If movie titles had to obey the same truth in advertising rules that Madison Avenue does, the new Fantastic Four reboot would be cited for failing the first word. This attempted update is barely passable at best, though The Marginal Four wouldn’t be a very welcoming brand. The Four could also be modified to Be-Four, to provide appropriate context. Yes, this is an origin story, explaining things “Be-Four” they became “Fantastic.” Be-Fore they were adults. Be-Fore anything interesting or exciting happened to your quartet of proto-superheroes.
Josh Trank compiled a lot of bad buzz for his on-set attitude and off-set hissy fits, and you can see the studio angst in every frame. Trying to match the narrative to the demo means everyone looks too young to be in the universe-saving department, elements important to the mythos left out so this Marvel property (being handled without Kevin Feige’s commercial and artistic eye) can feel fresh and new. All it ends up feeling is dull and derivative. Add in some shoddy CGI at the end and you’ve got a failure that feels like a reclamation mission, the cutting room floor laden with stuff snipped out thanks to Trank’s unprofessionalism.
We go all the way back to the beginning, back when Reed Richards (Miles Teller, eventually) is palling around with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, eventually), hoping that their homemade teleportation device will win them the science fair, and the affections of the fairer sex. They do get the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and end up working for him, along with his children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), at the Baxter Institute. He has been experimenting on a gateway to the stars begun by exiled protégé Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Cue a successful trial, a group of pissed off adolescents, an unscheduled trip to Planet Zero, and an exploding device which turns the bunch into their stretching, fiery, rock-based, invisible selves.
From there, nothing much happens. Victor is presumed dead. He’s not. Reed runs away to look for a cure. Ben becomes a military asset. On a return trip to Zero, a bio-mechanical Victor is found and brought back to Earth. Naturally, he wants to destroy everything, and after going bonkers, returns to the planet with the newly assembled Four in pursuit. From there, it’s sloppy spectacle, with minimal interest from an audience overwrought by the expositional dump and the dour, depressing approach to its errant eye candy payoffs. Yes, the F/X create a convincing human rubber band, but Johnny Storm looks like a cartoon version of a man on fire, while Ben’s Thing is a mess of random rocks. The angels in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah had more personality.
The biggest flaw here is the lack of purpose. We know what’s going to happen (the Four are going to meet, battle, break up, gain extraordinary abilities, and take on Victor in yet another version of the student schooling the master and his new pupils) all while Tim Blake Nelson does the hand-wringing bureaucrat thing. Kebbell was far more menacing in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Meanwhile the rest of the cast coasts, waiting for the international box office take to warrant their contractually mandated sequels. Fanboys may find this all like paging through their favorite copy of the comic. Audiences used to what Feige can do with stuff like this will be watching the clock, waiting for something to happen.
While it’s not far to compare them to The Avengers or those gloriously goofy Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fantastic Four of 2015 are a lot like the ones we all suffered through a decade before. Granted, it has its moments and is artistically different than previous incarnations. Sadly, the resulting lack of entertainment is the same.