor pacing, and of course, that weak final act. On top of all that, it's not a visual treat, either. Special fx are average, at best, for films with much lower budgets. Here, we struggle to see on the screen all the money that went making this picture. I still can't decide how I feel about the all-cgi Thing. In some shots, he looks really good, like a living, breathing pile of rocks. In others, he is clearly a collection of dark orange pixels. Regardless of whether he looks good or bad, I assume the character to be anatomically equivalent to Ben Grimm's human form, yet he runs around naked the entire time. Thankfully, we don't see it, but shouldn't Thing's thing be wagging about? When watching a movie this rotten, that's the kind of thing you think about.