Third time lucky maybe.
I wanted to like Fantastic Four. I promise I really did. I sat in the cinema and tried to find saving graces from a film that has had me excited for months. An exciting cast, a young director and a comic series previously disgraced in film going in a new direction. What we get instead is an origin story that pushes hard on genre stereotypes without the jubilant highs we have come to expect from Marvel’s mightiest.
Anyone versed in comic books knows the drill of the Fantastic Four by now. A group of teens are transformed into superhuman beings after a scientific exploration to a different dimension goes awry. This 100 minute film is basically just an elongated origins story, one that was probably unnecessary in the golden age of superhero films and only a decade after we were told the origin story in the sparkly 2005 edition. the conclusion of the film feels rushed and signposted throughout the film. The character development fluxuates between the in-depth and the overly stereotyped. We are given little to no information about Victor Von Doom or Ben Grimm, instead giving us a more detailed look at the Storm’s and Reed Richards. This leads to dead scenes are lesser characters are given supposedly emotional moments.
The biggest strength of the film is its cast. Soon to be star Miles Teller is a bright light amongst a tiresome script. He is just so enthusiastic and relatable. Teller gave his best performance in 2014’s Whiplash and continues his fine form here as a science genius on a mission. Kate Mara gives a dramatic and realistic edge to her role while Michael B Jordan is charismatic and smooth, the perfect Johnny Storm. Jamie Bell is underutilised and Reg E. Cathey’s Franklin Storm is filler and emotional baggage for the lead characters to develop from but is unnecessary for the most part.
Fantastic Four lacks direction and suffers from a bloated plot. The script is unoriginal in a world that sees a dozen superhero films per years as audiences yearn for more expansive or stylised stories from their caped crusaders. We have seen origin stories before and their retelling can be problematic. We have characters going through radical change, we see emotional distress and require them to basically change their way of life. Its an awkward time and is why more supernatural origin stories like Green Lantern, Hulk and Fantastic Four perhaps don’t fare as well on screen as the more technologically grounded heroes like Iron Man or Batman. Here Trank has explained the emotional distress of the 4 well but much of the story feels forced and we are frequently given clunky exposition in dialogue that feels unnecessary and unrealistic. As the origin story is laid out, I found myself wondering when the actual story was going to start. It never really did. Instead we are given a film that cries for a sequel that perhaps nobody will want. I would prefer to have seen an abridged origin story in the first 15 minutes then a proper storyline involving internal conflict and a developed opposition.
Josh Trank was tapped for the film after his breakout film Chronicle. Here we see a similarly dark tone and tighter feel than the expansive feel of other Marvel films. Fantastic Four feels closer to the dour Man Of Steel than the joyous Antman both in tone and visual style. We are given few jokes and even references to the comic origins feel like sledgehammers instead of cheeky winks. While i was taken with the film as visually stimulating, more appealing in its realism than the 2005 film, the style keeps you grounded and much of that magical superhero feeling is lost. A film about a stretching man, an invisible girl, a moving fire and a rock yeti perhaps needed to be a little more tongue n cheek and bright. I would forgive it if it was giving me violence and language and sex and all the rest but i feel this is probably the most child friendly of all the superhero output.
I hope Fantastic Four doesn’t doom the careers of the likes of Miles Teller and Micheal B Jordan as they are still awesome in this film. Unfortunately i can’t say I am a fan of this film. It left me hollow, not angry or happy, just hollow. A lumbering plot, a quick finish and bloated exposition hurt a film that could have been a gritty rebirth for one of Marvels most famous crime fighting force.