Although we live in a comic book movie nirvana, the increased number of films being made will inevitably mean we see more duds along the way. Fans of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics must be thinking ‘why us?’
Tim Story’s 2005 and 2007 adaptations were not well received critically, and hardly set the box office alight. This reboot, directed by Chronicle’s Josh Trank, attempts to approach the franchise from a completely different angle: darker, smarter, more believable. And yet, ironically enough, it suffers from a lot of the same issues.
Much like the titular superhero team – which includes a rock man, a stretchy man, an invisible woman and a human fireball – this film feels like an amalgam of disparate ideas. The great shame is that Trank has assembled a winning cast: Mr Fantastic, Johnny Storm, Invisible Woman and The Thing are played respectively by Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, and the initial signs are relatively good.
Trank spends time (far too much time, in hindsight) setting up his characters and their relationships, and does it relatively well, but it’s amazing how quickly the good will evaporates when the film remembers it should probably have a plot. Amid some turgid technobabble and boring ‘doing science’ montages, our young protagonists (alongside Victor von Doom, played by Toby Kebbell) come together to build an inter-dimensional transportation device which, in classic fashion, they use themselves in order to prevent military types from sailing in and stealing their scientific thunder.
The mysterious planet they end up on gives them all frightening and powerful abilities, except Victor, who is left behind and presumed dead, as the others escape. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that he makes another appearance further down the line as primary franchise villain Doom. The aftermath of this science experiment is one of the film’s strongest sequences: there’s a genuine sense of horror as the four wake up, each unable to understand what has happened to them, terrified by their new bodies.
But then, in a drop in quality so pronounced it’s almost impressive, the film throws it all away. The action must be ramped up, of course, but you can almost feel director Trank losing interest as he finally has to stop prevaricating and get on with the spectacle. As Doom returns and the others are forced to put a stop to his throwaway ‘I want to end the world’ plan, Trank allows his characters to vanish. The plot is so threadbare that the only chance we have of investing in the finale is for the characters to remain prominent, but all we get are a couple of bafflingly edited and unimaginative action sequences. The film doesn’t revel in the fun of these characters – not for a minute – and we’re just left watching a bland, dreary scuffle in the desert. It doesn’t help that the visual design on Johnny Storm and The Thing is adequate at best, while Doom just looks awful (though he does at least get a cool intro sequence earlier on).
In short, the film feels like a $120m rush job, made by people who, for whatever reason, have no faith in the material. This is a superhero film: you simply can’t make something purporting to be this big without spectacle or enjoyment. The 2005 film was flawed in many ways, but at least it had fun with its characters. I can understand a director wanting to get to the heart of the protagonists and focusing less on the action, but although the actors are good, these are performances rather than characters. Where is the drama in their interactions? The Thing’s chilling fate – always one of the strongest elements of the Fantastic Four – is sidelined to a frankly unforgivable degree.
It’s a real shame that a likable ensemble has been squandered in this reboot. It feels like these four leads could’ve been fantastic, but in reality they’re a pretty unremarkable bunch. If this film bombs at the box office, we may never get to see a sequel, which would at least have provided a chance to get it right.